Are you using the correct stride length in different situations, and are you using the correct stroke length in those situations? But firstly we need to define what they are:
1) Stride length is the distance you travel forward with each stroke
2) Stroke length is the distance you push out to the side with your skate.
These definitions (and skills) apply to crossovers and straightaways, indoor skating, track skating and road skating. They apply ALL the time, and in every situation on skates. So what is the difference between stride length and stroke length.
It’s important to understand the difference because both are affected in different ways and by different techniques and feelings. It’s also important to understand that one is not necessarily directly proportional to the other, and that neither are directly proportional to the length of your leg, or your height. (Stroke length is somewhat related to your leg length, but not solely). So if someone says to you “good to have long legs in this sport”, then after reading this article you can shoot them with the nearest automatic weapon at your disposal.
Stride length is determined by the technical gear you use. What!!?!?! Skates have gears?!?! Well, no, skates don’t have gears, but your body does! The angular direction of your skate in relation to the direction of travel, and the direction of your stroke in relation to the direction of travel, and the discreet changes in body weight transfer combine to give you the “technical gear” that you are using when you skate.
Just like a bike, going uphill, we use a small gear, and going fast on a flat smooth road we use a larger gear (or should), and going downhill we use an even larger technical gear. In fact in SK8skool we relate these skating “gears” to bikes (for kids to understand) and to cars (for adults to understand) because we use the body to create technical gears and use them in exactly the way.
If we are skating with a tailwind, and slightly downhill then we must use a very big gear just like a car would use 5th gear, or a bike would use 21st gear). This means keeping the skates very parallel to the direction of motion, through the whole of the push phase, but especially in the beginning of the stroke through the ‘power box’ area directly underneath the body, and simultaneously stroking long and perpendicular to the direction of travel (i.e. out to the side more than normal, an almost 90 degree angle to the direction of motion.)
Conversely, if we are skating slightly uphill with a slight headwind, then we would need to shorten the stroke and push slightly further back than normal, and angle our skates a little away from the parallel. This gives a smaller gear, it’s a little easier to push, and we’d probably use a slightly higher cadence.
Now, many skaters do this naturally, especially young skaters. But MANY MANY skaters use the wrong gear at the wrong time. Actually, finding the right gear at the right time is an art form. And this is what the elite do so well. Small changes of the stroke direction, stroke length, and angle of the skate direction to create the perfect gear for each situation. But what are the different situations? Each situation has a different gearing demand: Top speed, high cruising speed, acceleration moments, starts, headwind, tailwind, uphill downhill, pulling, drafting.
Many people think they are getting it right, but when we video analyze them we can see they are stuck in the same 2 or 3 gears, in all situations. Whereas the elite are using infinite numbers of gears in varying situations. Fitness skaters are using 3rd and 4th gear in most situations, but can’t find the technique to get in to 5th gear or overdrive when the speed goes up. And certainly can’t find 1st or 2nd gear for starts or low range accelerations.
In Sk8skool we practice downhill or with tailwind a lot just to practice finding that 5th or 6th gear, as these are the hardest technical gears to learn. We even have developed some special drills that help our skaters to learn to feel these gears in action.
We also have some special starts drills and acceleration drills to help our skaters learn 1st and 2nd gear. Most people skate in 3rd and 4th gear the whole of their skating careers, they are not aware that the other gears exist, and this can be a significant cause them ‘plateauing’ and their development halting when they reach a certain “reasonably good” level.
On a bike or in a car, you simply select the gear you want/need. In speedskating you have to learn the gear you want, practice it, and then practice switching between different gears. Luckily for us there are an infinitesimal number of gears depending upon how you use your body and skates. (We use the phrases 3rd gear, 4th gear, 5th gear, just to make it simple to understand, but in reality, it’s not black and white, it’s a thousand shades of grey, with many nuances).
To learn more about technical gearing take a look at our personal coaching packages, or get a custom package tailored to you and your lifestyle: www.Sk8skoolONline.com
“Let’s go faster,”