The following is information from a pilot study that was conducted from June-July 2017 at Cleveland State University
Go Skate! The Physiological Responses and Perception of Training on Inline Skates
By Kris Fondran
From my experience as a skater and as a skating instructor, I have witnessed the many physiological and mental benefits of inline skating regularly. For me personally, skating has been an extremely enjoyable form of physical activity that has helped keep me healthy, strong and relatively pain free for most of my adult life. As a skating instructor, it has been rewarding for me to see how consistent and focused skating sessions can quickly improve a skater’s skill level, boosting their confidence and ability to skate further and faster, introducing them to all the amazing places (physically, mentally and emotionally) a pair skates can take them.
Skating to Increase Physical Activity Level
Prior skating research has shown that inline skating elicits similar physiological responses as running and cycling with comparable energy expenditure (calories burned), increases in aerobic capacity, improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, balance, and strength. Various independent skating websites claim that skating has a variety of benefits such as it is fun, easy to learn, is low impact in the joints, increases muscle strength, endurance and cardiorespiratory fitness, etc.
However, solid research and anecdotal information aside, not as many people are skating at a time where the vast majority of the adult population in many parts of the world are not meeting suggested physical activity requirements.
When skating is CLEARLY the best physical activity out there, why aren’t more people skating?
The exercise physiologist in me says, “More research may convince them to skate!”
The fact is, however, that research can be costly and time consuming to execute, which is probably why more skating studies haven’t been conducted. Training studies are particularly tricky as the time commitment from both the subjects and researchers is considerable. A credible research study takes a dedicated team of researchers, subjects and likely thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to successfully implement.
Fortunately, Cleveland State University (CSU) where I work as a part-time lecturer in the Department of Health and Human Performance, has a University Undergraduate Summer Research Award (USRA) program. The USRA funds a variety of summer research projects across all university departments providing an opportunity for undergraduate students and faculty to work together to produce studies increasing their investigative skills as well as the body of research on variety of topics.
This past spring, with the assistance of department colleagues and mentors, we submitted a research grant to fund the study- “Go Skate: The Physiological Responses and Perception of Training on Inline Skates”
While setting up the research proposal, we reviewed the original skating study done by the University of Massachusetts in conjunction with Rollerblade as well as a handful of other studies. Other than the typical fitness markers of heart rate, blood pressure, energy expenditure (calories burned) we found that there hasn’t been much if any, research done to determine whether inline skating is considered more enjoyable to perform compared to common exercise choices such as running and the Elliptical. We also found that little or no research has been done with non-elite adult skaters regarding efficiency improvements over a period of time of regular skating.
Three Research Questions were identified in this study:
- Research Question One: What is the perception of enjoyment when participants are skating vs. running vs. elliptical and will that change after the skating intervention?
- Research Questions Two: After skating 3X/week for 6 weeks will there be any change across a variety of health and fitness markers?
- Research Question Three: Will there be an increase in efficiency in skating, running, and the elliptical performance after the skating intervention?
Not only were we awarded the USRA research grant, which covered all associated research costs, we had at our disposal a great team of undergraduate researchers who assisted in setting up all testing, data collection and data analysis. Having such a great team in place expedited all aspects of the study allowing us to complete the study by the end of the summer.
An important aside, our research grant included a line item for skates, gear and helmets to ensure our participants would have a controlled experience regarding equipment technology. Since we were working with mostly beginner skaters we chose the Rollerblade Macroblade 80 ABT
In June of 2017, seven healthy male and females with the average age of 22 and some skating experience who have not used inline skating as a mode of exercise over the previous year, were recruited from the Cleveland State University community. The study intervention consisted of two weekly supervised inline skate training sessions for forty-five minutes for six weeks. One session was a speed/interval workout and the other focused on endurance, skating at a pace that is 60-75% maximum heart rate based on age and fitness level. Both training sessions took place at a two-and-a-half mile out and back loop just outside downtown Cleveland, Ohio USA. In addition, each participant was also encouraged to skate one forty-five-minute session on their own at a self-selected pace during the weekend. Prior to training (pre) and after the six-week training intervention (post), participants skated, ran, and used the elliptical for ten minutes at 80% of age-predicted heart rate maximum to determine efficiency of movement.
