An insider spills figure skaters’ fitness secrets

Olympians glide, jump, and spin over the ice so gracefully, it appears effortless. But don't let their sequined outfits fool you. The workout's seriously tough.
Marni Halasa
Marni Halasa (Photo Credit: Marcela Benson)


Olympic figure skaters glide, jump, and spin over the ice so gracefully, it appears effortless. But you shouldn’t let their sequined outfits fool you. Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner are working insanely hard, both on and off the ice.

“When my students initially come to the ice, they’re little girls excited about skating and want to wear a pretty dress. But when they really get into it, they’re like, ‘This is really exhausting!'” says Marni Halasa, a popular figure skating instructor at Chelsea Piers’ Sky Rink, who coaches the award-winning artistic ensemble team The Sky Rink All Stars and has been figure skating for three decades. “You really have to exert yourself. I can’t even tell you how tiring it is.”

Why? “Even just standing there takes a lot of muscle control because you’re holding yourself up on a few inches of steel. And then the constant anaerobic stop-start makes it so difficult. In addition, you have that intense coordination, since takeoffs and landings have to be perfect to the millisecond.” Plus, it can take a while to warm up in such a chilly setting, she says.

We laced up with Halasa to find out more about figure skaters’ fitness secrets, so you can start to appreciate those double axels in a whole new workout way.

Which muscles does figure skating mainly target? Is it a full-body effort? Primarily you’re using your core, glutes, and hamstrings. It looks like they’re really using their thighs and glutes, but you’re working your core a lot because it’s the central place where all your limbs stem from. Of course you also use your legs, your arms, your back. If you’re doing choreography, you hold your arms up a lot, too, especially at the elite level.

Aside from how much the actual skating works your muscles, how much training do you think the Olympians are doing to actually get in shape for the ice? They do a tremendous amount of off-ice conditioning. Core training, general conditioning like squats, lunges, sit-ups, and cardio. You also do jumping and practice rotations off-ice. It helps you understand the explosion that it takes to push off. If you get it on the ground first, it’s a lot easier on the ice.

Interesting! Is there also a lot of pressure in the sport to achieve a certain body, given the skimpy costumes? There’s definitely a hypercritical thing that goes on, and I try to be really aware of it. You can condition yourself, but you have to be really accepting of your body type and love your own body and realize that there are a lot of advantages to other body types. For instance, especially when kids are young, a larger body type is actually often better because there’s more muscle and power. —Lisa Elaine Held

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