Speed skating is an exciting, fast-paced sport that's exhilarating—whether you're an athlete or a spectator. And from February 5 through 19, the world can watch the best speed skaters compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Along with America's top athletes, University of Utah Health's Christopher Gee, MD, will be in Beijing, serving as team physician for the U.S. Speed Skating team.
"When you're watching the Olympics, look out for how the skaters maneuver around each other on the track," Gee says. "They tend to hold back and draft off the skaters in front of them until they are close to the finish, then make an explosive sprint around the other skater." Pulling off such a move—without injury or collision—requires a unique combination of balance, power, and speed.
Speed skating injuries
There's no doubt that speed skating can be a dangerous sport, and even the best athletes experience crashes and other injuries. "There are lots of falls and collisions," Gee says, "and that leads to cuts, bruising, and sprains."
All athletes competing in speed skating have a high risk of injury. Those who compete in short-track speed skating have the highest risk, thanks to higher speeds and tighter turns. To help keep them safe, they wear helmets and cut-proof suits under their racing skins. "Those blades are extremely sharp, so they need to take precautions to prevent lacerations," Gee says.
Tight corners mean that skaters need to stay in an asymmetric, leaned-over body position throughout the race. That can lead to injuries if athletes aren't training carefully to balance their bodies.
Exercises for skating
To stay strong for their sport, speed skaters do targeted workouts all year round. "Balance, lower body power, and core strength are all key elements for speed skating," Gee says. And just like Olympic speed skaters, you can train to improve your skating skills and help prevent injuries.
"All athletes—even recreational ones—need to work their way into their activities progressively," Gee says. "Training and strengthening all areas of your body keep you healthy and injury-free."
- Skater hops — These dynamic exercises build power and mimic the skating motion of moving your weight quickly from one leg to the other.
- Box jumps — Explosive jumping off both legs builds powerful muscles in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. This strength is essential for sprinting on skates.
- Wall sits — Skaters circle the track in a bent-legged position. Holding a wall sit builds the strength and endurance they need to stay in that posture throughout a race.
- Planks — A strong core helps speed skaters maintain their asymmetric body position on the track.
- One-legged balance — Practicing balance exercises on one leg builds the strength you need to shift from one skate to the other quickly.
U of U Health at the Olympics
"At the Games, we're on the sidelines to help with any acute injuries that happen on the ice," Gee says. "We also work with the athletes on physical maintenance to help them stay healthy throughout the competition."
In addition to serving the U.S. Speed Skating team, University of Utah Health is the official care provider for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic National Medical Center.