It seems like such a simple thing, such an obvious thing: Stroking is the base of any figure skating warm up, right?

It may be the base, but there's more to stroking than you might think. The stroking portion of your warm up needs to get your pulse rate up, warm up your muscles, help you feel your edges under you, and get you skating with the best technique right from the start so that you can do everything else. Oh, wait, that last bit... that's the hard part, so, let's start there.

I tell new skaters that stroking is something that they'll learn how to do in their first lessons and they will still be learning when they are advanced competitors. For one thing, there's so much to learn, and as you get better at skating in general, you'll learn how to do the most basic moves with finer control. For another thing, it's natural not to concentrate on the things that seem simple and basic and to let bad habits sneak in.

So, what is technically excellent stroking? It should include proper posture, proper hand and arm positioning. In forward skating you want to keep your spine as straight as possible, shoulders over hips, never twisting into our out of your circle. You want your hands to "hug your circle", but the front arm needs to come across your body, not pulling your shoulders onto the circle's edge. It should also include proper pushing technique. You should always push with both feet equally. That includes crossovers. So many people give a great push with the "outside" foot, but just step out of the "inside" foot once it's in the crossover position. All pushes should come through the edge of the blade and never from the toe pick. And of course, stroking should include beautiful extension as you lift your pushing foot up into the air.

As you warm up, think about each of those things. The more you work toward technically excellent stroking, the better the rest of your skating will get. Stroking isn't just the base of your warm up, it's the basis for everything else you do on the ice!