Right off the bat, I should let you know (if you didn't already!) that sitting tricks are not my specialty.
In fact, they are the bane of my existence when it comes to freestyle slalom.
This is unfortunate. The very first slalom video I ever saw was Fannystyle, featuring the lovely Fanny Violeau, who is known for her amazing sitting tricks. Turns out that this is many peoples' first slalom video. If you haven't already seen it a million times (or if you just want to watch it for the million and one'th time), check it out:
Now, a lot of people can do sitting tricks. It is my opinion that not a lot of people do them especially beautifully. I can think of probably a dozen people in total whose sitting tricks actually make me jealous.
Pierre Kunneman from Cologne, Germany, is one of these people. In case you've never seen his defining video, check it out:
These are two classic freestyle slalom videos, so I am surprised when people haven't seen them yet, but then again, there are more and more new people beginning slalom all the time due to running across videos such as these. I've gotta get around to making one myself. :-)
Anyway, back to the subject. Sitting tricks! Today we'll cover the basics of just getting into a sitting-tricks frame of mind.
First, off skates, try squatting down with both your feet on the ground. Stand with your feet at a natural distance apart; about hip width is good. Stretch your arms out straight in front of you. Then, bend your knees and try to squat as far down as possible. One of several things will happen when you squat down.
1) You will naturally sink to the ground, even if your feet are quite close together. Your butt will fall below your knees, almost touching the ground. It will feel effortless, like your body was built to do this.
If this is the case when you first try this, please know that I hate you. :-)
(no, really, i don't...just give me some of your awesome and we'll be square.)
2) The second thing that could happen is that at first you will think you are brilliantly low to the ground, because you can't possibly sink any lower than you already have. Then you will realize that your butt is still miles higher than your knees. You will try adjusting to a wider stance, and then you find that you can sink lower and eventually get your butt to fall between your knees. Great! Right?
Nope. If this is the case people, this is the battle I have fought for over a year, and please know that I am a fast learner. Remember, I started slalom in April 2008, so when you see video of me from 2009, it's actually old footage in the timeline of my learning curve.
Well, if I think about how long I have CONSISTENTLY been working on sitting tricks, the answer is that I've really only trained them for about six months. Because the key in improving is working on this every time you skate, without fail, and while I went through spurts of training sitting tricks in the first two years of slalom, I only REALLY began to focus on this trick family in April at the spring Skatefreestyle retreat.
If you're one of the people to whom this comes naturally, you really don't need the rest of this article. Go look up sitting trick videos on Youtube and kazachok away. :-)
If you're in the second category, please, continue reading. I will do my best to cull the learning moments from my personal struggles to help you, the eager-to-learn slalomer, learn to do these tricks faster than I learned them (still learning! for the record), and hopefully save you some headaches along the way.
Note: The reason I say to work off-skates is because it is actually harder to do these exercises in feet than it is in skates. So when you're out skating, by all means please practice your footgun, but know that training off-skates will help you become that much more awesome. Besides, practicing off-skates can be done everywhere and anywhere, so if you don't get out slaloming all that much, you can still improve your sitting tricks in the off-season.
How to train for sitting tricks:
Now that you have realized that you need to work on this whole squatting thing, you need to focus on this part first. Every day, off skates, squat. With two feet on the ground. Don't let your heels rise up off the ground. Don't let your feet creep out any wider than your hips, or turn your feet out at extreme angles. Keep them relatively straight. Use your arms outstretched in front of you as a counterbalance to your weight naturally shifting back as you sink to the ground. Fight against the natural urge to let your weight fall back, because you will keep falling on the floor and that's a bit discouraging. Push forward as much as you can. You will use muscles you didn't know you had.
This will feel so difficult, I know. BELIEVE me, I know. When you get to the lowest point that you think you can go, push through your quadriceps into the ground, keep your weight pushing forward through your arms, and stand up. If you feel too weak to do this more than a few times, then by all means, stop and take a rest. But be sure to keep at it the next day, and the day after that.
And I promise you, I promise you with cherries on top of vanilla frosted cupcakes, that you WILL get better at this, IF you do it regularly. If you practice for a week and then forget all about it, you will likely lose most of the progress you originally made, and you'll have to backtrack to get to the point at which you were.
