Looking for a new way to get moving? Roller skating and rollerblading are having a major resurgence. Turns out, roller skating is an effective form of cardio and a great full-body workout. If you’re wondering how to rollerskate for exercise (or rollerblade for exercise), we put together a comprehensive guide. Read on to learn everything you need to know.
On the morning of my 24th birthday, my sister placed a cumbersome newspaper-wrapped box on my lap and I immediately knew what was inside: A pair of rollerblades, which I’d not-so-subtly hinted at wanting for months. We’d just survived the colder months early on in the pandemic, and I had started to see rollerbladers gliding along the Charles River Esplanade in Boston where I lived at the time. I was looking for a new hobby to fill my idle time that fed into my inability to sit still. Although the sport had yet to have a notable presence in viral TikToks, rollerblades and skates, similar to bikes and most other outdoor equipment, were hard to come by. I picked up rollerblading as a form of exercise—dare I say before it was trendy—but I’m happy to see that in light of the pandemic, rollerblades and skates have become more mainstream. Rollerblading tripled in popularity for 18- to 29-year-olds between March 1 to September 30, 2020 as compared to the same time period in 2019, according to Fitbit data. It should be noted that the indoor and outdoor skating communities have been around for a very long time despite the recent surge in popularity.
Roller sports can look intimidating, but if you’re trying to break into the sport––whether to spice up your fitness regime or to become That Girl on wheels––but don’t know where to start, read on for my rules of the roller-sports road.
Is Roller Skating Good Exercise?
Rollerskating is a great form of exercise, as it’s a good form of cardio. I’ve found it also generally puts me in a feel-good mindset. In fact, roller skating is recognized and recommended as a form of aerobic exercise by the American Heart Association (AHA).
If you’re skating at a moderate intensity, you can expect to burn anywhere from 200 to 300 calories in 30 minutes. (Of course, the total calories you burn will vary based on intensity, terrain, and your current weight.)
Wondering which one is better? There aren’t any studies that directly compare the two types of skating, but research suggests that in-line rollerblading can be an extremely effective form of cardiovascular exercise (even for the competitive roller skiing subjects who participated in the study).
It can help develop your balance as well—one study found that after just 12 roller skating lessons, fifth graders had significantly better balance. Plus, it utilizes (and therefore strengthens) the muscles in your core and lower body.
There are several ways to enjoy roller skating or rollerblading. Distance skating, or going from one destination to another, is only one option. Other possibilities include roller derby, skate parks, and roller dancing. So if distance skating doesn’t sound right for you, there are alternatives that offer the same health benefits.
Benefits of Roller Skating and Blading
Still on the fence about trying roller sport for exercise? Here are some of the impressive benefits of the trending activity:
- It’s an aerobic exercise. Cardio prevents several chronic illnesses, promotes a healthy lifestyle, improves cognitive function, improves mental health, and prevents future injuries.
- It’s a full-body exercise. Full-body exercise works several muscles (most notably the core, the glutes, the hamstrings, the quads, and the calves).
- It improves your balance and coordination. This can help with posture and prevent injuries down the line.
- If done outside, it encourages you to spend time in nature. Being outdoors has been proven to reduce cortisol levels, improve immunity, and improve mental health.
- It’s a social activity. Social connection promotes health and wellbeing. It also connects you to the skating community, which is a supportive place full of people who want to help you improve and have fun.
- It’s a new skill. Learning a new skill creates new neural pathways in the brain, preventing memory loss, cognitive decline, and cognitive disease down the line.
How to Roller Skate (or Blade) for Beginners
Ready to get rolling? Here’s my guide on how to roller skate (or blade) for first-timers. (Psst: Check out this helpful video on movements to try before you get rolling.)
1. Choose Between Roller Skating or Rollerblading
Rollerblading and roller skating are both amazing hobbies to pick up, but I’ve found them to be two completely different sports. I own both types of roller footwear, however, I wholeheartedly identify as a blader over a skater. It took me about a year to feel invincible on my rollerblades, so I decided to take a stab at roller skating. How hard could it be? Hard. Very Hard. It felt like I was starting right back at square one. While rollerblading and roller skating both involve wheels, they require two completely different forms of balance and stability.
At the end of the day, both involve balance and coordination, and my next points still do hold true for both activities. You can try them both by renting equipment first and deciding which feels most natural for you before investing in your own pair of rollerblades or roller skates.
2. Safety First
Above all else, wear protection on your head, hands, elbows, and knees, no matter how far you plan on blading or skating. I’ve fallen quite literally right outside my front door before. Falling is all part of the learning process, so embrace the stumbles because they’re ultimately how you’ll get a feel for your balance.
It’s usually better to fall forward onto your hands and knees (with pads) than backward (read: on your butt), so keep your weight forward on your toes rather than in your heels. Practice falling forward on grass so you’re more prepared once you’re doing the real deal on a hard surface.
