We’ve told you a lot about skates and skating, but we haven’t said much about protective equipment other than that you should wear it. It can be overwhelming trying to find what’s out there and figure out what you need for what you want to do. In this post we’re going to explore protective equipment and who should wear what and when.
NOTE: This post assumes a skater is an adult. If you’re under eighteen years of age, you should always ask your parents what kind of safety gear they expect you to wear while skating.
Who should wear protective equipment? Why?
As you might guess, in a best-case scenario everyone who does something that’s potentially hazardous to their safety should wear protective equipment at all times while doing that activity. Motorcyclists, for example, call this ‘ATGATT’ (“all the gear all the time”). However, not every person can or wants to wear safety gear. Still, there are certain people who should seriously consider doing so:
Skaters who are novices or lack confidence and want to feel safe
Elderly skaters, who are likely to take longer to heal from injuries
Outdoor skaters, who are likely to take more significant risks and get hurt more often
Skaters who can’t risk injury because of work (e.g., massage therapists) or a health condition
What kind of gear is there for roller skaters?
There’s a lot of gear for roller skaters. You can pad all the corners, as it were, and even some of the curves. Common equipment:
Helmet – Virtually any kind of recreation-related helmet will do (e.g., the sort a person might wear while bicycling, skateboarding, or kayaking), since roller skaters rarely go so fast they need heavy head protection. Helmets are important to use because head injuries are incredibly dangerous; worse, the damage compounds if accumulated too quickly (it’s called ‘second-impact syndrome’).
Elbow pads – The same sort you’d wear while bicycling or skateboarding, elbow pads mainly help because your elbows are important joints in your arms, and the way you fall will determine how much damage they take. If you’re practicing skating backward, you should really consider wearing elbow pads, because they’ll probably take the brunt of any fall; you won’t realize how much you use your elbows until you can’t.
Knee pads – Again, the sort you’d wear while doing other recreational activities. Good to wear for forward falls in particular, since humans generally try to fall onto hands and knees to protect our heads and bodies from the worst of the impact. Even gardeners will wear knees pads for comfort and protection if they plan to be kneeling for a long time.
Wrist guards – Perhaps the least common of the common protective equipment, wrist guards nevertheless helps protect your wrists during a fall by helping absorb or redirect the impact. It’s human nature to throw out our hands to protect our heads when we fall, so the possibility of wrist injury is very real.
Less common equipment:
Mouth guard – This is used mainly by roller derby teams. It’s exactly like the sort used by boxers, football players, hockey players, and others. There are a couple of different types, but the most common you just pop into your mouth over your top teeth, then go skating.
Impact shorts – This gear is often used by ice skaters, snowboarders, and others. It kind of looks silly, like padded underwear, but it protects the hips and tailbone in the event of a fall, so it keeps you skating. Wear them under a pair of pants that are slightly larger than your usual and no one will know.
Money is tight. What do I HAVE to have?
If you’re on a budget and don’t know what pieces of equipment to prioritize, look first at your discipline. Is there any gear that’s commonly worn? For example, speed skaters frequently wear only helmets. They should wear more given how fast they go, but speed and aerodynamics demand they minimize bulk. So they balance their likelihood of falling—always possible—with what they need to protect most. For them, healing skinned extremities is less of a problem than healing a concussion, so they wear helmets.
By contrast, roller derby teams engage in competition that has much more physicality to it. Knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards, and helmets are all necessary for safe play; the only thing you can really get away with not having from the start is a mouth guard.
If you don’t have a discipline or the safety gear participants wear is too varied for you to get a good idea of what’s best, decide what’s best for you. If you’re a recreational skater and you want to wear just a helmet, do that. If you’re a recreational skater and you want to wear everything they wear in roller derby, do that. If your job requires you to have certain parts of your body uninjured, make sure you protect those first. When it comes to it, your safety is always up to you.
When it comes down to it, you need to choose what works for you. Some disciplines will require certain safety equipment, and any conflict you may have you’ll need to overcome (or abandon the discipline). But when it comes to recreational skating you can choose whatever gear—or no gear, though we don’t recommend that—you like. And while it’s true that even wearing all available protective equipment won’t prevent all injuries, it will reduce the severity of the damage and whatever recovery time comes with that. Isn’t that worth it?
