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Deep Skate Secrets 3: Seven Reasons To Look Up While You Roller Skate

The posture and gaze of a roller skater play essential roles in their performance, stability, and safety. Looking up while skating, as opposed to looking down, has several advantages that relate to human biomechanics, proprioception, and long-term health:

Balance & Stability: Balance on roller skates is achieved through a combination of visual cues, vestibular input (from our inner ear), and proprioceptive feedback (our sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body). When a skater looks down, they restrict their visual field and primarily focus on their feet or the ground immediately in front of them. This limits their ability to use visual cues from the broader environment to maintain balance.

Body Alignment: Our head is a heavy part of our body. When we look down, especially with the forward lean typical of someone learning to skate, the head moves forward of the center of gravity. This anterior shift can lead to a compensatory curve in the upper back and an increased lordotic (inward) curve in the lower back. Over time, maintaining this posture can lead to muscle imbalances, strain, and even structural changes to the spine.

Efficient Movement: Proper posture, with the head up and shoulders back, allows for optimal engagement of the core muscles. This not only protects the spine but also provides a stable base from which to generate movement. Looking down tends to disengage these core muscles, which can reduce the efficiency of movement, tire the skater out faster, and potentially lead to strains or injuries.

Environmental Awareness: Roller skating safely requires awareness of one’s surroundings. Hazards like cracks, debris, other skaters, or pedestrians can appear suddenly. Looking up expands the skater’s field of vision, allowing them to anticipate and react to obstacles more efficiently.

Proprioception: This is our body’s ability to sense its position in space. It’s a crucial skill for any activity that requires coordination, like roller skating. Looking down continuously can impair our proprioceptive feedback as we become overly reliant on visual input about our feet’s position. In contrast, looking up and relying on a combination of visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive cues can improve our innate sense of body position and movement.

Neck Strain and Long-term Health: Continuously looking down can lead to what’s often referred to as “text neck” in the context of smartphone use. This posture can lead to chronic neck pain, tension headaches, and even degenerative disc issues over time. While roller skaters might not be in this posture as frequently as someone constantly checking their phone, the principle remains that maintaining such a position is not optimal for neck health.

Psychological Factors: There’s a psychological component to posture and gaze direction. Looking forward and up is associated with confidence, while looking down might reflect uncertainty or fear. By training oneself to look up, a skater might also foster a more positive and confident mindset, which can enhance their skating experience.

Exercises To Try:

When you step forward with your left leg your right arm swings forward in consequence. This promotes the normal rotations that we should see while walking and skating.

Supination, pronation, supination is a rotation that happens through the foot as we move. So when we skate we want to do things that promote this rotation. The first place it starts is where you’re looking: Your eyes dictate the position of your head and your neck. If you’re looking down while moving you are limiting the amount of rotation you are trying to perform.

Try this: look out as far as you can and rotate your torso normally. Do the same thing looking down. You’ll notice it will feel a little bit stiffer and restricted; and that’s because when you look down your body produces more internal rotation. Internal rotation is associated with increased muscle activity. Increase muscle activity is associated with less ability to rotate.

Try this: Hold up hand make fist and stiffen wrist, try circling your wrist. It doesn’t move as well as when your hand is relaxed and circling. Apply this same postural principle while skating by keep your body aligned and head up.

Alignment In Action = Grace and Flow

In conclusion, looking up while roller skating is crucial for maintaining balance, ensuring proper biomechanical function, preventing injuries, and ensuring optimal awareness of the environment. Proper posture and gaze direction can greatly enhance the roller skating experience, making it safer and more enjoyable. Think about looking as far out at the horizon as you can. Notice what is going on in the external environment. This will help you keep your head up so you can promote rotation through your spine.

Check out our past posts for some background on Rhythm/Style Skating & an Intro to Deep Skate Secrets.

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Deep Skate Secrets 2: Lateral Acceleration

Cultivating Lateral Acceleration Is The Secret Sauce.

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Skating Harnesses G Force. You’re Playing With Gravity!

What is it, and Why Does it Feel So Good?

What is Lateral Acceleration?

Lateral acceleration, often expressed in “g” units (with 1g equal to the acceleration due to gravity on Earth’s surface), occurs when you make a turn or change direction. We most often experience it via the sideways acceleration a vehicle experiences when it is taking a curve. It’s essentially a measure of the force that occupants inside the vehicle feel pushing them sideways during a turn.

For example, when a car turns a corner at speed, the lateral acceleration pushes the car’s occupants to the side. In racing, lateral acceleration is very important: high-performance vehicles are designed to maintain high speeds in curves, which leads to high lateral accelerations. The ability to generate and withstand high lateral acceleration is indicative of a car’s cornering ability.

It’s also used in the context of roller coasters and other amusement rides, where the lateral acceleration can contribute to the thrilling sensations riders experience. It’s not a sensation we experience often-unless we’re roller skating.

When roller skating, lateral acceleration occurs when you make a turn or change direction. Just like with a vehicle or an airplane, your body experiences a force pushing you towards the outside of the turn. This is the result of inertia: your body wants to keep moving in the original direction even as your skates turn.

When you lean into a turn while roller skating, you’re counteracting this force. Your center of gravity shifts towards the inside of the turn, allowing you to maintain balance and prevent from tipping over towards the outside of the turn. The sharper and faster the turn, the greater the lateral acceleration, and the more you need to lean to counterbalance it. So, if you’ve ever noticed that you naturally lean into a turn when you’re roller skating, that’s your body’s way of managing lateral acceleration! It’s a key part of maintaining control and balance when changing direction at any sort of speed.

Why Does it Feel so Good?

The feeling of lateral acceleration can be exhilarating because it’s both novel and challenging. It’s a uniquely remarkable way to move and rolling on wheels exponentiates this movement. It differs from the everyday experience of moving forward and backward, or up and down. As you become proficient at skating you learn to cultivate this feeling even when you’re not cornering or skating fast. Eventually you only need to slightly shift your weight from side to side to experience the pleasure of this feeling. You’re playing with gravity!

There are physiological and psychological reasons why this feels so good. Firstly, our brains are wired to enjoy new and unique sensations, and the feeling of lateral acceleration certainly falls into that category. It’s not something we experience regularly, especially not at high intensity. This novelty can trigger a release of adrenaline, a hormone that increases heart rate, boosts energy levels, and generally makes us feel excited and alive.

On a physiological level, experiencing lateral acceleration can often feel exhilarating because it stimulates our vestibular system, which is the sensory system responsible for maintaining balance and spatial orientation. This system resides primarily in the inner ear and communicates with the brain to help us know where our bodies are in space. When we experience lateral acceleration, the vestibular system sends signals to the brain which can create feelings of excitement, thrill, and pleasure.

The following quote from SLOMO, a doctor who gave it all up to spend his life roller blading says this about Lateral Acceleration:

“For a while I thought I might be going crazy or something because I’m too happy. I kept waiting for this obsession with skating to differentiate itself into some diagnosible problem. But that was 15 years ago….I realized that there was an aspect to lateral acceleration that made many of us feel good. I studied this and there’s a neurological explanation to this type of thing. Acceleration stimulates a set of receptors in the inner ear, which connect us with the center of the earth by gravity. A piece of calcium sits on a membrane, so that any change in the relative position of gravity will make this stone roll, and therefore there will be some indication that the body is moving relative to the center of the earth.
When I skate the whole idea is to keep a continuous feeling of acceleration. And if you keep it constant the feeling if expansion continues to build. Anything where you can get this lateral acceleration feeling, you can use that for meditation because it puts you in the zone.”


SLOMO and his theory of why skating puts us in the zone:

“But now I experience myself as the tip of a great iceberg of consciousness.”


Check out our past posts for some background on Rhythm/Style Skating & an Intro to Deep Skate Secrets.

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