The Fat Girl’s Guide to Ice Skating

10 Dec 09 - Sports + Recreation - Tee - 11 Comments

Being queen-of-the-ice doesn't require a svelt body...but you might get one

Photo via Dutchnatasja

If your ankles get wobbly just reading the words “ice” and “skating” in the same sentence, if you’ve ever looked on longingly at the ubiquitous images of figure skaters on TV every fourth winter, if you’ve been known to punch the gas in bitter resentment as you pass quaint, fuzzy-hatted skaters at the outdoor rink downtown, get comfortable – this guide was written for you.

The myth that fat girls can’t skate is overdue for shattering, and as a former competitive ice-skater, one I’m happy to take a hammer to. If you’ve never skated, making the images of ice skating and overweight bodies fit together in your psyche may be tough, but understand that most of our impressions of ice skating are fashioned from figure-skating athletes: a small fraction of the ice skating community. These men and women are no more representative of the skating public than Kate Moss is of the average clothes-buying consumer. Need more convincing? Consider hockey players. These guys are big, bulky bricks – many well over 200 lbs (and some closing in on 300) – yet they glide across the ice with speed and confidence.

Just like, with a little practice, you will too.

Like swimming, ice skating is a relatively easy combination of low-impact/high burn-rate activity for women who are overweight. For those counting, 45 minutes of casual ice skating can slay about 450 calories for someone in the 250-lb range, and it also builds muscle fast, which helps you burn more, even at rest, every day. Even if you’re not counting or interested in weight loss, but still want a strong, healthy body, a even weekly trip to the rink can be a fast-track to those goals.

ON YOUR FEET

Learning to ice skate seems to have become psychologically synonymous with weak, sore ankles. Don’t let that scare you away. While it’s true that until you get used to using those muscles again you’ll probably experience some soreness, you can speed up the trip to strong, sturdy ankles with some simple exercises before you hit the ice. Beyond that, a pair of good skates can make all the difference.

Don’t be tempted to skimp here just because you’re not sure you’ll like it or get much use out of them. Oh no. Because you can be sure you’ll be soured on skating fast if a cheap skate or a bad fit ends up hurting your feet or making you feel unsupported and insecure. So don’t rent! And don’t buy your skates online. Stop by a pro shop for sizing (or visit the shop at your local rink) and go straight for their good stuff. Plan to spend $50-$100, and if after giving it a fair chance you find it just isn’t for you, you can sell them and recoup most of your costs.

Keep in mind, it’s normal for brand new skate boots to feel stiff for a little while. With use, the boot material yields and feels more natural. When trying skates on, be sure to wear a thick sock to approximate the feeling you’ll experience when out skating. Make sure your new blades are nice and sharp (and sharpen often from then on for easier gliding).

STARTING OUT

Even if you’re thinking of lessons, I recommend making a few trips to the rink just to get the feel for being on the ice before you sign up. Start out slow, do just 10 or 15 minutes on the ice the first time out, and increase your ice time by about 10 minutes each return trip. You should find you’re able to enjoy 45 minutes of skating after just three or four practice days. If you can, bring a friend who’s also a beginner. Falling down (and you will*) is more fun when you’re not the only one doing it.

* A note about falling: everyone does it, even experienced skaters. But remember to get up as quickly as you can to avoid being bumped, and always, always pull your fingers in close to your body immediately so they won’t get run over by sharp skate blades! I’ve never seen it happen, but I’ve heard enough stories to make this an immediate reflex when I’m skating.

If you do choose to take some lessons at your local rink, now you’ll have gotten your “ice legs” well underway with those feel-out sessions and can focus on learning technique right from the start of your new class. You’ll most likely be asked to choose between group and private lessons at sign-up, and if you’re shy, easily embarrassed or easily derailed or discouraged, I recommend you go for private. They’re not that expensive and in most cases you can be “graduated” out into the skating world after just a few sessions. For the brave among you, group lessons are fun and inexpensive, and provide a good opportunity to meet other beginning skaters to skate with.

WHAT TO WEAR

Jeans are a bad idea – they don’t dry fast after a spill, and can feel heavy and restricting. Stretch pants, workout/jogging pants or sweats are good choices for casual and beginning skaters. Layering is a great idea – a short-sleeved shirt under a hoodie or sweater lets you stay warm when you’re first starting out and when taking a break, but can be shed once you get going and warm up. No scarves – they’re a hazard if they dangle and get caught under a skate – but I definitely suggest gloves or mittens for warmth and protection. Socks should be thick enough to keep your feet warm and cozy, but not so thick that they make your feet feel suffocated and uncomfortably tight in your skates.

WHERE TO SKATE

Avoid local frozen ponds and natural standing water, as it’s difficult to assess ice thickness and safety, and extra weight can play a role here. To find a rink near you, do a simple search online or check out a directory like ArenaMaps.com.

If you find you absolutely love ice skating and want to do it anytime right on your own property, consider making your own rink! My family used to do it every year and those are some of my favorite memories.

WHAT ELSE?

Readers, what am I forgetting? Share your tips for plus-size ice-skating in comments!

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Pamela says:

Thank you for this article. My 6 year old son plays ice hockey, and I want to learn to skate so I can free skate with him. I started lessons but had to take the next session because I had a really hard time out there on those awful rental skates. They are really dull and I couldn’t use my edges. I have purchased a really nice pair of skates and now I’m ready. I appreciate the extra encouragement I have read here. I hope I lose weight and get some muscles too!

samantha says:

Thankyou so much for all the advice posted, it realy is very helpful. I have just started skating at 26yrs old. I have two young children and want to use skating for a bit of me time but also hope it will assist me in loosing weight. I start lessons in feb, but have been going to public sessions once a week to build up a bit of confidence. I am so excited and really enjoying it espeshally since my lovely husband bought me my own skates. This site has really given me the confidance to keep going, if I can learn a new skill and loose weight at the same time i’ll be really happy. Thanks again

Toni says:

Heather, you’re more than welcome. And we’re excited to hear that you’re heading back onto the ice. Please come back and let us know how it goes!

Heather says:

Thank you for writing this. I have been putting off getting back on the ice for a while because I’m not as thin as I was when I competed. Now I will at least get back out there at a public session or two. :-)

jgreen31 says:

I decided @ age 40 that I wanted to play ice hockey and learned out to skate from scratch. Now, @ 48, I’m playing goal for a women’s rec team – the Southern Tier Storm. You go girls!!

Tee says:

Oooh, I love roller/street hockey and have pined over local roller derby teams when I see them forming. Maybe I need to get out there and give that a try for a future guide. Any excuse!

FatWaitress says:

I actually took ice skating lessons in elementary school, but decided that roller hockey was move fun before moving on to play roller derby at 20. One thing I noticed throughout all of those sports was how having my own skates made everything seem better.

The stiffness of them really helped get use to the skates since everything feels really loose and wobbly on the rental skates.