We’ve done a few posts on helping you learn about roller skating and rollerblading, such as how to roller skate, and roller skating tricks. This time, we’ve decided to do a speedy one-stop shop for skaters who aren’t complete beginners anymore but still have some questions and need just a brief refresher that they can put into play alongside the experience they’ve gained.
How long will it take for me to learn how to roller skate?
It may seem like it takes forever, but most people can learn to skate in about an hour if they have a friend to teach them. Becoming skilled at skating, though, is going to take longer. If you don’t have a friend to help you it might take a bit more trial and error, but draw a ‘V’ one stroke at a time with your feet and you’ll get the hang of it.
How do I stand on my skates without moving?
The most secure way is to place your feet in a perpendicular ‘T’ shape, with the toes of one foot pointing forward and the toes of the other pointing to the side.
How do I skate without tilting back or falling?
Remember, when you first start off in skating, position your feet about shoulder-width apart and always stay slightly bent forward. This lowers your center of gravity and makes it easier to balance. Just be careful to not lean too far forward or you’ll fall.
If you’re finding your back starts to hurt, try bracing your hands on your thighs for added support. Practice standing upright near a sturdy table or chair on carpet, as carpet will make it harder for your skates to roll and give you more control over what they do and when; if there is no carpet, you still need to stay close to a strong table or chair, or within reach of the rails of a rink.
How do I skate faster?
This is, first of all, actually a matter of your comfort level. Increased speed usually comes automatically as you practice and improve your balance. If confidence isn’t a problem, skating faster involves rhythmically shifting your weight from one leg to the other and pushing off with the foot you’re taking your weight off of. Always make sure you’re looking only in the direction you want to go.
How do I turn while going fast?
There are a couple of ways to do this. The easiest is to lower your body a little and lean your weight onto the knee and leg that are on the side you want to turn (e.g., put your weight on your left leg for a left turn). First work at taking turns at a slower speed, then gradually speed up as you get better.
I want to stop without using the toe stop. How?
There are multiple ways. One is called the “T-stop” maneuver, which involves gliding along on one foot while dragging your other foot sideways behind it. It’s a particularly noisy move and adds unnecessary wear to you skates’ wheels, but it’s commonly used by roller skaters everywhere.
However, this move does take some practice; you have to apply a certain amount of pressure to your trailing foot for the move to work as desired, so too little and you won’t slow fast enough, while too much can cause you to fall.
I’m really good at skating. Do I still need all the safety equipment?
If you’re concerned about looking silly because everyone around you is going without protection, realize that they aren’t making the best choice. Professional skaters like speed skaters, trick skaters, and roller derby skaters take precautions suitable for their discipline and skill level because they understand how devastating an injury can be to their sport and don’t want to take the risk of coming to permanent harm. So reconsider being “cool” if it means increasing your chances of getting hurt.
But if the safety equipment hurts you or negatively impacts your ability to move, and if all you’re doing is skating around a rink, then no, you don’t need it (unless you’re particularly prone to falling). Still, the one piece of equipment you should always try to wear is a helmet. Head injuries are no joke.
If I start to fall, should I slide or just fall straight down?
Always turn your fall into a slide if you can. This will help lessen the force of impact so that you can get back up and keep skating.
How do I deal with a painful fall?
Always be sensitive to how you feel. If it’s just a small bruise or sore bone, take a few minutes’ time out from skating and lightly massage the injury. If after a little while you feel better, go have fun. Just be keenly aware of how the injury feels and stop if the pain increases.
If it’s a big bruise or cut or you’ve twisted a joint, you’re done for the next few days. Get some assistance with rising and leaving the rink; if you can, use your toe stops to walk so you have better control of your movement. Clean and bandage any open cuts, apply ice to counteract swelling, and don’t ask too much of your injured joints for a few days. If you get too physical too soon, you’ll worsen your injuries and increase your recovery time.
NOTE: If you have a blood-clotting condition, remember to be VERY attentive to the appearances of your injuries and immediately call for an ambulance if your condition worsens.
I’m over 60, but I want to skate. Can I still?
Of course! Just make sure you’re extra careful and wear protective gear, since older people are statistically more likely to be injured during physical activity; this goes especially if you’ve been mostly sedentary up to this point. It’s also a good idea to have someone nearby who’s ready to help you the instant you need it.
You’re On Your Way!
