While training on ice was put on hold everywhere in the world, it doesn’t mean that the skaters were sitting back and taking a break. Training continued, but just in a different way and the ”Keep Training!” series for Figure Skating and Synchronized Skating launched by the ISU in collaboration with the ISU Centers of Excellence in April turned out to be a huge success. Thousands of viewers followed the live training sessions with well-known skaters such as Stéphane Lambiel (SUI), Aljona Savchenko (GER), Ondrej Hotarek (ITA), Jeremy Abbott (USA) and other experts, or watched the videos later. Speed Skating and Short Track Speed Skating also offer online training sessions.
The Figure Skating series covers various topics: strength, balance and flexibility (on skates even without ice), body awareness, specific drills for Pair Skating, contemporary dance, stretching, full body work out and more. Each session lasts about an hour and different skaters from all over the world took part. And the best thing is – everybody could join and it is for free.
“We have in our school two “strength” training sessions per week and I wanted to share with the whole world what we have been doing,” said two-time ISU World Figure Skating Champion Stéphane Lambiel, who coaches at his “Skating School of Switzerland” in Champéry. He hosted two sessions.
Pair skater and ISU European Figure Skating medalist Ondrej Hotarek from the IceLab Bergamo in Italy was part of the training session “Balance and Flexibility on skates” and other sessions. “During the quarantine we tried to keep our athletes motivated and focused on goals to maintain themselves in shape for the eventual comeback on ice,” Ondrej shared. “We learn to improvise with what we have at home to work in our favor. It was Franca Bianconi's idea to do an off-ice workout with skates on. My job was just to give a lesson a structure so the exercises would follow a rhythm like when we do on ice sessions. We work together with many coaches in Bergamo and Tatiana Kapustina specializes herself on off ice workouts and she was the coach behind all these exercises.” Hotarek moderated the session and demonstrated the exercises. “We wanted to bring in some famous skaters so they could inspire others in this hard moment. We had few moments to chat and show everyone that we are passionate about skating even when on lockdown,” the multiple Italian Pairs Champion noted.
The idea to do off-ice exercises while wearing skating boots might sound unusual at first, but Ondrej explained the reason behind it: “I find it very helpful for skaters to use their skates when for some reason they cannot skate on the ice. I think even more mentally than physically. You can keep in shape but that feeling of your skates on is just unique. Also for many difficult variations in spins is good to have the proper grip,” he said.
When the rinks closed, the coaches had to come up with a plan. And they did. “Since the ice rink closed, we set up an online class for physical training to stay in shape and also to be in touch. The group is showing solidarity and the work has allowed us to keep the spirits up,” Lambiel noted.
Under the current circumstances, the off-ice training is even more important. “The work on strengthening the muscles is indispensable for the athletes,” Stéphane explained. “The coordination and the movement through different exercises such as pilates, dance and so on also need to be worked on. I encourage all skaters to do jump training and skating specific rotation training. You also need to include the cardio into this planning. Skating is a sport that demands many physical and artistic qualities and I am impressed to see how active my athletes remain in an autonomous and intelligent way,” he continued.
Ondrej Hotarek agreed. “I would say it is important to keep yourself busy, but also try new things, a new approach to training, take a yoga class, take a stretching class, do a dance routine just to know all these new skills will help you be a better athlete.”
Online teaching is something new to many coaches as well, but they embraced the opportunity. “It was a first for me being an online coach and I must admit it made me nervous,” Hotarek offered. “I want to give skaters some good workouts but also entertain them and give them positive energy, so with every new class we come up with something new. The goal remains that everyone can join and try our workouts. From the smallest skaters to high level athletes, everyone should find something useful in the workout.”
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS), the 2015 ISU World and European Figure Skating Champion, is one of those who followed the series. “I was watching that and Stéphane’s exercises were very interesting,” she said. Other high-level athletes that took part in the live sessions were for example 2018 Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno (JPN) or 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Pairs Champion Vanessa James (FRA).
“The energy of the keep training group is motivating and the fact that the Centers of Excellence share their knowledge and inspire the skaters, the coaches and fans from all over the world. I thank the ISU for their initiative,” Lambiel commented.
The experience collected now will be useful for the future and will help to develop the online teaching and training methods. “For the future I think online lessons is something we should be using more, it’s a great opportunity to share classes all over the world and be able to connect people from different schools. I will definitely try to improve these lessons so they can be used for everyday training,” Hotarek commented.
“The ISU has an e-learning concept that becomes more and more important in the current situation. It is accessible for everyone at this moment,” Lambiel pointed out. “It is a tool that needs to be developed for the future. But now I am hoping that everyone can get back on to the ice quickly as soon as the situation improves,” he concluded.