Seinäjoki, January 2019. It’s Friday, and the Finnish Sprint and Distance Championships are about to begin. In general, Seinäjoki’s ice track is the fastest speed skating ice rink in Finland. But at temperatures of -11 till -18 Celsius this weekend, we can’t expect much regarding the times. Extreme cold makes the ice stiff and it won’t glide very well. Once my train arrives in Seinäjoki, about 2 hours and 40 minutes after we left from Helsinki, I'll walk to the ice track and the the skaters start their warm up. As a coach during competitions, I like to see what the different skaters do for their warm up, how they prepare themselves for competition. In this particular race, the skaters are seniors, A juniors and B juniors. Typically, these age categories don’t need a lot of instruction from a coach or trainer for the contents of their warm up. They know what they are going to do, they have done the routine before.
Sitting on a bench in one of the hallways of the building next to the track, I notice huge differences in approach, which are partly divided into the cities where the skaters come from. A few bicycles are lined up on their bike trainers in front of the window (skaters from Pori), in one of the bigger spaces skaters jump fanatically and tap the ceiling with their hand (Seinäjoki), and a handful of others jog around (Helsinki). After doing an off-skate warm up, the skaters move on to the dressing rooms to put on their skating gear for a warm up on ice. Some skate up to 10 laps in a paceline, then some accelerations and sprints. Others skate two laps alone, do a competition start, a fast corner and leave the ice. A minority of skaters doesn’t go on ice yet at all and rely on their off-skate warm up.
It keeps me wondering. In this situation above, I was an objective person on the sideline, just looking at what happens and trying to see the purpose of every move and exercise. If I would make a short analysis of the general activities, intensity and duration of the whole warm up period, I’d say that most skaters did way too much and will probably have wasted energy before the competition even started. On the side, I don’t know the specific task the coaches might have given to the skaters, they could be using this warm up to practice certain skills and movements or use it as an additional training.
In the ISU Development project (a level 2 coach education) which I organise, we have had guest-lecturers (professional coaches) tell us their principles about the warm up. They had one thing in common: the example warm ups were really short. 6-8 minutes jogging or cycling rises the temperature of the body, and then moving from a few general coordinative exercises to more specific skating imitations, working from top to bottom. The idea is to keep the lower body warm until the last moment before the race, so finishing with exercises for the bottom half make sense as the legs are the most important part for speed skating.
An example warm up for speed skating, as given by expert coaches during the ISU Development project:
- 6-8 minutes jogging or cycling, until you feel the body temperature rise
- Basic exercises for the top of the body:
o Arm swings for shoulder rotation; clockwise and counter-clockwise
o Full circles, forward and backwards
- Exercises to loosen the hips and pelvis; warming up the groins (middle of the body)
o Leg rises
o Twists and turns with a free leg, knee up
- Exercises towards skating position; ankle rotation and knee angle (lower body)
o Skating imitations for coordination awakening
o Skating imitations with and without weight shifting