Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Sixth Sense

Everyone knows about the five senses: Sight, taste, hearing, touch, smell. We use these everyday. But we have a sixth sense, and not the one that pops up in horror movies. It's the sense of where the various parts of your body are. It's called 'proprioception'. Broadly, it's the ability to know even with your eyes closed, where the relative position of your body parts are to each other. For example, close your eyes and ask someone to move your hand. Do you know where it is? Of course you do. That's proprioception.

When I used to ride horses, I wore spurs. I had a trainer who told me to wear them because  "You always know where your heels are." That's praise in riding circles. I never jabbed the horse with them, I just used them for subtle cues when doing equitation. It's an art to ride with spurs.

You'd think with skillz like that, knowing where my feet are when I skate would be easy. It turns out, that  I have no clue.

More than once I've had a coach say, "Your free foot is in the wrong place." I cheerfully confess that especially in mohawks, I know that the free foot is pointing inside the circle.  Where it is relative to my skating foot--no idea. Ahead at the toe, back at the heel, where? Where?

So Coach Cruella has me doing exercises where I get on a strong inside edge, then move my free foot to mohawk position (while simultaneously going deeper in the knee) then hold it.

And hold it. And then hold it some more. But not do the turn. This is a position exercise, not a turn exercise.

She does the same for my free leg with the three turn exercises. I stroke, hold the leg in the extended position, then go down in the knee, again, again (for the outside 3), but again, and again (for the inside 3).  My job is to hold that edge, hold that posture, hold that extension.

This is pretty effective, especially with someone there the first few times  to point out where the free foot is going wrong.

After about 10 minutes of this work on threes and mohawks, I have a much more refined sense of my foot position. It's hardly a miracle cure, I'll need to practice this many times for it to become second nature, but it shows that focused practice can have immediate effects on my basic skating skills.

Whoa! Too far back on the heel! Bend the knee!


  1. I know what you mean! My coach does this for me, too, while screaming, "NEEEEEAT FEEEEEEET"! And he makes me hold whatever position he wants me to hold on the circle and tells me not to look like I need a Zanac. He keeps telling me that he's going to bring a Pez dispenser full of them for tests and that he cant understand why I get so nervous around him. Dear Coach, it is because I want to show you so badly that your efforts on me are not in vain. I want to show myself that your efforts on me are not in vain. And because I know you are watching every single move I make like judge and jury combined, and because I know that you know that what's going through my mind as I launch myself into everything you're asking me to do is sheer terror and an endless stream of naughty words. So don't worry about the tests; bring that Pez dispenser to practice, pleeeeaase.

    Seriously, though, breaking down a move like this really helps me, too, and I really feel gives me an understanding of body position, muscular control, and proprioception in my feet and ankles. My coach says to do things by feel, and that is proprioception. I need to tell him that I have Alzheimer's of muscle memory and that's why I look like the cat in your photo above.

    1. "Dear Coach, it is because I want to show you so badly that your efforts on me are not in vain."

      Word up.

  2. Thanks for this post! I'm an adult skater who started skating after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which can cause problems with proprioception and balance. I'm fortunate to have an extremely mild case, but when new skills are hard for me to learn, I always wonder if it's the disease, or if it's just that SKATING IS HARD(!). Most everyone in my group lessons was accomplished at some other sport, so they catch on really quickly (doing a couple FS1 moves in a Pre-Alpha class? Really?). But that means I don't have a really good picture of what's hard for the average adult skater. So thanks for talking about not knowing where your foot is! I was getting worried because my free leg wasn't straight when I thought it was, and my ankles weren't bent enough to create deeper edges! It's always nice to find out I'm overreacting ... I think!

    1. I have several friends with MS. Exercise and the cold are supposed to help out. Hope it works out for you.

      And, glad to take a little bit of worry off your mind.

    2. Exactly why I started figure skating! And to develop muscle memory in case my balance does start to go. I'm constantly chatting up other MSers online to try to get them to try skating, no matter what they can manage. And I know there are a few - some who have even been at Adult Nationals.