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Fit to Perform: A Guide to Choosing the right Skates

By Dr. Kelly Lockwood on March 27, 2016

Flickr photo

Skate boots and blades are the vehicle by which ‘walking’ is translated to ‘skating.’ Though skate boot design and the materials used to manufacture skates have certainly evolved over the years to facilitate mass production, affordability and performance, one thing has remained the same: the importance of fit. Fit is foremost in ensuring that a skate boot has the potential to be comfortable, prevent boot-related injuries, and enhance performance.

What defines a good fit?
Skate boots should fit like a pair of gloves for your feet. Gloves that fit well will protect and support the hands, keep them warm, and most importantly, permit the hands and fingers to perform hand-related tasks effectively. Skate boots that fit well will also protect, support, provide a source of warmth or comfort for the feet, and most importantly, enhance skating performance.

How can I achieve a good fit? 
Feet come in a variety of shapes and sizes and as such, not all feet fit into all brands of skate boots. Each brand’s build is based upon the last designed by the manufacturer. The last is the technical term for the footprint or the foundation of the skate design. Therefore, the challenge lies in finding the manufacturer’s last that best fits the skater’s individual foot. This can be achieved using the following guidelines.


FOOT SIZE: Ensure fit by size. The most common way to define fit is through length and width of the foot. While this is a good start, the skate also needs to anatomically complement the foot’s whole size and shape. Too much or too little space within the skate can cause movement of the foot within the boot cavity, leading to friction-related injuries, such as blisters, bunions, bumps and heel spurs. Skaters should choose a brand that matches their particular foot rather than merely aspiring to the brand their favourite champion skater wears.

Gauge stiffness by body weight. The weight of a skater is a good starting point to gauge the calibre, strength and stiffness of the selected skate boot. For examples, a 20kg skater requires a lighter, softer, more flexible boot than an 80kg skater. You would not purchase a men’s pro golf club for a six-year-old beginner. The same holds true for skates. 

STRENGTH AND SKILL LEVEL: The stronger the skater, the stiffer the skate. Physically stronger or more advanced skaters might require stiffer skates, while younger, smaller or beginner skaters may need more flexible skates. Skaters need to be able to drive their boots; their size and strength dictates their ability to flex the boot to match the movement patterns required of a skating stride and sport-specific skills. Similarly, advanced skaters perform more complex tasks that require the support of a stiffer boot.

How can you ensure a good fit at purchase and through the lifetime of the boot?
Trying on your skates:
Traditionally, a skater selects boots in a static environment—the store—which does not translate well to the fit and function required during skating. Therefore, skaters should try on the skates while sitting down, but then stand up, bend the knees, flex the boot, and walk around to assess how the skates feel with movement. This is fundamental to helping you understand how the boot design needs to translate to movement of the foot inside the skate.

Breaking in skate boots:
If a skate fits well, the break-in period should be relatively short and painless. Start by walking in your skates off the ice. Examine your feet; look for red or hot spots and have the boots adjusted or punched out before blisters, bunions or bumps have an opportunity to develop. Progress to the ice and practice the dynamic movement skills relevant to your sport. Examine your feet again and make further adjustments if necessary. Persistent discomfort with the skate boot will not improve with time, so it’s best to address any issues immediately.

Skate boot breakdown: Breakdown is often a sign of a boot that does not fit well or match the needs of the skater. Take note of where and how the boot is breaking down, this information is helpful in selecting your next boot.

Second-hand skates: Younger skaters tend to outgrow their skates quickly and are often faced with skates that are too small or skates that are sizes too big so that they have room to grow. Both scenarios are problematic. Gently used skates that fit well are a cost-effective option and will perform much better than brand new, top-of-the-line skates that don’t fit. 

Specialty or custom orders:
Time and experience provides us with knowledge. So after years of learning what they require and/or like in a boot, skaters often order a customized boot that works for them. This is not to say that a stock boot will not work, however, customized skates provide more advanced skaters the flexibility to individualize their boot selection and build.

Don’t let your skate boot be a limiting factor. Skates that are selected based on fit will enable the skater to perform to the best of their ability.

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March 27, 2016
Categories:  Performance

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