Getting Started Inline Skating

By Lindsey Townsend

If you’re looking for a workout that will make you feel like a kid again, lace up the skates. “Skating is giggles first and exercise second,” says David Cooper, co-founder of the International Inline Skating Association (IISA) and two-time national champion in outdoor speedskating. “Remember how much of a blast it was when you were young to skate? We all loved the clickety-clack of our skates on the sidewalk,” he adds. Cooper has taken his skating to a new level. He’s listed in the 1999 Guinness Book of World Records for Highest Mountain Skated (Mt. Kilimanjaro).

But it’s not necessary to be a super athlete to enjoy skating. According to the IISA, in 1997, more than 33 million people in the U.S. skated at least once, and the number of inline skaters has increased by 300 percent since 1992. “As people get older, they’re not into doing pushups and situps for a workout. If they can get out and do something three times a week that’s healthy AND fun, they’re more likely to stick with it…And for a 140-pound woman, skating burns about 300 calories per half-hour. You can’t do that on a Stairmaster!” says Suzan Davis, a fitness and certified inline skating instructor and founder of Babes on Blades in Loomis, California, an inline skating organization for women over 40. She adds, “I thought I had to lose weight before I went to a gym. The Spandex atmosphere was very intimidating. That’s why I started skating--because I could wear big shirts and baggy clothes while working out.”

Skating primarily works the legs, back, buttocks, and inner thighs, especially going uphill, but it also strengthens the arms and neck. Plus, although it burns as many calories as jogging, it's low impact, so it's easy on your joints--as long as you don't fall. Another benefit, says Ray Pisar of Orbital FX, who teaches an eight-hour beginner’s skating class in Tempe, Arizona, is that “You control the amount of exercise that you get, so it can be both an anaerobic and aerobic workout. You can skate 10 miles easy without getting any aerobic benefit, or you can pump it up and really get your heart going for 20 minutes.”

To get ready for skating, Joel Rappelfeld, an inline skating instructor from New York City, recommends leg extensions with skates and weights, hamstring and thigh stretches, and inner thigh lunges at least three times a week, along with butterfly stretches to help avoid groin injuries and stomach crunches. Other experts such as Robert King, fitness trainer at the Vail Athletic Club in Colorado, suggest adding at least one session a week of slide aerobics to your fitness routine.

As much fun as it is, skating doesn’t come without inherent risks. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about one out of every 25 in-line skaters is injured seriously enough to warrant a hospital visit each year. Wrist and lower arm injuries are the most common, followed by face and chin injuries. Importantly, however, the problem is not limited to novice skaters, and 46% of the injuries are being sustained by skaters wearing no safety gear.

To boost enjoyment and safety, experts agree that you must do two things: wear the proper protective equipment at all times, including a helmet, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards, and take lessons from a pro. “There are risks with every sport, but they are greatly minimized if you wear the safety equipment. Your risk of injury is actually less with skating than with climbing the stairs at home,” says Cooper.

When selecting skates, it’s a good idea to purchase them from a specialty store, not a discount super-store, because you’ll have expert help to fit them properly, and you’ll be able to get them “tweaked” later if necessary. “If you buy them from a five-and-dime store, you’re on your own,” warns Davis. Also, be careful not to pay too little, because your comfort may be seriously compromised. “A lot of adults who are not sure about the sport tend to buy cheaper equipment, and their experience is subsequently not a great one. I would expect to pay between $150 and $250. For that, you’re going to get a screamin’ wonderful pair of skates,” she adds.

To find a certified IISA instructor in your area, call the IISA at (910) 762-7004 or look up their website at www.iisa.org. Check to make sure that your instructor wears his protective gear and helmet at all times. If he doesn’t, “find another instructor,” says Pisar. Many falls occur from a standing position when people are trying to get up and lose their balance when they’re not even moving yet.

When you're just starting out, stick to smooth, flat areas that are traffic-free, and avoid hazards such as water, grease, and sand. Try to find a park with a grassy area that you can roll onto if you get moving too quickly. Remember to skate on the right and pass on the left. Don't combine tasks, such as walking the dog, when skating; don't skate at night or in low visibility weather; and don't wear anything that will obstruct your safety gear, such as portable headphones.

With these safety tips in mind, you should be well on your way to recapturing the joy of the Friday night All-Skate from the days of your youth!

Inline Skating

  • Benefits: Allover body toning; can be both aerobic and anaerobic; fun and social.
  • Cons: high risk of injury without proper equipment or instruction.
  • Must-Haves: good skates, helmet, knee and elbow pads, wrist guards.
  • Cost: $150-250 for skates; helmet $40+; pads and guards $40-$60.
  • The Skating Personality: Attracts all type of people who enjoy the sensations of speed and freedom.

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