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Skate your way to a healthier you!

Skate your way to a healthier youIce sports are a popular form of exercise and a great way of getting fit - and they're not just for winter. If you're interested in giving ice sports a go, Dr Alasdair R Wright, GP and sports medicine doctor, has some tips.

Ice sports have a host of health and fitness benefits. Skating helps improve co-ordination and balance, burning 450-600 calories an hour - or 950 if you're speed skating. Leg strength is helped by regular ice skating and, according to a study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, taking up regular ice hockey can increase bone density.

Which ice sport is right for you?

There are lots of different sports that involve ice, each with their own unique benefits. Some of the options include:

  • Ice skating - a form of skating exercise performed on ice.
  • Speed skating - a high-adrenaline, fast-paced sport involving skating at speed on ice.
  • Figure skating - similar to ballroom dancing but on ice. Individuals or couples perform ice skating routines and moves to music.
  • Curling - similar to boules, curling involves skill and strategy, as two teams of four players slide heavy polished granite stones across the ice to a circular target.
  • Ice hockey - the game of hockey, but adapted for ice.

How to get started with ice sports

If you're keen to take up an ice sport, it's a good idea to find a reputable instructor or course to give you access to all the equipment and training you need.

You can get a taster for ice skating at seasonal ice rinks but, to find permanent rinks or various types of ice skating lessons, the National Ice Skating Association is a good place to start.

To find an ice hockey team or club in your area, the English Ice Hockey Association Recreational Section can help.

If you're tempted to try curling, the English Curling Association has information about curling lessons.

Getting started

Ice skating requires leg strength, as well as a combination of co-ordination, balance and flexibility.

"Whether your aim is to skate gracefully around the local ice rink or work towards competitive figure skating, you need to have a basic level of strength and fitness," says Dr Alasdair R Wright.

"Without the specific muscle and balance training, you will not only progress at a slower rate, but also run the risk of injury." Good leg strength is also important for other ice sports, such as ice hockey and curling.

In order to build leg strength, try sitting against a wall with your knees at a 90 degree angle, holding on for as long as possible. At first, you may only be able to hold this position for less than a minute but, with regular practice, you will be able to hold on for much longer.

Gym exercises for ice sports

The following exercises from Dr Wright are also beneficial for ice skating and other ice sports. They are probably best undertaken at a gym unless you have a weights bar, dumb-bells, gym ball and wobble board at home.

To help strength and speed

  • Do three sets of 10 thigh squats with a weights bar across the back of your shoulders.
  • Lower your knees to a 90 degree angle, lifting up to a standing position.
  •  Do one set at a slow speed, the second faster and the third faster still.
  • Perform this twice daily, three days a week.
 To help strengthen leg and knee muscles
  • Do four sets of 20 knee lunges, alternating between legs.
  • Step forwards, lowering each knee down to 90 degrees. To make it more difficult, hold a dumb-bell in either hand.
  • Perform this once a day, three times a week.
To tune the core abdominal, pelvic and back muscles needed for balance
  • Sit on a gym ball and lift one leg off the ground, whilst using the other to roll the ball back and forwards. Change leg and repeat four times.
  • Follow this with standing on a wobble board, or on one leg with your knee partially bent, whilst swaying and trying to maintain your balance until you get tired.
  • Once you become skilled at this, add in flexing and extending your hip whilst balancing on the opposite leg.
To promote suppleness and reduce the risk of injury
  • Always stretch after exercising, ice skating or other ice sports. Stretch all the tendons around the legs and lower back.
  • Sit on the floor and stretch your hamstrings by reaching for one foot at a time with your legs out straight.
  • Lean against a wall and stretch your Achilles tendons by pushing your heel to the floor with your knee straight, while the opposite knee is bent.

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