Olympic coach Tom Zakrajsek teaches an axel class at the Grassroots to Champions Supercamp held in Faribault, MN in July/August 2013. This video is the first in a multi-part series by Tom sharing the information he covered in his classes at camp.
In this first video, he takes a moment to discuss proper warm-up. In this discussion, Tom addresses the concept of inversion or doing headstands or handstands as part of an off-ice warm-up routine. This somewhat radical idea is based on the fact that more blood will go to the brain when the body is upside down, resulting in better concentration and increased alertness. (The fact that this is not a common practice in figure skating, or even in schools, is probably due to the lack of rigorous scientific study.)
Tom also discusses the idea of “finding your center.” He shows the class how to do this and feel the proper position. He focuses on bending the knees to lower the skater’s center rather than bending from the waist. Tom continues, “The most important thing about an axel is that it’s a knee-loading jump.” He continues, “Most of the errors I see on axels is because people don’t bend enough.”
Next, Tom teaches the class a double-h waltz jump. This keeps the take-off from getting too extended and it gets the skater used to transferring their weight quickly in the air. Tom explains it’s much like pedaling a bicycle. He has the skaters do a double-h waltz jump drill at the wall.
Next he talks about “the load for your axel.” The step onto the take-off edge is critical for an axel and Tom offers detailed advice about learning this from a standstill. The idea that the “left arm moves to the right arm” is a clever way to remember that both hands do not push forward in the direction of flow (as that would square up the shoulders) but rather are in a position that allows the right shoulder to remain back. Tom also wants the skaters to step directly onto a bent knee rather than stepping on a straight leg and then bending. (This description is a little confusing. What Tom wants to avoid is any forward glide on a straight leg. The leg should bend immediately, although the leg may be straight initially when the skate touches the ice.) Tom even offers a reason for doing it this way (hip position!).
As with all great coaches, Tom uses an analogy the kids in the class will easily relate to. He wants them to keep the right shoulder back on the step and glide, so he explains it’s like an archer. And he goes even further and relates it to the popular book and movie character Katniss of the Hunger Games. He continues by explaining the shoulders should remain facing outside the circle. He also uses the keywords “chest over knee over toe.”
Lots of important foundational axel concepts in this video.