During each pre- and post-tests, resting and exercise heart rates of the participants were monitored by a Polar heart rate monitor while their energy expenditure was measured by the COSMED K4, a portable system for pulmonary gas exchange analysis. Subjects also had their body composition assessed before and after training using air displacement plethysmography (Bod Pod), as well as a functional movement screening (FMS) evaluating limitations, asymmetries or changes in functional movement patterns. At the end of the study a questionnaire regarding the perceptions of enjoyment and preference of physical activities was administered to all participants.
With just about any research, a small sample size decreases statistical power. That is if there is something to be detected in a study, the larger the sample size, the more likely it is to be detected and more accurate the results. Our small sample size of 7 participants was a limiting factor in our study. That said, the study did elicit some significant findings that, to our knowledge, had not been previously tested.
- Core Strength and Stability
The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) was administered in both pre and post testing. The FMS is comprised of 7 tests that serve to identify muscle asymmetries, tightness, weakness and other risk factors for injury by examining the mobility and stability off the hips, core, shoulders, knees, spine and ankles
Of the 7 FMS tests, we found significant improvement in the “trunk stability push up” test. The trunk stability pushup measures the ability to stabilize the core and spine in an anterior and posterior plane and is a marker for core strength. Core strength and stability is the result of the muscles of the pelvis, low back, hips and abdomen working in harmony. Many adults experience an imbalance between back strength and abdominal weakness, which often leads to low back pain. Obtaining and maintaining core strength throughout a lifetime leads to better balance and stability while performing daily and fitness related activities reducing the chance for low back pain and other injuries related to a weak core.
Conclusion: Inline Skating can increase core strength and stability.
- Exercise Efficiency
In the 3 exercise modalities tested (skating, Elliptical, running) we found significant improvement in the average heart rate between pre and post testing on the Elliptical. There was improved efficiency on the Elliptical as evidenced by a decreased heart rate despite going a further distance in the allotted time. Given that there was such a significant improvement in skating efficiency, as well as some carry-over into the elliptical, it can be a deduced that the benefits of inline skating regularly would also be noticed in related sports such as skiing and various ice skating disciplines.
Conclusion: Inline Skating can positively impact cardiovascular efficiency in related sports such as skiing and ice skating.
- Oxygen Uptake (VO2)
Oxygen update or VO2 is the amount of oxygen utilized by the body per minute per kilogram of body weight. It is the most relevant measurement of efficiency or inefficiency of the cardiorespiratory (heart & lung) system. The study showed a significant improvement in the VO2 of participants between pre and post skating testing. The increase in VO2 can be an indication of the greater amount of muscle mass (legs, hips, buttocks) being used during skating and more efficient skating technique acquired from the beginning to the end of the study. This increase in VO2 coupled with no significant change in heart rate between pre and post skating testing, indicates an improved cardiovascular performance.
Conclusion: Skating regularly can improve the function of the heart and lungs.
- Skating Distance
The study showed a significant improvement in the distance covered on skates between pre and post testing. It was not surprising to see this increase as I have experienced it myself when I have been training regularly and have seen this type of distance gain with my students. Each part of the skating stride contributes to overall efficiency. When there is attention placed on proper form (knees bent, pushing to the sides, bringing the feet back underneath the body, etc.) skating becomes seemingly effortless leading to smoother and longer skates.
Conclusion: Skating more efficiently leads to skating more comfortably with less effort covering more distance in the same timeframe.
- Level of Enjoyment: Running vs. Elliptical vs. Skating
At the end of the 6 week training we found that almost half of the subjects (43%) preferred skating over running or Elliptical and all of them said that they would consider inline skating as a mode of exercise in the future. Having lead many of the training sessions I saw the transformation from awkward “I’m not so sure about this” skating to “I got this!” kind of skating. Anecdotally I can report a huge improvement in attitude that correlated with an increase skill level. The stronger their skating became, the more fun they had on skates.
Conclusion: The better you skate the more you enjoy the skating experience.
Although we had a small subject population and did not control for variables such as diet and additional physical activity, this was a successful pilot study. Above all, we were pleasantly surprised to have some significant findings, especially in variables not tested or observed in previous skating research. An added bonus was that our students received 3rd place overall for their research poster presentation in the USRA grants program at CSU, out of more than 60 studies conducted, bringing recognition to our department and more awareness of the benefits of inline skating to the Cleveland State University community. The training study results were presented at the the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) Midwest Conference November 10-11, 2017 in Grand Rapids, MI expanding the reach to the fitness world and bringing even more positive attention to the merits of inline skating.