Blades of Glory? Ithaca College Researcher Develops Device to Help Figure Skaters Measure Force

ITHACA, NY — Hoping to replace guesswork with science, researchers from Ithaca College and Brigham Young University have developed a small, lightweight device to be used by figure skaters and their trainers to avoid injuries, inform the design of new skating boots and perhaps save Olympic dreams.

Figure skating isn’t thought of as a contact sport. But skaters’ bodies pay a price for all those triple Axels, as it’s estimated they exert a force magnitude of up to six times their body weight when taking off and landing from a jump. Now imagine what it must be like to spend hours on the ice, doing dozens of jumps, day after day while in training.

The “smart” blade is designed to measure the force that a figure skater exerts on the ice when performing jumps, spins and footwork. The blade is unobtrusive and would allow skaters to perform their typical repertoires without any noticeable interference.

“Questions have been raised about boot design and how it affects a skater’s impact forces, potentially causing injuries,” said Deborah King, an expert on the biomechanics of sport performance who has spent years studying figure skaters. “However, very little is known about the actual impact forces on ice during jumping and other figure skating skills. On-ice measurements of the forces associated with figure skating are fairly difficult to record due to the complexity of the sport and not wanting to interfere with the skater during their jumps.”

King, an associate professor of exercise and sport sciences at Ithaca College, joined with her research colleagues from Brigham Young to first test the measuring device by mounting an instrumented blade onto an artificial leg and foot and applying force.

The blade was then fitted to an experienced skater who was asked to jump from a box onto the floor while measurements were taken. These results were compared with measurements taken from a skater who wore a normal blade and jumped onto a force plate.

The entire measuring device, including a battery, weighs only 142 grams — about as much as a pair of jumbo eggs — and fits under the boot space of the blade so that none of the components makes contact with the ice.

King says they will continue to refine the device, so that in the future it can be taken out of the laboratory and onto the ice rink, and used by skaters to analyze their movement during their routines and hopefully prevent further injuries.

The research was published in the journal Measurement Science and Technology. For more information on King and her biomechanics research, visit faculty.ithaca.edu/dking.

The “smart” blade is designed to measure the force that a figure skater exerts on the ice when performing jumps, spins and footwork.