Unexpected Benefits From Figure Skating Training – Part 1 (Sheila Thelen)

Figure skating specialist coach and inventor Sheila Thelen discusses research she has been involved with regarding the body’s vestibular system, and how figure skating training methods offer benefits not only to figure skaters but others as well. Sheila begins by noting that “mid-line cross” movements in figure skating engage both the right and left side of the brain, resulting in cognitive benefits. She claims this is one reason why figure skaters are often great students in school or go on to highly successful careers. (Obviously, above average socio-economic family status also plays a role in success for those involved in figure skating.) She says, “You’re getting smarter by figure skating.”

Next, Sheila discusses the vestibular system or “how our eyes and ears load back into the brain.” This is related both to balance and cognitive abilities. Sheila says, “Figure skating coaches are vestibular geniuses and we don’t even know it.” This is because figure skating training is focused on balance, spinning, turning, and quick movements, all things that stimulate the vestibular system.

Figure skating training methods such as off-ice harnesses and electric spinners are showing promise as vestibular therapy for non-skaters with cognitive, sensory, and balance issues. Sheila mentions the aging community and those with autism as examples.

As another example, Sheila talks about how a former figure skater turned military helicopter pilot has benefited from her figure skating training. You can watch that video here.  Repeatedly training the vestibular system seems to improve spacial awareness, in some cases eliminating spacial disorientation entirely. Sheila notes that many if not most skaters can perform their jumps in almost the exact same location on the rink, over and over again, highlighting the spacial awareness aspects of how we train.

To end the video, Sheila explains that she is involved in research on how vestibular training can help as part of post-concussion therapy. She has been working with some former NFL players and is seeing some promising results. Obviously, improved post-concussion therapy can benefit figure skaters as well.


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