T Nation

Increasing Work Capacity for Skaters and Other Athletes


Christian -

Sorry for the long post, but I think that this topic falls in line with a lot of your recent posts and articles, and would be applicable to a lot of other athletes (martial artists, for example).

Thanks in advance for any advice and ideas.

So, how do you build up leg strength and work capacity for an athlete with daily skill practice? For top performance, the athlete must become stronger, but also needs to be fresh enough for daily skill training that requires strength and work capacity.

Here's the situation:

  1. I am a former track and field athlete (decathlon), weightlifter (Snatch 122kg, Clean & Jerk 150kg) and Highland Games thrower who is now training seriously to become a competitive pairs figure skater.

  2. As I moved from track and field more into weightlifting and throwing, my body weight went up (some muscle, but a lot of other extra weight).

  3. I recently went through a couple of years of working through shoulder and knee issues, and then surgeries and rehab on both, so I experienced a significant amount of de-training from my previous peak lifting.

  4. I am basically healthy now, and have been gradually increasing my skating and other training over the last year. Here's my current training schedule:

Morning Weightlifting - about 5 times per week, 30 minutes, with two or three of the following: Hang Power Snatch, Front Squats, Romanian Deadlift, Push-ups, Ab Wheel.

Example recent workout
 - Hang Power Snatch - 8 sets of 3 with 110 pounds
 - Front Squat - Sets of 3 up to 245 pounds

Skating Practice - Daily - About 2 hours - Weekday afternoons, Saturday mornings.

Hill Running or Intervals - 2-3 times per week, after skating.
Example workout - 2 sets of 5 hills - 20 seconds running up, walk down

Afternoon or Weekend Upper Body Weightlifting - 2 times/week - Shoulder Rehab, Pressing, etc.

  1. To get to where I want to be (a competitive pairs skater), I will need to be able to do the following:

  2. Skate for 2-3 hours per day. There's no way around this requirement - there are just too many skills to master, jumps, spins, programs, etc. No amount of conditioning or off-ice work can substitute for actual time on the ice. In addition, all of this time needs to be spent working hard on elements/skills, so I need to be fresh enough and have the work capacity to keep working for this long (be able to work on sit spin or jumps even after two hours of skating).

  3. Get body weight down to 200 pounds or less. I am currently about 230 with a good amount of muscle at a height of 6-0 and about 15% body fat. 200 pounds is probably the maximum I could weight and still be able to make the jumps. This would be a good size for a pairs skater, as I would not be limited to the only the tiniest of partners.

  4. Increase strength and explosiveness while losing weight - Probably need to get front squat closer to double body weight to have enough strength and power for double (and hopefully triple) jumps, sit spins, and the pairs throws/lifts, with other lifts improving proportionately.

  5. In addition to weightlifting and skating, be able to do regular off-ice jump training, plyometrics, hill sprints and intervals, dance/ballet work, stretching, and off-ice pairs throws and lifts.

  6. So, how do I simultaneously build up leg strength and work capacity? I need to get significantly stronger, but can't afford to have the legs trashed for the next day's skating. Also, while there is some periodization (I won't have any competitions for the next five months or so), I still have to be able to skate daily without too much of a drop in performance. I know how I would train if I was just competing in weightlifting, but adding the skating training on top of this makes it much more complicated.

  7. The skating training itself is a tiring workout for the legs, but isn't of sufficient intensity to drive the required increases in strength, strength-to-body weight ratio, and explosiveness. However, it is hard enough and long enough to cut into recovery from other work.

  8. I am assuming part or most of the answer is in high-frequency training to gradually build up my work capacity and recovery, similar to what top weightlifters do. I have a squat rack, platform, and Olympic bar and bumper plates in my basement, so I can do morning and/or evening workouts. I have hills and a running track about a half-mile from my house, so could do those
    type of workouts at whatever frequency necessary. I have a good work situation (computer work, short commute, no extra hours, close to the rink) and very few other commitments, so I have the time for training, but not necessarily the recovery ability (yet).

  9. Any good ideas for an overall plan/progression/guidelines? I am willing to take a short-term performance hit (for several months) while adapting if it will lead to greater work capacity for lifting and skating in the future.

One strategy might be to do front squats every day, but keep the sets and reps low, with the weight medium heavy (sets of 3 working up to 80%).


I'm a male skater, I'm about to be 22 years old. It's my first athletic venture really since childhood. I started off fat and unathletic and ended up a lot better. I started 2 years ago almost. I started lifting to help train for skating, it's become it's own thing now, but I've decided I liked skating more, though lifting does certainly help my skating. You're sorta going in the opposite direction as I went, as I discovered skating first and lifting after. Like you, I have a rather high body mass. I was 215 and fat when I started skating, and got down to 17& or so bodyfat at 180 after 4 months of skating, some supplimental cardio and dieting. But 180 at 5'9 is pretty ginormous for a male figure skater, where it's pretty dominated by ectomorph bodytypes, and I'm meso-endo. So my gamble is I can make up the power to weight problem by adding more power, but we'll see.