Hopefully, you can take it from here. There’s only so much we can do to help, after all! Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to becoming a good skater—you have to practice, practice, practice! But what you can rest assured of is that Mac’s Roller Rink will be here to give you somewhere to practice: We’re open Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and evenings, and Sunday afternoons.
We already have a few basic tips on our site, but we thought it’d be a good idea to go into more detail. After all, a skating rink is going to be more fun when you know how to skate, even if you maybe aren’t the fastest, steadiest, or coolest skater on the floor.
Once you’re geared up, we recommend you practice each step on carpet before moving on to the rink floor. Doing this will increase the friction between your skates and the floor, which will help to slow down any moves your skates might make “on their own.”
And since this is a really long post, we’ll add some links to help you get to and from the section you need to work on:
Obviously, you need skates. Whether they’re quad (roller skates) or inline (rollerblades) is up to you, but it’s typically easier to learn to skate using quads, since having a wheel on each corner is more stable than balancing on an edge. But really, you can learn on either—just consider that you’re likely to fall more if your try to start out on rollerblades.
Also, of course, new skaters should always wear protective gear. Casual skating isn’t generally too risky; the more experience you gain, the less likely you are to fall. But if you’re just starting out—whether you’re a new skater or just trying unfamiliar moves or tricks—the best choice you can make is to wear safety gear from the start.
It’s pretty much a given that you’re going to fall at some point, because the vast majority of skaters who came before you fell. A lot. For new skaters, a helmet, knee pads, and wrist guards are probably going to be all you really need (maybe also a mouth guard, if you feel there’s a chance of falling on your face).
The best way to get to your feet is if you’re already halfway there. That is, you’re sitting on a bench or chair. If that’s the case, start by lifting your feet and setting them down a few times. Get familiar with the weight of your skates and how that affects your legs. Once you’ve done that, get your feet under you and ensure that your weight is balanced evenly on both skates. Use your quads (the muscles on the front and sides of your thighs) to help you stand slowly. Remember, don’t straighten your legs—keep them bent (a lot, for now).
If you have a friend who’s willing to help you, have them stand nearby in case you need them. Hold still for a moment and get used to the changes you can sense now that you have skates on. Then have your friend pull you away from the bench a little bit at a time, with stops as needed for you to regain your balance. If you don’t have a friend to help you, use a rail or table to assist. Just make sure that the table is sturdy enough that your weight on it won’t cause it to flip.
We’ve mentioned it a few times, and it’s true—you’re probably going to fall, more than once, on your journey toward becoming a proficient skater. That’s okay! Falling is part of learning to roller skate just like falling is part of learning to walk. What’s important is knowing how to fall.
When you were learning to walk you were probably a baby, so you weren’t that far off the ground. You likely also had the benefit of a diaper padding your backside and absorbing some of the shock. At the time, falling was more frustrating than painful. But nowadays you’re higher off the ground and your skeleton isn’t as flexible. Your tailbone is just under your skin, and falling directly on it will leave you in pain for months. Skating will be out of the question. Don’t let it get to that point!
There are many ways to fall safely. No matter what, if you fall you should always try to do so in a way that will redirect the energy of the impact; for example, turning a forward fall into a roll. In skates that’s a little harder, but a good rule to follow is to simply avoid landing directly on bone (like your tailbone!). Instead, if you find yourself falling backward, tighten your glutes—your butt cheeks—and then fall on one cheek or the other. Instead of falling on your knees, fall on your thigh and upper arm (just pick your foot up so you don’t twist your ankle).
If you fall forward, bones are really all you have available to land on, and this is why you should always wear safety gear. While a forward roll is possible, it’s probably not a good idea to have your heavy skates flailing in the air while other people are around. Your best bet is to slow down as much as you can if that’s an option, then fall onto your knee pads. If your momentum is great, fall farther forward onto your elbow pads and wrist guards, keeping your arms in front of your face to protect your head.
And try to keep track of your fingers. Make them into a fist as soon as possible to protect them from being run over by your own skates or someone else’s.
New skaters are infamous for windmilling their arms if they feel uncertain about their balance. That can help sometimes when you aren’t on skates, but on skates it only helps create energy that becomes motion. Resist the urge. Instead, if you’re afraid you’re going to fall, bend your arms and bring them close to your sides. Bend your knees more. In most cases, if you feel unsteady you can do a lot to help yourself—even prevent a fall—by getting low and widening your stance; if nothing else, doing this will mean you have a shorter distance to fall and are less likely to hurt yourself.
