Figure Skating Tips: Jump Class – Part 4 (Michelle Leigh)

Olympic coach Michelle Leigh continues with the fourth part of her multi-video on-ice jumps class to some young skaters.  (On-ice jumps Part 1On-ice jumps Part 2On-ice jumps Part 3)

In this video, Michelle focuses on axel with the class.  She returns to a “twist” drill she used previously with the class on waltz jumps.  Here Michelle adds some detail that is extremely important.  One key is to “try to keep looking straight.”  This is one of the ways that coaches like Michelle can teach a sideways take-off in the lower body but keep the jump moving “forward” so that it has flow.  It’s great doing this drill looking in the glass to prevent spinning through the take-off .

Possibly the most important detail in this video is Michelle’s focus on “edge pressure” during the twist drill.  When studying the basic physics or theory of the axel, the rotational energy comes from the take-off edge.  Many coaches build this needed energy by asking their students simply to hold the take-off edge longer.  Usually that works, but a more effective approach is to help skaters develop stronger edge pressure.

When Michelle talks about edge pressure, she switches to demonstrating how she “snows” one of her students (all in fun and the spirit of learning).  By doing the twist drill and creating a small shower of snow, she is able to build much more rotational energy.  Notice that this shower of snow can be created by a clean edge or a slight skid but Michelle is not looking for a hockey stop.  The point is that the “twist” starts to happen with the blade on the ice and does not only occur on the toe pick, even though Michelle describes it to this young class as “toe pressure.”  (You can’t “hear toe pressure” from just pressing on the toe picks.  The “toe pressure” Michelle is referring to is edge pressure as the skater twists up to the toe picks.)  Michelle says, “OK, let’s see some pressure in those edges.”

Michelle also spends some time focusing on proper arm movement for axel.  She wants the arms to come forward narrow and end with the hands up and elbows down.  She says, “hands above the elbows!”  Many young skaters want to jump with their shoulders so they end up raising the elbows as they jump (and have their shoulders up around their ears).  If this is allowed to become a habit, it is disastrous for double and triple jumps as the elbows need to be able to drop down quickly to the body to get to a quality air position.  Michelle also wants the hands to touch.  There are two main reasons for this.  The first is so the skater knows exactly where they are and can return there on every jump attempt.  The second is that again if the head and both hands continue in the jump direction, the axel will have flow even with a sideways lower body take-off.

At the end of the video, Michelle teaches the class the “counter-counter” entrance to axel.  It’s a forward outside counter followed by a back outside counter followed by the axel, with the entire entry done on the take-off foot.  Obviously this is way above the level of most of these skaters which brings up the question of why Michelle uses it in this class.  The answer again is edge pressure.  A skater cannot do an axel off this entrance without edge pressure so Michelle is introducing it as early as possible to get these skaters to feel the need for edge pressure.  Much higher level skaters with consistent axels often have a difficult time with this entrance because they also have no true edge pressure and they rely on the swinging natural rotation of their entrance (whatever it is, usually back outside edge and step forward).  Before doing a successful double axel, many of these skaters must relearn the axel with proper edge pressure, using the kinds of drills that Michelle is teaching in this video.  HINT:  One of the keys to using this entrance is to keep the free shoulder back after the back outside counter (not discussed in the video).

Editor’s Note: To see a more advanced skater using the “counter-counter” entrance for double axel, please see Trevor’s axel checklist page.

This video is probably one of the best practical videos ever published on how to develop an axel using the concepts of edge pressure.  It is very rare to get a look at how an Olympic coach works with young skaters.  We’re very lucky to have Michelle sharing this information with us.  Please leave a comment.


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