Thursday, December 13, 2012

Soft Knees

There's two things that horse back riding and skating have in common: soft knees and independence of upper and lower body.

So, let's tackle 'soft knees' first.

I did a lot of research on this, and all I could find were a couple of comments that 'soft knees means bent knees'.

Mmmmm, no.

Well, anyway, not to me.

My experience has been in both riding and skating that a 'soft knee' is what I'll call a 'responsive leg'. The casual observer sees the knee bend and how it flexes. That's the obvious part.  But really, I believe what's going on is much more complex.

From my riding days, I learned that 'soft knees' involved the muscles of the lower back and abdomen,  flexibility and strength in the hips and knees, and controlled movement of the ankle. All this has to be  balanced and coordinated, otherwise you pull on the horse's mouth as your leg will get in the wrong position and throw off your balance.

Skating's very similar. You have to control the leg relative to the upper body, and to do that you need to get over the right part of the blade and that takes ever single joint below the waist. And as you move up and down, every single joint has to respond together. This is why I think defining 'soft knees' as 'bent knees' is inadequate. That's what the observer sees, but that's only the tip of the iceberg abot what's going on.

As I'm now in my 60's, I'm okay with the muscles of the back and core, the ankle bend and the hip flexion. However, my knee bend is CRAP!
See my knees?
Crap! Crap! I say!
Still, I'd like to chime in with my amateur opinion, that 'soft knees' is something that ought to be banned from a coach's vocabulary. It's much more complex, especially in skating. I'm fortunate that my riding background is so extensive and strong, and Coach Cruella is good at getting everything coordinated both mentally and physically.

Still, a coach can take me only so far. The knees are willing but the flesh is weak.


  1. My knees suck as well. But I don't have age as (too much) of an excuse. They have just always sucked. They get more sucky as time goes on. I have tried to make them better, but they resist.

    I do agree with your assessment that soft knees are not the same as bent knees. Especially when skating figures - you don't need an extreme knee bend, but you do have to be able to manipulate the skate in a subtle but quick way.

  2. Funny you should write this as I think my knees are okay, but I spent my entire lesson today learning how to skate in a straight line the length of the rink on one foot while my lower half of my body is pointed forwards and the upper half of my body (especially shoulders) is turned to be parallel to the boards. It too me 30 minutes to get the basics of this. The craziest independent top & bottom half exercise I've ever seen! But fun in its wacky challenge.

  3. The "soft knee" is actually a responsive knee-- it is the joint that flexes and extends in response to the impact forces and balance adjustments of the body in motion. Soft knees look soft when core muscles are conditioned and engaged and have done their job of generating optimal movement, power, and alignment.

  4. Interesting observations - I grew up riding (3 day eventing) and have just recently started learning to skate, and apparently I have "soft knees" - guess that's a good carryover from riding.

    I've also noticed that "straight back and tuck your butt under" of dressage seems to apply to stroking, and the "chin up eyes on where you are going" seems to translate as well - at least in the beginner stuff.

    Of course, it's not all good - my first skating fall at any speed, my steeplechase reflexes kicked in, I curled into a ball, and stabbed the back of my thigh with my heel pick. Riding boots don't have blades...

  5. Seems you and I have the same knees!

  6. Useful commentary, especially the "responsive" part. My ice dance coach and I talk a lot about bending at the ankle rather than focusing just on the knee.

  7. After an intensive skating course we learn that it is the ankle that the focus of flexion, not the knee. In fact, focusing on the knee bend will give you all the wrong mechanics for any kind of skating- hockey, figure, speed, bandi- except for power skating. When you flex at the ankle you change the entire balance point of the rest of the body as it is the first joint to allow freedom. It also gives you free energy in return from the calf and ankle spring. The bending of the knee is different for each body shape to accommodate the perfect balance of that body. Just watch any great skater and see if their knees are over the toes (which indicates strong ankle flexion) or if they have a big knee bend. Proof is in the pros.