If you do fall, getting up on skates is as much a matter of practice as skating itself. That goes whether or not you have friends to help you. So be ready to have to work at it. If your friends aren’t around to help, start by shifting position until you’re in something of a split, with one foot in front of you and one behind. Bring the knee behind you up under you, and place your other foot firmly on the ground in front of you (using the toe stop is better than the wheels, since it won’t roll). Put both hands, as fists, in front of you on the ground so that you’re balancing mostly on both hands and the foot in front of you. Slowly press your weight onto the foot in front of you and bring your other foot under you. Go ahead and straighten up some, but keep your knees bent and give yourself time to stabilize. After you do that for a while, if you haven’t moved on to using your toe stops instead of your wheels, practice that. It’s safer and steadier.
As your confidence in your skating skills grows, trying getting up using your fists, then without hands at all. Like we said last section, fingers. Fingers getting run over by wheels. Skating is going to be a lot more fun, and less painful, if you minimize your risk of crunched digits.
Someone, at some point, has likely scolded you to stand up straight and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Maybe on more than one occasion. Well, we’re here to tell you that when you’re just starting off in skating, while you should still keep your feet shoulder-width apart, standing up straight can cause you to overbalance. Instead, as a new skater you should keep your knees slightly bent and squat down a little. This will lower your center of gravity and help protect against falls (though you should expect to anyway).
As you might expect, it’s difficult to stand in skates. They’re on wheels, after all. So practice moving your feet just a little to get yourself off balance, then regain your balance. Eventually, you’ll do it automatically. Compare it to not wearing skates: If someone pushed you, you’d move your feet to compensate, right? The same goes when you’re wearing skates, it’s just that you’re compensating for a push you gave to yourself.
Remember, you can practice these moves on carpet so you don’t roll too far too fast. You can also hold on to a rail or a friend (who agreed to help you—don’t suddenly volunteer someone as you fall or you both may be hurt!) to help with your balance. And don’t worry—once you get more comfortable with your skates you’ll be able to stand up straighter and straighter.
Once you’re comfortable with your posture, it’s time to add another step: you’re going to learn how to walk (all over again!). This time around, though, you’re going to want to position your feet in a duck-footed stance—that is, heels together and toes out. The reason for this is that if your skates suddenly start to roll and you aren’t prepared, if they roll forward you have better control of your fall while if you roll backward your skate wheels will interlock and stop you.
Keeping your feet in that position, begin taking steps one at a time. Keep your heels right below your body so you can keep your balance better, and don’t take another step until your foot is solidly on the floor. As always, expect to fall a few times; when you do, just get back up carefully, get into the bent-knees position, and keep your body centered as you move.
As you grow comfortable with taking steps, step more quickly, then eventually lengthen your stride. The wheels of your skates are more likely to roll when you do that, especially if you’re practicing on a rink floor rather than carpet. Just be ready for it. As you get closer to moving at your normal stride, push harder with each foot and let yourself roll a little bit.
NOTE: From here on is the part where, if you’ve been practicing on carpet so far and have some confidence in your balance and control, you should move onto a hard surface like a rink floor to continue improving your skills. If you aren’t confident enough yet, or find that you’re still having trouble with your balance, keep practicing the above exercises on carpet until you feel ready to move on.
Continue to lengthen each stride of each step as you grow more comfortable with your balance on your skates. Once your skating stride is as long as your normal walking stride, lengthen your stride more by pushing off a little harder with your feet to encourage your skate wheels to roll. Keep your pushing foot off the ground behind you and let the glide wear out on its own. Focus on maintaining your balance rather than gaining speed—being properly duck-footed won’t let you get up too much speed anyway.
While you’re gliding is a good time to practice your turns, since you should still be in a bent-knees position that keeps your center of gravity low. When you turn left, lean your body slightly to the left; when you turn right, lean your body slightly to the right.
Increase your speed as you feel more confident about your balance. Move your legs faster and put more pressure on the wheels to move even farther forward. Try leaning your body weight into your strides to gain speed. Use your arms to help by moving them the way you would if you were running.
