Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 US National Figure Skating Championships

Last week I had the privilege of being a spectator at the US National Championships, the first time I was able to just sit and watch the full event without having to be a coach or a vendor. All I can say is, I can't wait to retire, because it will become my yearly vacation! Too bad that's not for another thirty years or so.

I was lucky enough to see Jason Brown bring down the house, with a crowd reaction that I have never witnessed before. I have never seen so many people so elated with a skater's performance, and just about every element in it.

Programs of several retiring skaters brought tears to my eyes, as they realized that one chapter of their life was ending, and a new one was to begin. I heard many negative comments regarding Rachael Flatt's performances and her inability to compete at her prior level, some asking 'Why is she here?'.  Some people don't realize that placement isn't everything to every skater, and maybe she just wanted to prove that she could come back from several injuries and end her skating career on her own terms. Congratulations Rachael, for showing us your love of skating and for being a good role model for those who skate for the joy of performing. Jeremy Abbott also showed his emotions on his sleeve and shared them with the crowd as he relished in his final Nationals performance. The embrace between Jeremy and his mother represented every skater's relationship with a parent who sacrificed so much for their child's career, and the culmination of years of ups and down of the sport.

It was fun to watch the last place Senior men's competitor Robbie Przepioski, who was competing in his first Senior nationals, completely elated following his free program. He didn't care about his scores; he just wanted to take in the moment and savor every minute of his experience. I'm sure there were dozens of skaters, especially at the juvenile and intermediate levels, who shared the same feeling.

Skating teaches us life lessons.  It teaches skaters how to gracefully accept defeat and face challenges that will shape them into their adulthood. It brings joy and it brings sorrow, and for many skaters that sorrow will diminish over time and make them more determined to succeed the next time. You fall, and you pick yourself up. It makes you mentally stronger. The joy of a clean performance or personal best will stay in your memory forever, and you can never take that moment away. Skating teaches you sportsmanship, and how to treat your competitors with grace, fairness, and compassion.

If you have never been to Nationals, make it a goal to go someday, as it is an experience you will never forget.  I will be counting down the days to my next one.....

Saturday, March 24, 2012

DID IT!! Hard work pays off!

After five months of diligent training, I am proud to say that I successfully finished my first official 10K last weekend!  The girl who, last October,  despised running a mile (and hadn't done so in at least seven years) ran 6.2 miles of torturous hills in JUST over an hour. Oh how I want those 24 seconds back!  What a great experience it was to race in front of thousands of people willing you on when you think you're too tired to go on, and what a completely different experience from a skating competition.  I was always one of those skaters who gets sick to their stomach the morning of competition, and let nerves get the best of me. Those of you at 2007 Nationals can attest to that!  Before the race, I was so pumped for it to start, and couldn't wait for it to begin.  What a different feeling for me!

People may be thinking, why is she writing this on a skating blog?  The key word is: MOTIVATION.  I set a goal that I thought would never be attainable, trained relentlessly through the winter, and never gave up on myself, even when my quads turned into jelly with each 1/2 mile I added to my training. I want to prove to all of you skaters out there that hard work pays off. When your coach tells you to do that double run through, DO IT.  There is a point to it, even if your tired and don't think you have any energy left to expend.  The more you train, the more consistent you will be, and the less tired you will be come competition.  Oh how I wish I had the attitude that I have now when I was sixteen years old.  I had so much potential that was untapped because I didn't have the fight and drive to push myself, even though my coach tried her hardest. (Oh how I must have frustrated you Lisa!)

To those skaters out there who want to improve and want to compete at your best: set goals. Work towards achieving them.  Don't be lazy and push yourself. It always pays off in the end, and the feeling you get when you succeed is AWESOME!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The People Behind Sk8Strong.....

For those of you new to Sk8Strong and discovering this blog, I'd like to fill you in on my background and let you know how Sk8Strong came to life. My name is Lauren Downes, and I am a proud mother of two, an orthopedic physical therapist, and professional skating instructor. I graduated with a masters degree in physical therapy from Boston University in 1999, and have worked in a sports medicine ever since.  Since the year 2000, I have worked with skaters in a strength and conditioning capacity, conducting evaluative assessments, private and group training.  I have been fortunate to work with skaters from a very low level to senior competitive level, as off-ice training is important for all ages and levels of skaters.

Sk8Strong began taking shape in the spring of 2008, when a terrific strength and conditioning specialist, Steve Conca, approached me about putting together some training videos for skaters.  After months of preparation, the first series of Sk8Strong DVDs were born, and we've been going strong ever since.  Starting out with four training DVDs, we've added three additional videos since, and there's always room for more!

My goal is to be accessible to all skating parents and coaches who want to learn the benefits of proper off-ice training, and how to deal with injuries in the correct manner.  I am always available by phone or email, and through seminars and workshops, and love sharing my expertise with those who want to learn.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Training progress....

Wow, I've actually had people contact me to ask how my training is going, because it motivates them to keep up their own training! Go figure. Well, for those of you who are actually interested (not many, I'm assuming), it's great! And for those of you aren't,  feel free to skip this post!  As I sit here suffering through the long waits in the kiss and cry in the Four Continents Championships ladies freeskate, I might as well keep myself occupied.  Although, blogger is seriously interfering with the icenetwork feed....