The first thing I see in your post is, you're very ambitious about this, perhaps too much so. Skating no matter what takes a long time to learn. It's been about 1.5 years of me in figure skates, and I'm still getting edges and 3 turns down, but I'm more or less uncoached and have an hour a day of ice time. The person I have that's closest to a coach really insisted upon getting the edges perfect, and then after that, things fall into place. He's right. Without good edging, you look like crap on the ice. Lots of people really wanna jump into jumps and spins right away, but without edging it's useless. So it's been a long time since you've made this post, but it's not quite as easy as "YEAH SURE I'LL LEARN ALL THIS STUFF, YEAH!" Maybe you've figured that out, that skating is not going to go as fast as you'd like it to. The only real goal you can have is to be better than you were yesterday and beat yourself. Have people to look up to, but in the end, that's the only thing you can do. Also, are/were you training specifically for pairs? I'd say it's better to just train as a singles and get all your crap together and then concentrate on pairs. That's at least my planning process, and this was recommended in John Misha Petkevich's book about figure skating, basically get a few years of singles under your belt before pairs.

As far as off ice lifting goes, well, squats are awesome. But squats aren't the only thing. Some single leg work is helpful, as jumps happen off one leg in skating. It's not like training for football or something. I had this error myself when I first started out. I noticed a drastic change in skating abilities from squatting and deadlifting and it was totally cool. However a point of diminished returns comes. I have weak lats, shoulders, and abs. So while leg strength is obviously important, it's not the whole picture. You see this idea in Olympic lifting with Mark Rippetoe. He's like "YEAH IF ONLY OUR ATHLETES COULD ALL SQUAT 1000LBS THEN WE'D WIN, YEAH!"

The problem we have in Olympic lifting isn't our squatting, it's weaknesses in other areas. You need to be comprehensive in your training. Basically, work on things you're weak in. If you're weak in them, make it stronger. So while it felt cool deadlifting (comparatively) lots of weight and whatnot, it ultimately reached a point of diminished returns as far as training went. I need to work more on the direct ab work and pullups (for eventual rotated jumps,) while still doing squats and DLs and whatnot occasionally. One shoulder exercise very applicable for figure skating is actually lateral raises. Work up to some heavy lateral raises. As far as your question about the legs being thrashed for skating, they will be, but as I said, you'll eventually reach a point where your squats will make the legs "strong enough" then you can more or less stop squatting until they're no longer not strong enough anymore and you repeat the process.

Basically, the best methodology I've read as far as training for any sport, is the Chinese philosophy of Olympic lifting training. Basically you must work on the model of "weakness correction." Whatever you're weak at must get stronger, however stuff you're already strong in has to stay strong too.

What I would personally recommend is, you have to pick what you want first. More power, possibly at the expense of increased weight (I went up to 195lbs, even 200 for a couple weeks, and now am back in the 180s at less fat, looking to get down to the 170s.) Or do you want less weight? It's incredibly hard to increase your strength while decreasing your bodyweight. So if you were to increase your strength, your bodyweight would go up, you'd probably skate better [i[than before[/i] but you'd look crappier. Or conversely, you can do more hill sprints, go swimming, spend time on the ice, drop your bodyweight, cut up, and look nicer and probably skate better from just decreasing bodyweight, you'd increase your aerobic capacity for skating (which doesn't do too much imo, until you get into long programs and whatnot) too along this way. So you have to pick one, and once you accomplish it, move on to the other. What I'm doing now is concentrating on the upper body and doing some "maintenance" lifting for the lower body, but I find it's hard to cut bodyweight doing lots of squatting and whatnot. That's the closest compromise I've found.

As far as your skating goes, unless you're in group lessons or have a special arrangement, what I'd do is, do two hour long sessions a day instead. I know for me personally, I pretty much go ADHD regarding really "practicing" skating after about an hour. I mean spending more time on the ice is always enjoyable regardless (unless it's like a hundred people in public session) but I'd say after an hour a session, it gets useless. So do one in the morning and one in the afternoon/evening I'd say, some sort of break between sessions. Also, assuming you're skating 2 hours a day, you shouldn't even be doing hill sprints and supplementary cardio. Skating at your bodyweight would burn like 800 calories an hour, which will cut your bodyweight down a lot if you keep your diet good.

Diet. Don't do any low carb bullshit fad diets. I did that for a year and it severely hampered my progress in everything, and it wasn't even effective for fat loss really. You probably should get like 3000 calories a day, protein is more or less not a big deal, just make sure you get RDA or 1g per KG, probably have your macros go something like: 50% carbs, 30% fat, 20% protein. As after all, you need energy. I find this is what works best for me, ratio something like that. If you need to drink some coffee, drink some, but don't become reliant too much on stimulants and stuff like that.

LASTLY, probably even better than squats from a sheer work capacity standpoint, slideboard. Buy or make one. Go on it about 5 minutes at a time. Once you get good at it, go on it with dumbells in your hands. I got to the point I was going on for 5 minutes with 15s, 3 minutes with 20s.

A good article to read imo is Charles Poliquin's article I think called a "A Sample Workout for Figure Skaters" or something to that effect. Short article but I learned alot, specifically the lateral raises thing. He advocates lots of single leg work for training, which is good, but double leg squats aren't useless. I find double leg squatting has lots of carryover for general on the ice speed. Double leg squats is more "conditioning" in skating I guess.

Anyway, I discovered this post a couple months ago, and it sat lonely, as nobody really knows how to handle the predicament of "super cool competitive older male figure skaters" very well at all. And while I do know figure skaters, especially males, lift, it seems a specific good off ice lifting routine is like some well guarded secret or something. So you're on your own, and of course everyone else will make silly little comments like "LOL YOU'LL LOSE ALL YOUR FLEXIBILITY AND GET BULKY" and stuff like that.

I dunno, take this for what you want. Maybe you've figured out the same in the almost 2 years it's been. Heh, this post was made about when I started skating actually. Well, good luck and God bless.