There’s an almost effortless way to build or improve greatly on the athletic skills of balance, perception and coordination. All it takes is eight wheels — four under each foot. When you see how much they can improve your physical prowess, you’ll call them ‘wheels of glory.’
We are talking about blade skating here. Four wheels are lined up in a row from the front to the back of each skate. Some call it roller blading, and you can do it for fun or exercise. But used as a training device, skates accomplish something unique and important. They force your moving body to assume positions that result in a constant changing of your center of mass. The body’s center of mass is like a weighted fulcrum around which the rest of the body pivots. At the same time, each of these hundreds of positions become part of the muscle memory. No matter what position your body gets to on skates, your muscle memory will make you instantly aware of the coordinates for the required balance to keep you from falling.
The best part of all this is that the vast muscle memory easily transfers. The balance and coordination needed for skilled skating becomes part of what you do on a single track through the forest on a mountain bike. You will automatically know where to balance your weight. You will rarely slide out, no matter how steep the slope is up or downhill. The wheeled skates will teach you where to aim your front tire and how to keep those pedals turning. You’ll be a lot less likely to end up as one of those people who make one little stutter and then have to push their bike.
But what if you’re not an action sports athlete? What if you are, say, a basketball player? You may think there’s no comparison between a skater, a mountain biker on a raw dirt trail and a basketball player. But think for a moment about a basketball player’s positions. There are hundreds — some say thousands — of different positions, angles and ranges of motion used by a player to get the ball through a net.
Whether you squat down, jump up, lean sideways so that you’re using your center of mass to balance, skates will inform you how to hold your body so you can play a more athletic game, whether it’s basketball or a triathlon. The basic skills of a good athlete are basically fairly similar, no matter what sport is being played. Different muscles may need to be more developed than others. A cyclist needs really strong thighs and buttocks, but a mountain biker also requires a very strong core and upper back. Using skates as a conditioning method, you can easily focus on building the specific muscles needed for your sport. You can even feel that focus of them being used as you skate, especially if you change your skating balance to twist and turn, relying on the muscles you want to develop for your particular sport.
Even if you don’t compete, even if you just merely enjoy playing your sport for your own self, it’s so much more enjoyable to be able to do it well. You don’t have to start out paying hundreds of dollars for a pair of blade skates to train on. There are many second-hand sports shops that purchase barely used equipment, sold by someone who bought great gear, then realized they weren’t really interested in using the gear, or they weren’t that good at the sport.
Lots of blade skates end up on the shelves of these shops. Ask for advice. Tell the clerk you want them for training skates. They will help you find the right size for your feet, and the correct hardness of the skate boot itself. You may have to buy a new set of wheels, but that’s a reasonably inexpensive purchase. Talk with the clerk about the kind of terrain you wish to use the wheeled skates on — street asphalt, skate parks, sidewalks where there may be potholes and cracks. Buy the best hardness of wheels for the surface you intend to use them on.
Work out a conditioning routine, with a warm up and cool down, including fast and slow portions, along with areas that need some tight turns and off-balance moves. When you train for even just a few months, you’ll know quite well why skates are known as ‘wheels of glory.’
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly