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Visualization Technique #1

It should feel like this...

Let's take an example of a common skating problem and consider how you can work through it with visualization. Along the way we'll see how you can combine your physical training with off-ice visualization practice to improve your skills over all.

A lot of skaters have trouble with toe pushes. Generally speaking, you don't want to push through your toe pick. Whether you are doing straight stroking or front crossovers, the sound of toe pick scritches on the ice is anathema. Your pushes should go through the edge of your blade, nearer to your heel than to your toe. But if you've been pushing through your toes for a while, you've built up that motion as muscle memory. How do you make yourself push through your heels instead?

The simple answer is practice, practice, practice. If you can push through your heels enough times, you will have re-written your muscle memory. The problem is that your existing muscle memory keeps kicking in and you have trouble consistently pushing the correct way. This is where a combination of real practice and visualization can help you build new muscle memory faster.

First, you want to learn what pushing correctly should look feel like. As a coach I use a few different tools to help students with this challenge. First I use other exercises to show a skater which part of the blade gives them the most power. Two foot swizzles are really good for this because you get power in your swizzles when you push through your heels. I also take skaters up to the wall or to the bar to feel what a good push feels like. I help them feel what it's like to keep hips and shoulders "squared up" and facing forward, turn the pushing foot to the side and push correctly at an angle back and a bit to the side. I help them feel what a good extension feels like after the push, too. Once the pattern has been set, I have my skaters practice that in place at the wall a few times.

Now that you know what the move should feel like, you are ready to work on the visualization. Imagine yourself skating perfectly. Remember what it feels like to push through your heels. Remember which muscles work when you hold your extension correctly. Remember what it was like to practice the push correctly against the wall, or what it felt like to practice pushing off ice. Where are your hips? Where are your shoulders? Where should your hands be? Imagine what it feels like to skate like that. Imagine yourself skating, pushing through your edges correctly, holding your body correctly, and feeling the power that comes with proper stroking technique.

You might find that when you first start imagining a move that you want to fix that you actually imagine yourself doing it wrong. Don't worry about that. It's just your mind telling you what it knows so far. You will teach it better. Keep reinforcing the idea of what you want to do over what you have been doing in the past. Just as you would do while practicing on the ice, think about what you want to do and how you should do it. Keep practicing in your imagination, even after you "get it right". Reinforce that positive visualization as much as you can while you are off ice if you want the improvements to be seen on ice as well.

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