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There’s No Crying in Speedskating: How to Make the Most of Your Off-season
Posted by tedwards On Tue 05 May, 2015
Okay, be honest. Did you shed a tear or two when you skated your final race and the speedskating season ended? And when you walk by your forlorn-looking skates at home, do you try to convince them that you really haven’t forgotten about them, you’re just taking some time off? Don’t worry—you’re not the only one. And while we can’t recommend any support groups for speed skaters who talk to their skates, we can tell you how to make the most of your off-season. This week, we sit down with Derek Parra and Eric Heiden to get some tips on how to stay focused during your time off the ice, so that when the new season starts, you’ll be ready to go.

Remember, Taking Time off is a Good Thing

Derek says that the off-season is “a great time for goal-setting. When you’re in the ‘jungle’, so-to-speak, it’s hard to see the big picture. [But] when you’re off the ice, it gives you a break from that day-to-day routine. You see some daylight, because you’re not looking through a microscope, and you’re able to see things for what they really are. Your mind expands a little bit. When I skated, I always welcomed that time off. I was pretty intense on whatever I was doing during the season, and until the season was over, I tried to keep that focus. [But] when the season ended, I would step away and say, ‘Now I can be a normal guy. Now I can sleep in, I can eat junk food if I want. I can watch TV, and I can think about other things.’ It was good for me emotionally, mentally, and physically, to let my body heal.

“During that time off the ice when I was…doing something not related to speed skating—those were the times when I actually made break-throughs. All of a sudden, the light bulb would go off in my head and I would think, ‘Oh, that’s what I was doing wrong!’ Or, ‘That’s what I could try.’ And I would…figure out ways to try to implement it into drills, or technique, or whatever. And it would pull me back to that cycle where I was excited about getting back on the ice.”


Cross-training is when an athlete trains in two or more sports with the goal of improving performance or overall fitness. Eric Heiden says, “Cross-training is an important part of any training program because it allows you to stay physically fit….You can run, you can ride a bike, you can swim, you can cross country ski—those are all ways to stay aerobically fit besides skating.”

Derek says, “The hardest thing about speedskating is being aerobically fit in that basic skating position, so you do dryland training, in addition to bike riding, or running for aerobic fitness. But it’s always good to get out and do something else that compliments the training or workouts that you typically do for speed skating, hopefully in a way that keeps you motivated. When you go around in circles on the ice for the majority of your season, it’s great to get outside, get your hands on the handlebars, and look up to see everything around you as you ride, enjoying beautiful scenery…wherever you live. It lets you escape from that repetitive, ‘Go fast, turn left. Go fast, turn left,’ that you spend nine out of twelve months doing.”

How Much Off-Season Training Should You Do?

When it comes to how much cross-training is good, Derek says it depends on the level of athlete you are and how much you can handle. “I wouldn’t put a club skater in the same workout that I would an elite skater. I look at a skater’s maturation level and their body type, as well as [how long] they’ve been in the sport. And that’s where I kind of break it up and start to decrease or increase sets, or volumes of sets.” He adds that “you should train as hard as you can so that you still can come back the next day and train. You don’t want to go out and train so hard that you pull a muscle, or you’re so sore that you can’t go out the next day and build on that training volume. Throughout my career, I tried to build in volume so that every year, I was, in theory, a little stronger, because I could handle more load and more intensity. And that’s just part of monitoring your training cycles and your training programs over the years.” Derek adds that it’s important to “have a consistent recovery day, or a schedule that allows your body to rise in duration and intensity, then recover before you take another hard hit. If you go high-intensity every day [and] you never have any recovery, you never build your base, and at some point, you’ll just burn out."

How to Prevent Injuries

So what are the most common speedskating injuries? Eric, who works as an orthopedic surgeon at Heiden-Davidson Orthopedics, says that “low back pain and anterior knee pain are the two most common injuries” he sees with speedskaters, because “they do the same thing over and over again.” He says that in order to prevent injury, it’s important to “make sure that you do things technically sound, [and] to do a slow progression. Don’t jump in and really overdo it the first day. Make sure that you have a schedule, and that’s there’s a scheduled progression. And in between seasons…take some time off. That’s one of the components of training that people often forget about.”

If you do get injured, Eric says that your doctor can help you on the road to recovery, but that sometimes, patience is also required. “There are certain treatments for injuries that you can’t really vary away from, whether you’re an elite athlete, or just a recreational skater. There are things that we can do to be a little bit more proactive in the recovery of [certain] injuries than others. But if you break something, Mother Nature tells you it’s three months for a break to heal. There are certain things that you can’t change.”

One More Thing to Think About

In the recent NFL draft, the website Tracking Football reported that 224 of the 256 athletes picked in the entry draft played multiple sports in high school. Many parents wonder if they should have their child specialize in a single sport at a young age. However, research has found that specializing kids in a single sport too early can result in overuse injuries, burnout, and a lack of motivation to participate in sports later in life.

Eric says, “There’s a big interest in trying to found out what makes the best athletes the very best. And the common thread they are finding with some of the best athletes is that they were involved in multiple sports [as children]. And then later on, they migrated towards the one that they enjoyed the most. When athletes do this, [they] develop a lot of fundamental skills from a variety of sports that they can incorporate into their sport of choice later on. Burnout is one risk of specializing kids in one sport too early. And then in orthopedics, we worry about overuse injuries. If you do just one sport as a child, like baseball for example, you’re doing the same thing over and over again, and risk getting injured. I think for the majority of sports, mid-teens is the time you should start following maybe two sports, or even heading towards one.”

Derek adds, “You wouldn’t send your child to school and have them just study math. You learn a number of different educational skills when you’re in school. It’s the same in sports. If you just play [one sport], you’re not learning those different movements that your body needs to mature. You’re not developing muscle groups, structure, balance, and physical knowledge. To be more physically literate, you have to participate in more sports so you learn those different types of movement that will only help you in your chosen sport later in life.”


Changingthegameproject.com. “Is it Wise to Specialize?” Accessed 5/5/15

Smith, Cam. “No Surprise Here: Lots of Prep Multi-sport Athletes in NFL Draft.” May 4, 2015. Accessed 5/5/15.

*Thanks to Jerry Search for image of Derek Parra and Paul Richardson doing dryland training.

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