We’ve done a post on roller skating tricks, and to a degree this post is more of that. However, there are differences in that some of the ‘tricks’ in this post aren’t tricks as much as methods to improve your skating. So we’ll be covering a few exercises you can do to increase your confidence and balance.
Some of these exercises may only be possible outdoors, so indoor skaters should keep that in mind and either skip that exercise, practice outside, or find a way to modify it for indoor skating.
NOTE: Some of these exercises may increase your chances of falling and being hurt. If you choose to do these exercises, we strongly recommend that you wear protective gear for your own safety.
This may not seem like a useful exercise, but we’re talking running in your skates as though they’re shoes. This will help with your balance and your understanding of how your skates move when you apply torque to them.
Traveling in a Line
That is, with one foot in front of the other. You can give the lead to whichever foot you’re comfortable with at first, but to fully round out your skills you’ll want to learn it both ways. Practicing this can help improve your balance during stepovers. As you get more comfortable, lean a little from side to side while rolling to prepare for doing turns this way.
This is literally lifting one foot over the other and then setting it back down. You can practice this in grass or on carpet to give your legs the idea. Your goal is to be comfortable doing them in a circle in either direction, but you can start by doing them while traveling in a straight line. Knowing how to do these can help with chaining together tricks or turns.
Grass, gravel, potholes, manhole covers, cracked pavement, train rails, tactile paving/tactile warning devices (the bumpy patches on some sidewalks and train platforms), and other things that prevent your path from being perfectly flat can get in the way of a great skate. Take the time to find these hazards or ones like them and, if possible, run over them a bunch. Get used to how they feel, try sudden and sharp swings around them, and so on.
Just keep in mind that doing this particular exercise is pretty much guaranteed to rip up your wheels and possibly damage your bearings, so either have some old skates you can practice with, have replacement parts ready, or skip it entirely.
This doesn’t seem like something that would be that important except as a trick, but think about how much you’d appreciate being comfortable with it if one of your skates caught on something and you had to one-leg it to keep your balance. If you’re walking normally and you trip, you’ve probably saved yourself at least once by keeping your balance on one leg. It’s the same thing with skating.
If you’re wearing rollerblades, a good way to start practicing this is by “dragging” one foot behind you on the front wheel while all your weight is resting on your other foot. If you’re in roller skates and have a toe stop, you’ll have to keep your back foot flat. As you get more comfortable with balancing on one leg, lift your foot completely (just be ready to put it back down).
Kind of like running in your skates, this may seem like a weird one if you aren’t intending to do tricks. But there are lots of places—especially in urban areas—that don’t have elevators or ramps, so it’s actually to your benefit to learn how to take stairs at a walk while wearing skates. Ultimately, you’ll want to be able to take the stairs without holding the safety rail, but for starters you can use it to help you with your balance.
Start your practice by going upstairs first, as this is less dangerous if you happen to fall. Whether you’re going up or down, in the beginning you may want to go sideways one step at a time or by practicing crossovers/stepovers. When you’re going upstairs facing forward, ‘kick’ the front of each stair lightly as you go up to ensure that as much of your skates are on each step as possible; most stairs are deep enough that if they roll a little you won’t drop suddenly to the stair below (you can also do the kick back into the front of each stair if you go downstairs facing forward, but that’s something you want to work up to). And remember to WALK.
This includes not only skating backward normally, but also skating backward with your skates in a line and skating backward on one leg. This is actually good to know not just as a trick, but because you may feel more comfortable going backward down ramps or stairs since it reduces the fear of falling forward. You should practice on a flat surface first, of course. Skating backward is largely like skating forward; study how your legs and feet are placed and move when you skate forward, then reverse that to skate backward.
When you’re ready to take inclines and stairs, whether you’re going forward or backward, you want to bend your knees more and lean slightly forward. This will lower your center of gravity and make you feel less like you’re falling—a good thing, because flailing your arms when you’re unsteady will pretty much guarantee that you fall.
ALWAYS watch over your shoulder to identify and avoid obstacles and people.
We’re talking the heel-to-heel sort of turn. These might seem like they’d be easy, but it’s based heavily on your comfort with skating with your feet in a line. You get yourself going, pick up one foot, turn it almost 180 degrees, and set it back down. Remember that you want to create enough of a curve with your feet to turn, but the sharper your curve the faster you’ll go, and it’ll become a spin. This can be done at a relatively slow speed, but that may increase your likelihood of falling.
There are other ways to spin, one of which is demonstrated in a video on our roller skating tricks post.
When you’re comfortable taking turns while skating forward, try to blend a turn into skating backward.
Don’t Brake (On Hills)
Obviously, in an emergency situation you may need to brake, so you should absolutely practice braking as well. But when used properly a brake will wear down quickly, so you should have some alternatives in your arsenal. A lot of skaters will learn to brake or prefer to brake with a T-stop or any of a variety of slides, and while these might look cool they’re extremely destructive to skate wheels, which means that even if you rotate them like you should you’ll be buying new wheels as often as you would’ve bought an actual brake (and the wheels are a lot more expensive to boot).
So what do you do? Well, after a lot of practice with skating backward and turning, you can use those to slow you down instead. The act of turning increases friction with the skating surface, which reduces speed. Keep in mind that the steeper the incline you’re on the sharper your turns will have to be to adequately slow you, so start off on a long and shallow incline on which you can easily switch to braking to stop quickly if necessary.
This is one exercise where balance really, really matters. Both jumps and turns will by nature attempt to throw you off balance, so combining them is a double-whammy. You want to make sure you’re fully comfortable with both before you try a jump turn.
Start by practicing jumping while skating forward. ‘Jump’ curbs one foot at a time (like a hopping step) to help you get used to lifting your legs. When you’re happy with how you’re picking up each of your feet and ready to pick up both together, take tiny jumps over inconsequential two-dimensional obstacles like lines on the road or joints or cracks in the sidewalk, so that if you come down directly on the obstacle there’s little or no penalty. Slowly increase the height of your jumps. Once you’re consistently clearing these obstacles and are comfortable with your landings, move up to small three-dimensional obstacles like potholes and four-by-fours. For those who really like a challenge, learn to jump on one foot.
When you begin to work on jump-turns, go back to painted road lines and sidewalk joints and cracks until you can aim and stick your landings after your turn.
Skating on Two (or Four) Wheels
This is more like “coasting on two (or four) wheels” because you really aren’t going to get much leverage to push as you need to do to skate. You’ll want to learn to skate on your back wheels, front wheels, or back and front. This is another thing that may only be possible for rollerblades to do if you wear skates and have toe stops; even if you have rollerblades, if they have a brake you’ll want to be careful that you don’t tilt your rollerblades back so far that you engage the brake.
That’s really all there is to it. With time, you’ll get comfortable enough to go forward, backward, and do turns. The key is balance!
Take Your Time!
These exercises might seem like they won’t help, but give them time. If you like a challenge, go straight to the exercises that will help you with your weaknesses; if you’d rather ease into it, go with the exercises that will boost your confidence with what’s already your best skating skills. Overall, the goal with pretty much anything to do with roller skates is balance. So if you tend to have balance issues, start simply with some balancing exercises—on two feet, on one foot, without skates, and with skates.