One Leg Squats:
Now it's going to start getting really fun. When you can get down low with your butt below your knees on two feet, it's time to do this exercise with one foot outstretched. From a neutral standing position (legs slightly bent), stretch one leg out in front of you, and grasp the outside of your foot with the corresponding hand (i.e. if you stretch your left foot out, grasp the outside of your left foot with your left hand). This is most easily accomplished when wearing sport shoes of some sort. You can also try grabbing the foot first and then stretching the leg out. See what works for you.
Once you have your leg in hand and your leg stretched as straight as you can, bend your knee and sink down into the squatting position. Keep going until your butt is below your bent knee. Y'know, just like before. There will be a point where you have sunk down so low that it feels like almost no effort to remain in that position. This is where you want to be when you are doing a footgun on skates.
Then, without letting go of your foot or retracting it in any way, stand up on one leg.
Then, try it with your other foot.
When you are down on one leg in a beautiful footgun position, you may feel too weak to stand up on one leg, at all. You may reach that effortless low spot, and upon attempting to stand, you fall back onto your (ever more muscular) butt. If this is the case, dust yourself off and try again. After all, Aaliyah was right on several counts. If it's REALLY too difficult for you and you can't manage to get up again on one leg, then go back to the two-legged exercise, but keep trying on one leg also, because it WILL happen that you will be able to sink down and come back up on one leg. When you can, work up to being able to do ten in a row, or more, if you like.
Remember, the ultimate goal is to do this maneuver through a line of cones, so at some point you're just going to have to bite the bullet and put the effort in to get your muscles as strong as they need to be.
Why the sitting and standing on one leg exercise?, you may ask. The reason for this is: wait for it...wait for it...
The pumping, which you will need for your sitting tricks, is visible in the first few seconds of this run from Xuan Le at the 2008 World Freestyle Slalom Championships held in Singapore. I was lucky enough to be there in person, and swoon along with the rest:
Ok, so long story short (too late), you will need to be strong enough to pump up and down in your sitting tricks in order to generate energy to move through the cones. It's all well and good if you can steer yourself through half a line of cones, but your sitting trick will not look mastered until it is at the level where you can pump yourself through 20 cones. Personally, I'm still working on this, even though I've come a long way in a few short months and am making it through 20 cones more and more consistently.
As of July this year, I was still futzing through the cones in a half-assed (no pun intended) sort of sitting trick, until world #1 skater Marina Boyko pulled me aside in Warsaw and set me straight. She recommended I begin by sitting down with my leg outstretched, not holding my outstretched leg. In Warsaw I immediately proceeded according to her instructions, and lo and behold, I had a sitting trick of sorts. After practicing this way for a month or so, I began grabbing the leg again, as I really feel it's easier to maintain the trick while holding the leg. However, Marina is another example of epic sitting tricks, so maybe I should drop the leg again. Next time I am out, I will play around with it, now that it's not such a chore as it used to be.
There was one day in the latter part summer where I went to Cologne and skated with the crew out there, and I got a couple tips from Janin Gottschling (see epic christie photo from last post) that helped me finally get backwards footgun. It was great, because I went to Cologne with no backwards footgun abilities, and I came home with the trick. Plus, I had a really nice day with Janin, so it was just altogether fantastic. :)
I did backwards footgun in my runs a few weeks later in Korea, but as you can see in this video from the Jeonju World Freestyle Slalom Championships, I was still not getting quite low enough for both forwards and backwards. I managed, eventually, but they're not exactly as pretty as I want them to be. It's also worth noting that this was a very high-pressure classic competition, so I was more than a tad nervous when skating:
The good thing is that this video is from the end of August and we are now at the end of October, and I am pleased to report significant progress in my personal sitting trick experience, which I will tell you all about the next time.
Next time we look at sitting tricks, I'd like to talk about troubleshooting, and more advanced tricks.
In the meantime, I've got practicing to do, so thanks for reading!
p.s. Now that I think of it, it's almost a crime to put a link to a video of Xuan followed by a link to a video of anybody else, let alone myself. I do want to make myself look good here, after all. Oh well. :-)