So this skater is now officially a runner.  I've signed up for a 10K road race in mid March, and yes, voluntarily.  I've fun 4 miles three times in the past month without hyperventilating or injuring myself. Today I can proudly say I broke 39 minutes without stopping! Speaking of 'broke', the splint is coming off the hand soon. So for those of you who have always despised running (like me) and suddenly decide to change your mind, there is hope! Just find the right thing/person to motivate you like I did, and get moving! Whatever sport/activity it may be, start something new and challenge yourself!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What's the best exercise to do when you can't skate?

I'm going on week 1/ 1/2 with a broken hand (yes, the verdict is in: broken 5th metacarpal) and lamenting that I'm not going to be able to skate for several weeks, probably more. I had just opened a half hour time slot in my teaching schedule for some 'me time', and I decide to become a klutz instead! So what is one to do when they can't skate (because of schedule, timing, etc.), but want to stay in good skating shape?

There are several ways to keep your skating muscles in shape, and your cardiovascular endurance intact.  One terrific exercise tool is the slideboard, which will mimic a skating stride by using the same muscles as the stroking motion.  I'll goes as far to put my program music on and imitate the highs and lows of my program while on the slideboard.  For example, in a fast section with a lot of power and footwork, I slide at a high energy level, focusing on my quad and glute power.  In a slower 'rest' section, I will tone down my speed.  This is a form of interval training that I have found highly successful, alternating a few minutes on the slideboard with sets of plyometric exercises.  Skaters do not operate at one consistent heart rate throughout a program, so slideboard training can easily train the cardiovascular system to respond to quick changes in heart rate.

Another good exercise tool is a jump rope.  It's portable, inexpensive, and can elevate the heart rate relatively quickly.  Plus, there is a plyometric component to jump roping that is beneficial to training the lower extremity muscles.  A skater can also vary the intensity to train at high and low intervals, again to mimic a freestyle program.

A spinning bike is beneficial, as a skater can both sit and stand to vary the workload between muscle groups.  I tend to alternate between sitting and standing in 2 to 2 1/2 minute intervals, yet you can tailor your own workout to what maximizes your training.  Standing on a bike will give your glutes and hamstrings a better workout than sitting, as sitting mainly focuses on the quad muscles.

An elliptical machine is not my favorite piece of equipment, as I feel the machine assists the workout too much.  It is very easy to coast through a workout with the natural motion of the machine, instead of using  your own muscle power to push through a stride.  Also, an elliptical does not allow you to go through the complete range of motion of the hip into extension.  If done too much or too often, using an elliptical can make the hip flexors too tight, possibly affecting the knee and back.

Functional exercise is always the way to go when doing non-cardio exercise.  This includes exercises that involve resisting your own body weight, single leg stability, and various equipment such as stability and medicine balls, sport cords, balance discs, and sliding discs.  Plyometric exercise should also be included in your workout to keep your fast twitch muscle fibers fresh and ready for jumping  Feel free to visit our youtube channel for exercise demos at www.youtube.com/sk8strongLD.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My new training....

Wow, it's been a year since I have posted on here! I've been so busy with many other aspects of Sk8Strong, that I've neglected this blog.  This post will be a little different than usual.  Many people who have visited my website or use Sk8Strong products ask me about my own workout programs and how I stay in shape to skate.  I love sharing my stories and motivating people (especially adult skaters) to start a new workout program.

I have to admit, I skated for the first time in over a year a few weeks ago.  With two young children, it is very hard for me to find time for myself to skate.  I'm holding off until my youngest is in first grade, then I'll be back!  I am able to make time for a for a grueling functional training workout once a week, to be in shape and to keep my sanity.  Yet if I can't skate, I need some kind of goal to work towards, to motivate me to train. Hhmmm, train for what though? Being an intensely competitive person, I needed to find something.....

A few months ago, I started talking to a friend about doing one of the adventure races that are growing in popularity, such as Rugged Maniac, Warrior Dash, or the ultimate challenge, Tough Mudder.  The problem is, the races involve running, I've NEVER been a runner.  (Always despised it, to tell you the truth.) The smaller races are 3 miles, and involve challenges such as jumping over walls, running through mud pits, climbing obstacles, and more.  The obstacles I could easily tackle because of my training, but the running, not so much.  So in the last 2 months, Lauren Downes the skater has become a runner.

I'm proud to say that I am now able to run a 5K in under 30 minutes, something I could never do in high school or college, and my goal is the eventually be able to run 5 miles at a time without stopping.  My best so far is 3.25 (on the treadmill, my greatest enemy, only because it's too cold outside),  Why am I telling you this?  Because if I can start something new and stick with it until I enjoy it, all of you can get involved with a training program to reach your goals.  No matter what age you are, there is something out there for you to help make you fit and reach your goals, whether it be functional training, cardio, cross-fit, etc.  It's never too late to start something new, no matter how apprehensive you are about trying.

So adventure races and 5Ks, here I come!

Monday, January 10, 2011

NEW Sk8Strong DVDs: "The Skater Evaluation" and "Advanced Competitive Training"

Sk8Strong is very excited to announce the arrival of two new products: "The Skater Evaluation DVD and Manual Package", and "Advanced Competitive Training"! Find both in our DVD catalog here.
"The Skater Evaluation":  Per request of many customers: coaches, fitness professionals, and skaters, we have created an assessment tool that will give the skating world a comprehensive catalog of simple evaluative tests to determine a skater's strengths and weaknesses.  What's even better?  You can then refer to a collection of corrective exercises to instantly improve upon your findings and apply them to improve your skating skills.

"Advanced Competitive Training" is for the skater who has completed the highest progression levels of "The Competitive Skater" or "Adult Training" DVDs and is looking for the most challengind and skating specific functional workout today!