Each of your skates should have a “brake” (toe stop) attached to the front; if there isn’t one on each skate, it’s probably on the front of the right skate. To stop, place your skates parallel to each other as you’re gliding. With your knees still bent, lean forward a little. Place your braking foot slightly in front of the other, then tilt it onto the toe stop. It’s important to be very firm when you do this, first because the harder you press the faster you’ll stop, but also because if you’re too hesitant when applying the brake there’s the chance you’ll lose your balance and fall.
If you’re having trouble figuring out the right amount of pressure, try placing your hands on the knee of your braking leg (it’s still bent a little, right?) and pressing down. This should help you apply enough force to stop.
There are other method of stopping, such as the T-stop, but those require a little more skill and confidence. Don’t rush it.
Find a time to practice. Practicing skating even just once a week will help you improve. Mac’s welcomes skaters of all ages and skill levels, and is open Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and evenings, and Sunday afternoons (except certain holidays or events). That’s plenty of opportunity to stop by and work on your skating skills.
Make sure your skates fit properly. As you might imagine, skates are generally sized in the same way shoes are, and in this regard you should treat them like shoes. Whether they’re too big or too small, getting the wrong size will cause you big problems, so be honest with yourself about your needs.
Remember to secure your laces. This might seem like a no-brainer, but when we’re excited we don’t do things we should or aren’t as thorough as we should be. So always make sure your skates’ laces are tight before you go onto the rink floor, and check them frequently. If they come undone you could skate over them and accidentally yank your foot in an unintended direction.
Tie long hair back. This is a good thing to do for a variety of reasons. First, it helps keep you cool to have the back of your neck exposed to the air. Second, tying your hair back will keep your hair out of your eyes. This is true if you skate indoors, but more so if you choose to skate outdoors.
Use the rails. If you’re practicing at a roller rink, stay to the outside and use the bars along the edge of the rink for support as necessary. That’s what they’re there for. If you’re concerned you’d look silly holding onto the rail while everyone zooms by you, think of how silly you’d look sprawled across the rink floor and forcing everyone to swerve around you because you were trying to skate beyond your skill level. Use the rails.
Stay near the wall. Even if there are no rails, the wall can be invaluable help. It can stop a runaway foot, give you something to lean on to help you balance as you skate or recover from a fall, or give you something to fall against so you don’t hit the floor too hard.
Check the floor and your wheels. Often. Oil, threads, rope, cloths, pipes, or any other hard or slippery material can easily trip up any unprepared skater, let alone someone still trying to learn. Know what’s around you and respond accordingly, and if your skates seem to be acting up and not doing as you’re telling them then check for anything that might be wrapped around the axles.
Always look ahead. When you walk, do you stare at your feet? Probably not. Even so, you manage to not trip and fall 99.99% of the time, right? The same applies to roller skating. We know it’s hard to avoid looking because of how unsteady you feel, but try it for a while and notice how much better (and faster) you skate when you’re looking out instead of down.
Don’t stare at obstacles you don’t want to run into. It’s important to have situational awareness, of course, especially outside, but keep in mind that your body goes where your eyes go. If you stare at something you don’t want to encounter, it’s pretty much a guarantee you’ll encounter it anyway. Instead, identify the hazard and then look in the direction you’d rather go.
Don’t go faster than you want to. This is a matter of confidence and especially safety. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is saying or doing; if you try to do more than you’re capable of, you’ll possibly hurt yourself or someone else. Don’t worry—if you stick with roller skating you’ll have plenty of opportunity and experience to really get up some speed.
Give yourself the chance to learn. You’ll pick up more better if you take the time to study your failures and successes. While not necessary, having a friend or family member film you while you skate can boost your learning opportunity, since you can watch what you’re doing and then compare it to tutorial videos or have a family member or friend with more roller skating experience critique what you did.
Just do your thing. Don’t let yourself give in to peer pressure, whether someone is making fun of you or asking you to do something you aren’t ready to do. Your peers may know everything about roller skating, but you have to do what’s best for you or someone may get hurt; if your peers know nothing about roller skating, well, that’s only more reason to ignore what they say.
The most important thing of all is that you keep practicing, so come by Mac’s every week or so and build on your confidence and skills! Practice gliding, speeding up, turning, slowing down, and stopping. Keep on until you feel as steady on skates as you are on your feet. Like learning to play an instrument, you never actually forget how to skate, but without regular practice you might backslide to a point of fresh awkwardness. Fortunately, it won’t take long for you to get back in the groove, but you might feel a little silly for “forgetting.”