Hippy, hippy skate

The “hips-forward” position. It’s not something that comes to us naturally, particularly the male of the species, for what should be obvious reasons. Unless you’re puttin’ your junk in a box to give your baby a little something to let her know what’s on your mind, or you’re a pervert hip-reaching for a glancing rub on a crowded cross-town bus, your hips are usually hanging straight to slightly back when you walk, keeping yo junk tucked safely out of harms way. When you’re skating though, this position gives you a leg up on the field, allowing you to optimize your form and maximize your stride. Ed Grimley would be a helluva speed skater, if he’d just bend his knees…

I must say, I really don't find those skin suits to be all that flattering.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my coach say to push my hips forward. Honestly, it’s taken me about three years to finally figure out what he meant. Intellectually, I understood him when he’d illustrate the pelvic thrust on dry-land, although I’m the first to admit I was a little distracted when he put “The Time Warp” on the rink sound system and dressed like Tim Curry in Rocky Horror to show us the proper position, but that aside it was easy enough to see what he was talking about. It was quite another thing to apply it while skating, particularly in indoor speed skating. (Sorry – no visual on the Rocky Horror thing.)

I can tell you this…skating with your hip forward, or “tail-tucked” as they say, is one of those fine little technical points that immediately shaves time off the lap counter. I’ve been doing nothing but skating Grimley-style since I got clued into its true importance. Seriously…it’s one of those things I feel like I could take a year off just to work on. To get perfect. And judging by a recent post out there in the inline/online world by Bill Begg, Chad Hedrick’s hip position was the key to his massive double push technique, so I guess I was onto something after all…

Why is it so important? Because that’s where the power lives. There are some big muscles in them there parts. We’re talking butts and quads.  For me, when I’ve got all my attention focused on keeping my tail tucked way under me, my thighs come up directly underneath me, allowing me to stack my position over my ankle. For me, this makes it easier to keep everything tight and in line, particularly when I lean into the turns. Holy crap have I been doing a lot of work to get a better corner lean! But anyway…

The most obvious benefit that almost anyone who tries this will find immediately is that your stride extends more fully to the side and more forward, as opposed to dropping back and away. In the corners, it’s a wicked technical improvement. I’ve found my underpush feels stronger, and I feel more in control when I’m doing this right. Did I mention it’s making me faster as I ride a tighter line through the corners? Now if only I’d step into the damn turn a little sooner. That, combined with this, would probably help me shave another 1/10th of a second off my lap time.

Also, the falling motion seems to gain a little juice when I’m stacked up right. (Hell, if I was truly stacked I’d never leave the house, but that’s yet another tale better left untold.) This probably has something to do with having more weight forward, falling in the direction of travel, building forward momentum to carry you along at a higher rate of speed. But hey, I’m not a physicist, but I’ve had nasty cysts, and they’re just about as much fun as science class was for me in high school. So it goes…

For all this intellectualized blather, I’m still the kind of skater that tosses everything out the window when the starter pistol fires. But with practice, and I’m talking every rolling minute on skates, it’s becoming more second nature to get my hips more forward. And the more I talk about it with people much smarter than me, the more it becomes clear that this is truly important in the grand scheme of this skating thing.

I’ve been working on all of this for about a month and a half, ever since I filmed my coach using a golf swing analyzer App on my iPad2 (yet another blog post for another day.) Watching his form in slow-motion, I was able to really see the difference between his hip placement and mine. It’s one of those things that’s eventually going to lead to that one second gap closing between us. Because all of this analysis, all of this desire to improve technically, is to ultimately improve my 100m flying time by one-freaking-second. It’s the stuff like this that separates them – the greats – from us – the haters. One godforsaken second between me and a former world champ. There’s about 25 good years of skating experience in between us too, but it’s the small technical things that are keeping us apart skating indoors. With all this hip and stacking and stepping and leaning stuff, I feel like I’ve unlocked the secret to shaving another 4/10th’s of that second off when I get this stuff right.  Now…where the hell is the rest of it going to come from?

NOTE: These are just my observations. I’m not an expert and don’t claim to be even related to one. So don’t hold me up or put me down, if you know something more, share it. Constructively. Have a nice day, know-it-all.


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