I wanted to write some posts that discussed some of the science of figure skating, but have been amazed at how little scientific research there seems to be. There is a lot about caloric intake and the fact that it is quite often inadequate, but most of this doesn’t actually say what the expenditure is for a figure skater. There also seems to be a fair amount about the use of visualization, but this isn’t what I was going for.
I want data like what is the average energy output for a senior men’s free skate program? How does the need for extreme flexibility affect the rate of injuries among female skaters? Or how does the figure skating boot prevent and cause different injuries, incidents, and perhaps muscle imbalances? I’d really like to see some research that compares the hinged boot which briefly appeared on the market with the standard boot in terms of the impacts on the skater and their skating.
Has this research really not been done? Well, some new developments may indicate that this is the case to some degree. An article published this year in Measurement Science and Technology describes a new instrumented figure skating blade. The system is attached to the blade, fits under the boot, and adds just 142 g of weight. It allows researchers to measure, for the first time, the force experienced by skaters through repeated jump landings while on the ice. This way they are actually measuring the loads as the jump is performed in the sport, rather than in an artificial set up. So perhaps we will have more than just a guesstimate of six times their body weight in the near future.
Another recent development in the realm of data is the brain child of former Canadian pairs skater Craig Buntin. Veriskate software is being designed to record data such as speed into and out of jumps, height of jumps and throws, ice coverage, etc. The website, which allows you to add your name to the mailing list for information when it is officially launched, indicates that they are targeting broadcasters and fans, but I see this as being an invaluable coaching tool. For example, when learning a new jump a skater and coach could compare the data for a successful attempt compared to an unsuccessful one.
Having data like where a skater is balancing on their blade or at what speed does a skater perform x move best (best being defined loosely as not causing injury and achieving the highest marks from judging) will only help a sport that is becoming increasingly demanding technically, while still requiring incredible high levels of artistry.