Heavy breathing required: turn your recreational inline strolls into high-gear fitness workouts.

* Just because inline skating is fun and easy on the body doesn’t mean it’s not a viable workout. When undertaken seriously, inline skating can be a lot more than just a casual roll around the park it can add spice to a lagging routine, take your fitness level to a new high and make you a better skater. The fact is, inline skating can be equally as strenuous as more ballistic sports and can incorporate all the integral components of a good fitness program. A solid inline training program can enhance your balance, coordination, flexibility, lateral strength, muscle tone,, endurance and aerobic and anaerobic fitness. * There’s more. Not only is inline skating ideal for rehabilitation training because it is low impact, it also helps you develop better dynamic balance, which crosses over to sports such as cycling and climbing. “With inline skating, you can develop a sport-specific program for windsurfing or skiing,” explains Suzanne Nottingham, author of Fitness In-Line Skating (Human Kinetics, 1997). “Look at it not as just a way to become fit or reach new levels, but as one tier up, as a strict training tool for other sports. * “Although many recreational skaters are getting good workouts on their skates, there’s a distinct line between recreational and fitness inline skating. Fitness skating means you are using your skates specifically to achieve fitness benefit. It can mean power drills in a parking lot, interval training on hills or distance workouts on long straightways. If you’ve been skating for a couple years — or even months — you’ve got enough basic skills to take your skating workout to a new level. Here are five steps to up the ante on your inline workout and make you a more efficient and stronger skater.

FIND YOUR FOCUS.

The first step to skating for fitness is to develop a serious training program. If it’s a nice day, a rec skater might go out and casually roam around for a while. But as a fitness skater, your workout needs to be part of a schedule. “The first thing to do is to fit your skate workout into your weekly regime,” says Carolyn Bradley, creator of the SkateFit instructional fitness skate video. “If you normally go to the gym twice a week, start skating twice a week at the same times.” During your skate, concentrate on maintaining good form and a steady pace, and keep track of your heart rate and the length and time of your workout.

It’s also vital to stay focused during your workout, says Janet Miller, a professional skater and certified skating instructor. “Don’t get distracted, even though nature is as beautiful and wonderful as it is. And don’t talk to people, even though skating can be extremely social. Make it your time.”

Also, make a commitment to yourself to skate harder. Instead of skating at your usual pace, go faster. Set a realistic goal for yourself, perhaps to finish a 10K competition under a certain time. You can set many skating goals for yourself, involving anything from speed to endurance to skill improvement.

Finally, make your skates accessible. Instead of piling them under your soccer cleats and ski boots in the garage, have a bag ready with your skates, protective gear, helmet and water bottle, and keep it easily accessible in your car or at your office.

GET THE GEAR.

First and foremost, choose a skate that is comfortable. A poor-fitting boot will result in involuntary balancing contraction, which means that the muscle groups can’t work up to their full potential. This results in a loss of energy transmission while you skate. This is okay if you skate every once in a while but is a disaster to any serious skater. A good fit, on the other hand, enhances energy transfer by stabilizing the foot in a neutral position, allowing you to skate longer with less muscle fatigue and better control. The soft boot vs. hard shell, four wheel vs. five wheel and lace vs. buckle debates boil down to personal preference. You don’t necessarily need a high-end fitness skate to get a good workout, although you should expect to spend at least $180 for a new pair of good fitness skates with ABEC-rated bearings.

Some skaters use footbeds to further customize fit, while others swear by inline socks, which are anatomically padded and streamlined with flat knit sides and spandex at the instep to support the arch.

Most five-wheeled skates and some four-wheeled fitness models offer longer frames (at least 10 inches from front to rear axle), which extend the wheel surface over a greater area on the ground and create a longer stride. As for wheels, larger-diameter wheels make for a faster ride, softer wheels have good traction and a smoother, slower ride and pointed or narrow-radius wheels have less running surface and offer quicker steering. Again, it is a matter of personal choice.

TACKLE THE TECHNIQUE.

Although it’s easy it’s easy to learn the basics of rec skating in about an hour, skating at higher levels requires mastering techniques. To skate faster, or more aerobically, you need to develop more lean in your stance and lower your center of gravity so you can stay balanced with the increased speed. “When I stride, I sit lower, with my hands on my back, to release the back a little more,” Bradley says. “This traditional speedskating stance means less back pain.” Others, however, say using your arms at full movement can maximize your workout. “To get the best workout,” Bradley says, “it’s bend, bend, bend. People who don’t bend their legs enough aren’t using the large muscle groups in the upper leg.”

To increase your heart rate and really work your upper leg muscles, try extending your stride. The basic stride has many variations, such as controlled squats as you glide and holding leg lifts to work your outer thighs and glutes.

BE A PATHFINDER.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and skate the same path time after time. Instead, try to find multiple routes and measure their distance with your car. For distance workouts, find a flat, traffic-free route; for muscle endurance, head for gradual hills. Vacant parking lots and industrial parks are great for doing skate drills, like oval-shaped swizzle moves in which you let your legs drift apart and back together, the forward crossover, in which you cross each foot over the other, and scooter pushes, repeated one-foot pushes to the same side.

And as with any other type of training, if you skate with someone who challenges you, you’ll improve faster and benefit from her critical feedback about your form, your stamina and your commitment.

KNOW THE PROS.

Because fitness skating is a relatively new niche, educational resources are still limited. However, a few books and videos are on the market and can help you set up a training routine, and the International Inline Skating Association’s (IISA) Instructor Certification Program recently initiated a new Level ill fitness instruction program, which focuses specifically on cardiovascular fitness, muscle endurance and flexibility training.

You can also try working with a trainer who has a background in ice speedskating and understands the biomechanics of skating. Or look for classes such as hip-hop skate aerobics or urban dance on skates in your area.

The skate training program you ultimately create will be based on the terrain in your area, but try to vary your workouts with distance training, hill interval training and muscle endurance exercises. You can always intensify a workout by increasing the number of repetitions and your speed. And remember to keep track of your heart rate; it’s a good indicator of how your cardiovascular fitness is improving with your skating.

Above all, remember that even though it’s called fitness skating, it’s still fun. How much more enjoyment can you have while toning your lower body, developing muscular endurance and building strength in your midsection? And the mental fitness that comes with fitness skating is an added boon, says Nottingham. “Nothing helps you get your act together better than skating hard and brainstorming. It’s cleansing for your head.”

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