Before this Web site existed, the first ORBIT article, "Learn to Love Your Heelbrake," was already in circulation as a flyer because I believed that a population of safe, in-control skaters could contribute to the growth of a wonderful sport. From my perspective, effective braking is the most empowering of the three basic skills (stopping, turning and striding).
Unlike braking, people can and do figure out how to move forward and change directions without formal instruction. Nevertheless, this is the first of two technique articles that will fill a longtime gap in the ORBIT Technique topics. That way, I can ensure that beginners without access to lessons (or my books) can still learn to stride and turn effectively without developing bad habits. Expect an article on basic turning in the next edition of the ORBIT, but first, let's get you going.
Just a tip: learn Stride 1 and 2 on the flattest possible location unless you already know how to use your brake. Gravity can be very distracting!
Among inline instructors, Stride 1 is also known as the "duck walk." You may think it looks silly, but Stride 1 lets you feel the stroking fundamentals that apply at every level of skating: weight on the heels, pushing to the side instead of back, and setting the skate down directly below your body weight. You should also know that skaters of all abilities resort to this short, quick stride on wet, slippery pavement or very rough surfaces such as bricks or wood-slat bridges. It's easier to keep moving forward without slipping or stalling as long as you keep your skates close under your body.
Stand with both heels together and toes out in a "V" stance of about 45 degrees. Sink about 3" to get into the skater's ready position: ankles, knees and hips are bent but your upper body is upright, not leaning forward. Keep both hands in front where you can see them to prevent a backward fall.
Here's how to test your stance:
- Try to lift your toes inside the boots. Success means your weight is properly over your back wheels. If there's too much weight too far forward, you won't be able to lift your toes. Skating this way will cause feelings similar to shin splints, so try to avoid it (but it's a common first-day problem).
- What do you see when you glance down? If you see toes instead of knee pads, your knees are too straight or you are bending forward. Straighten up so your shoulders are directly above your hips and heels.
- Lift one skate and set it back down so that its back wheel is within an inch of the other skate's center (your arch).
- Lift the other skate and advance it just enough so you can set the heel wheel down next to your arch.
- Now lift your eyes to a destination several yards away and waddle like a duck toward it, keeping the "V" shape with your feet.
- Without tipping at the shoulders, concentrate on shifting your weight from one skate to the other between each waddle. If you can relax and not fight it, you will begin to glide a few inches at each step. That's skating! If you have any ice or roller skating history at all, now is the moment the familiar feeling will kick in.
- If you feel unstable, relax into a coasting ready position until you're ready to try again.
- Keep your knees bent and maintain an upright ready position.
- Resist the temptation to watch those fascinating feet!
Stride 2 is a formal name for the stroke that most skaters on the local bike path use. It's a flowing cruise of a stroke with the body upright. The only difference between Stride 1 and Stride 2 is the length and duration of the stroke and glide. Meanwhile, there is still a focus on keeping the weight on the heels, pushing to the side instead of back, and setting the skate down directly below the navel.
You can master Stride 2 by concentrating on your stance, balance, recovery and stroke direction each time you go out to practice.
- The deeper you bend your knees (stance), the longer your wheels can remain in contact with the pavement, resulting in a longer glide.
- Longer glides mean spending more time rolling on just one skate (balance); practice one-footed glides or marching while at a roll.
- Avoid the Frankenstein look and pull the skate all the way back before setting it down again, directly under your navel (recovery).
- Try to push your right heel wheel toward 3 o'clock and the left toward 9 o'clock with each stroke so you aren't getting your body weight ahead of your pushing tools (stroke direction). This makes it easier to keep all 4 wheels on the pavement until liftoff, contributing to better power and efficiency.
What About Arms?
While first learning to stride, use your arms as much as you need to in order to stay balanced. Out on the bike path, let them swing exactly as you do when walking, that is, front to back, not side to side. If you find yourself throwing your arms across your body, it means you are not pushing to the sides with your heel wheels and that your knees are probably too straight.
Once you have mastered a relaxed, balanced stride 2, you shouldn't need to use your arms at all. All of your power will be coming from the muscles in your lower body. That's the time to learn how to place one, and eventually, both hands behind your back as you skate.
With a few hours of practice, Stride 2 simply feels like the right way to skate. Then you will begin to both feel and demonstrate the confident grace that seemed so elusive the first time you put on a pair of inline skates.
So what's next? If you haven't learned to stop and control your speed yet, that's priority one. The next edition of the ORBIT will describe the third required skill, the basic turn, also known as the A-Frame turn.
Meanwhile, continue building on Stride 2. When you're ready to gain even more power, efficiency and elegance start practicing the tips in Increase Your Pushing Power.