14 tips for learning to ice-skate as a total beginner

Ever wished that you could be the person effortlessly gliding along the ice rather than the crumpled mess having to hold onto the sides of the ice rink? Writer and former pro ice-skater Cleo McGee shares her top tips for building confidence on the ice ahead of ice-skating season.

With Christmas season fast approaching, a lot of people will be gearing up for an ice-skating whizz around the rink. Yet the question remains: ‘How do I skate?’ As a former professional ice-skater, I know a thing or two about staying upright on ice, so I’ve pulled together my top tips for gliding rather than falling at speed.

It’s worth pointing out that ice-skating is a sport that uses a great deal of core strength, so for those of you big on pilates and yoga, you’ll already have an advantage. In terms of technique, minimal adjustments can have maximum effects, so be subtle – save those big, swooping movements for your next dance class (on dry land). 

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The main thing with most sports is to believe you can do it; if you think you will fall then you will, as believing you can skate will help you to move with ease. And with learning to skate, it’s important to acknowledge that you will fall, and although it might hurt from time-to-time, falling isn’t something to be scared of.

Here’s how to get started with learning to ice-skate as an adult.

What to wear to skate

1. Go for clothes that have give in them

Avoid hard jeans, long skirts or floaty material. Instead, dress in layers that are tight to your body. As with most workouts, you need to use your leg muscles without feeling constricted.

2. Avoiding blisters is key

Make sure you have either two pairs of socks that go up past the top of the boot or wear socks over tights. Boots aren’t always comfortable and wearing socks that have indented patterns can rub you up the wrong way.

3. Wear gloves

You want to avoid leather ones and go for pairs that help you to grip the barrier and/or will protect your hands if you fall. But any gloves are better than none! 

How to prepare at the ice rink

4. Go when the ice is fresh

Try to join a session straight after the Zamboni has cleaned the ice and it’s gleaming. The more the ice looks like snow, the less you will be able to glide on it.

5. Ask for the sharpest pair of blades

Blades are meant to be sharp to grip the ice and have two edges inside and outside. The sharper the blade, the easier skating will be. No one can skate with blunt blades.

6. Lace your boots tightly

You want them to be as tight as possible, with no loose laces hanging down. It should be difficult to bend while wearing your skates because they’re your support. 

7. Do a quick warm up

Jump around a little and stretch out your hamstrings in your boots. Get a feeling of standing and being in the boots on safe ground. Try bending your knees in them and get to understand what that feels like off the ice; it’ll make actually being on the ice much less scary!

Starting to skate on the ice

8. Hold on to the barrier as you get onto the ice

Move along a little and practise the feeling of bending your knees and moving your feet back and forth. Don’t be scared by the glide feeling; it is different to walking. 

9. Bend your knees but keep your head up tall

 You want your knees to bend, and your ankle and hips to be in line with your head. Do not lean forwards; skating is all about bending without leaning. If you feel like you’re sticking your bum out, however, you’ve bent too far. Get this starting position right and trust me, everything else will fall into place.

10. Make small movements, not sudden ones

Most people fall because they lean forward too much, think they are going to fall and then immediately, in a big motion, pull themselves backwards and end up face-palming the ice.

11. Use your weight to help you get round the rink

Your weight should be just below the toe pick where the blade has a slight curve at the front end of the skate. The ideal is that you push off by bending your left leg, while your right leg pushes you forward at a diagonal angle from behind. The weight is shifted from the left to the right; it is not meant to be evenly distributed as one leg will always have more weight on it.

Wish you could skate? Never got close to leaving the sides of the rink? Now’s the time to learn.

As you get to the curve of the rink more established skaters will do crossovers, but you should try to always lean into the circle and not against it. Go with the flow. A lot of skating happens on edges and curves, so always lean slightly more to the side you are skating around. If the left leg is the inside leg this will bear the most weight.

12. Don’t be afraid to stop 

The most usual way of coming to a halt is by joining your toes together and push your heels out (usually this is done on the dominant side). Again, bend into it and push out on the chosen foot while keeping your weight on the opposite side.

13. Be aware of your surrounding

Stay mindful of who is in front of you, behind you, to the side etc. If you want to turn to go around someone, lean into the direction you want to go in, but again, bend into the knees and keep your head up. This is not about leaning forward but leaning almost to the side you want to move to; if it’s the left, the weight will be more on the left leg.

14. Learn to get back up 

If you fall over, it’s important to learn how to get up on your own. Allowing someone to help you get back up often results in both of you falling, unless that person is a skater. Turn on to your front on your knees, place one foot up and use your hands for balance, then bring the other foot up – keeping your knees bent as you get up. Avoid standing up too quickly and being too straight as you won’t feel secure. Again, keep your arms out for balance. 

Next steps

If ice-skating is something you start to enjoy and want to continue,it’s exceptional for fitness and strengthening your body. You’ll soon find that your core strength is off the chart! 

There are ice rinks open all year round across the UK, with great classes and teachers on site to help you progress.Second hand skates can be bought cheaply and once you get your own pair, you’ll notice how much easier skating is when you’ve got a sharp blade. 

I love to skate – 20 years after I officially gave up. There’s nothing like the wonderful feeling of gliding along at speed with the wind in your hair. 

Build up your leg and core strength before setting foot on the ice by having a go at some of our brilliant strength workouts over on the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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