List of Figure Skating Skills
Figure skating demands a unique combination of athletic ability and balletic grace, and requires the mastery of many different skills. It marries explosive energy and strength with grace and performance quality in a way that few other sports do. Below are some of the fundamental skills that make for accomplished skaters and exciting routines!
What Skills are Needed in Figure Skating?
A “swizzle” is the motion of traveling over the ice while bringing the knees and feet together and apart, making football shapes on the ice if you were to leave a trail. They are performed on two feet, use the inside edges of the skates, and can travel forward or backward. Swizzles are particularly helpful for beginning skaters to become confident navigating their edges and gaining control and balance. They require the skater to bend their knees and turn their feet inwards and outwards, building coordination that will help the skater learn to stroke and glide over the ice with ease.
“Stroking” describes the basic movement of traveling over the ice in smooth continuous steps, and is the foundation for any routine. It requires the skater to master weight-shifting and really lean into each side while pushing forward and out with each stroke and trying to maintain contact with the ice as much as possible. The goal is to glide over the ice in smooth, controlled motions without picking your feet up too much. Keeping your arms engaged and close to your body is crucial and becomes more important to expending the least amount of energy as you gain speed. Rollerblading requires the same technique and is a great way to practice this motion if you don’t have immediate access to ice.
It may seem obvious, but one of the most fundamental and necessary skating skills is learning to stop. Skaters can gain significant momentum on the ice, and the ability to safely and cleanly stop that forward motion is paramount. The most common types of stops are the “snow plow stop,” “T-stop,” “hockey stop,” and “front T-stop.” All involve applying pressure to drag the flat part of the skate across the ice, creating friction and slowing the skater to a halt. The “front T-stop” is most commonly used by competitors and is regarded as the most difficult to master. It is important to build awareness of appropriate weight distribution and how to hold the arms and torso, as well as strengthen one’s non-dominant side, as stops are often performed on a skater’s weaker side.
“Crossovers” are aptly named, and describe the movement of crossing one foot over the other while traveling on the ice. They can be performed forward or backward and are used to navigate corners and help skaters gain speed, particularly between scoring elements like jumps or spins. Crossovers are a fundamental skating skill necessary for covering ground efficiently, and require the skater to master balance and get comfortable with shifting weight from foot to foot. As with any skill, starting slowly before picking up speed, learning how to navigate the inner and outer edges of the skates, and practicing maintaining balance while looking over the shoulder to skate backward all help build confidence when performing crossovers.
Turns are part of the detail-oriented footwork that makes skating so varied and entertaining. Not as explosive as jumps or spins, turns often happen so quickly that they are hard for viewers to catch. They require the skater to make quick changes in direction spinning on one foot and help to bring variation to traveling steps between flashier technical elements. There are several types of turns, the “twizzle,” “bracket,” “loop,” “counter,” “rocker,” and “three-turn.” Unlike spins, they are not full and repetitive rotations, but half-turns that require core strength and control, sometimes fighting against one’s momentum on the slick ice. Turns are judged by how cleanly they are entered and exited, and the direction of the turn is determined by the midsection of the body, which propels the skater around. Turns are about precision, and practicing them slowly and checking that the appropriate edge of the skate is being used for each style of turn will bring improvement.
A “spiral” is when a skater glides over the ice on one foot, with the other lifted behind them above 90 degrees, much like an arabesque in ballet. The “arabesque spiral,” “catch foot spiral,” “Biellmann spiral,” “cross grab spiral,” “Charlotte,” “fan spiral,” Kerrigan spiral,” “inverted spiral,” and “spread eagle” are all variations that place the torso and leg at different angles and require different levels of flexibility. The spiral gets its name because it typically requires all pressure to be put on the inner or outer edge of the skate, meaning that if the pose is held for an extended period, the skater will glide in a curved motion around the ice. Exercises to increase flexibility, balance, and ballet training are all helpful in learning to execute this skill.
Figure skating steps are quick combinations of different techniques strung together. They require the skater to complete several different skills in quick succession and can be exciting pieces of choreography. The most commonly recognized steps are “mohawks,” “Choctaws,” “chasses,” “toe steps,” “crossroads,” “running steps,” “progressives,” and “swing rolls.” These sequences can be brief, in between other elements, or travel the entire length of the ice, which is a requirement for many higher-level competitions. It’s important to practice agility and coordination, as well as break down the basic elements in each sequence to ensure clean execution.
Spins showcase technique, bring stylistic balance, and are some of the most aesthetically dynamic skating elements of any routine. The technique relies hugely on the slick texture of the ice and a skater’s ability to harness angular velocity and stay in motion while remaining affixed to a single point. There are three main categories of spins: “upright spins,” “sit springs,” and “camel spins,” all of which have many variations. A successful spin is executed from the ball of the foot and is almost completely stationary, with the skater rotating repeatedly at very high speed on the same axis. Exercises to improve balance and core strength and practice spotting (much like a ballerina would to pirouette) are useful while preparing to execute a spin.
Jumps in figure skating have become increasingly crucial to crafting winning routines, with the quad revolution sweeping the Olympics and Ilia Malinin landing the first quadruple axel in competition history in October of 2022. There are six types of jumps divided into two categories: “edge jumps” and “toe jumps,” depending on the point from which the skater launches off of the ice. Edge Jumps include the Loop, the Salchow, and the Axel, while Toe Jumps include the Toe Loop, the Flip, and the Lutz. Each type of jump can be performed as a half, single, double, triple, or quadruple, depending on the number of mid-air rotations the skater is able to complete. They earn higher points in scoring with a greater number of rotations, and triples and quads have become a necessity in the competitive world. They require a tremendous amount of strength, conditioning, and an understanding of balance and physics, as skaters continue to push the boundaries of the human form and accomplish more and more athletic feats.
Aside from the incredible athletic demands of figure skating, a huge part of the sport’s appeal is the grace and musicality it requires. Even with an ever-increasing emphasis on jumps and a skater’s ability to defy physics, many of the most successful skaters are also the most artistic performers. A string of impressive tricks will never have as much impact as a routine that fully integrates athletic skill with personality and style. Skaters like Olympic champion Nathan Chen, who have extensive ballet experience, find themselves at an advantage, able to make graceful transitions and marry their movements to the music. Elements like appropriate song choice, dance training, and the ability to emote all help a skater connect to their piece and bridge the gap between sport and performance.