3. Search for Smooth Surfaces
Smooth sailing requires smooth surfaces. Avoid uneven surfaces, high friction surfaces (like dirt, grass, or rubber), gravel, and potholes, because these will disrupt your stride. I’d recommend going for a spin at a skate park or on a bike path where you know you won’t run into these roadblocks. If you find yourself on uneven terrain, you have a few options. One of the best ways to clear the area is to tilt forward and walk on the toe stops on your roller skates. If that feels uncomfortable to you, try bending your knees so you’re low to the ground and taking small, lateral steps through the uneven terrain. You can also try going to a roller rink—the ground isn’t as hard as concrete and you can find people there who can help you learn.
5. Carry Yourself With Confidence
If you’re learning how to roller skate or rollerblade, confidence is key. Early on, I had moments of feeling self-conscious as I slowly moved from my apartment to a nearby bike path for my 15 to 20 minute blading sessions. It’s natural to feel outside of your comfort zone when trying something for the first time, especially with the vulnerability of four wheels strapped to each foot. But having confidence will translate into a stronger stance and stride for better balance and forward momentum. Remember: It’s all about having fun!
6. Bring a Buddy
When I was first learning to rollerblade, I didn’t have any friends that were also into the sport. Instead, my sister would accompany me on foot for a few afternoon miles. Rollerblading and skating are great sports to do with a partner from both a social and a safety aspect, and I love blading dates whenever I’m in the mood to see friends but want to stay active. Rollerblading and skating are also amazing ways to make new friends. Don’t know anyone in your area? There are skating communities all around the country and the world that are always willing to help new skaters develop their skills. Some of them include:
- Chicago: @smoothgoddess_
- Bay Area: @mooncricketfilms, @richardhumphrey
- New York: @tanyadeanskates
- South Florida: @rocs_world
- Los Angeles: @buckwildjrich, @downtown_sam, @skatecampla, @areason2skate
- Paris: @laurencesabasrollerdance
- Netherlands: @quadsk8
7. Dress for Wear and Tear
While rollerblading and rollerskating are great activities to make a fashion statement, do not wear anything that is too near and dear to your heart when you’re first starting out. I did some damage in my early days before I knew how to blade on hills, and my new pants paid the price. Instead, choose clothing that’s comfortable and cool—and that you don’t mind damaging if need be.
8. Remember: Inclines are Hard on Inlines (and Skates)
My top answers for people looking for advice on how to roller skate for beginners? Avoid downhills until you’re extremely comfortable with your balance and have a stopping strategy. It’s important to not let yourself gain too much speed going downhill because it can easily become hard to slow down. If a hill is unavoidable, try to find a railing to hold onto, or, worst-case scenario, take off your blades and walk down to avoid losing control (I’ve done this before).
9. Reach for Railings
Railings rock. Balancing is always easier when you have something to grab onto. I still like using railings to catch my balance, slow myself down, or just feel more in control. As mentioned above, railings are also imperative in learning how to go downhill while staying in control.
How to Stop on Roller Skates or Rollerblades
Before you head out on a blading or skating endeavor, make sure you’re comfortable with a braking technique. One of the best ways to stop is to drag your foot behind you (also known as a T-stop). If you’re on roller skates and want to brake, extend your arms out to the side of your body, bend your knees, shift your weight to one side, and then extend the opposite leg back behind you (pointing your foot so the toe stop is facing down), and drag it on the ground until you stop. Another option? The Plow Stop. Bend your knees, spread your legs apart, and then sit low—turning your toes in and knocking your knees in so that they’re over your big toe. You’ll slowly and gradually come to a stop this way.
If you’re wondering how to stop on rollerblades, you have a few options. You can use the break on the back of the skate—just extend your arms in front of your shoulders, bend your knees, push whichever foot you want forward, and lift the toe up so the brake comes in contact with the ground. Alternatively, you can try the T-Stop, which involves turning the back foot perpendicular to the front foot to form a “T.” Then, bend your front leg and drag the back foot behind you until you come to a stop. The final option is also known as the Plow Stop. It’s the same concept as on roller skates: bend your knees, spread your legs apart, and turn your feet in until you come to a stop.
I personally like to drag my right foot as a form of stopping or slowing down, but everyone is different.
Roller skating and rollerblading are effective and fun forms of exercise, but they do require patience and practice. Most people aren’t going to master this sport immediately, so don’t be deterred if it feels really hard at first. It took me months to consider myself “skilled” at rollerblading, and I’ve had my fair share of spills, so lace up, get those wheels spinning, and enjoy the learning process. And it can’t hurt to take a few pics for the ‘gram too.
Want to get professional lessons? Seek out certified local skate instructors from the Skate Instructors Association. They offer both inline and quad lessons. Or, book professional lessons on the My Skate Pro app. And if you want to learn more about some roller skating history, there are a few documentaries that include—but are not limited to—Roller Dreams and United Skates of America.