Physics on Skates?

Everyone has something that they are passionate about, and mine just happens to be figure skating. I first stepped on the ice when I was 5 years old. A local figure skating club in the area caught my older sister’s attention, so we decided to join together! This passion of mine grew exponentially every year as I learned new tricks and jumps and attended more and more competitions. My skating career ended abruptly during my sophomore year of high school, the year my coach moved out of state and my family decided that the sport wasn’t worth the priciness of it without such an amazing coach to make it all worthwhile. So here I am now, finding a reason to blab on about my favorite sport in the world by relating it to physics!

First, lets talk about friction. To put it simply, friction can be defined as the resistance, or lack thereof, of two things as they touch each other. The beautiful thing of skating on ice is that there is hardly any friction because of the smooth ice that your blade glides straight through.


picture found HERE

Therefore, it is easy to understand why physics can explain every aspect of figure skating and why the blades perform differently on ice than they would on other surfaces such as wood, for example. You don’t have to be a science fanatic to be able to identify the fact that it surround us and is all around the world we live in. Personally, I’ve never taken a single physics class in my life, so I found this article from NASA incredibly helpful as I was researching about this science and how it could be applied to such an amazing sport.

Newton’s first law of motion deals with an object remaining in its current state unless an outside force causes that state to change. Every time your muscles propel your legs forward and backward and up and down, the state of your body is changing because of all of these forces. Literally every movement can be explained by this first law. However, I find Newton’s third law to be the most interesting way to apply his studies to figure skating because it accounts for something that isn’t usually considered when describing all of the complex movements involved in the sport. According to NASA, Newton stated, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action.” Think about the blades on ice again and the force produced by your legs as you glide through the ice. Key word: THROUGH. A zamboni has to resurface the ice every few hours in order to maintain a smooth and enjoyable surface for the figure skaters– this goes for hockey players as well. This is because the action of forcing your blade through the ice creates the opposite reaction of that same ice becoming cut up from absorbing the forces you’ve imposed upon it. The cuts are a result of the ice “pushing” back and therefore allowing the skater to move in the desired direction. This is something no one typically considers or thinks about, but it all makes sense! If physics didn’t exist, then figure skating wouldn’t exist and that would be quite tragic.

Next topic: momentum. Why am I able to spin for a sustained period of time and not lose all of my speed? img_3482 Well, the answer is angular momentum conservation, and it can be related back to Newton’s laws. Without a force to slow a spinning skater down, momentum will be conserved! (Samuel Hokin)

There are so many other aspects of figure skating that can be explained by physics and all of the other impressive findings that scientist have discovered at this point in our lifetime, and this is just one sport! I am willing to bet that students’ interests in physics would be increased dramatically if the science was related to something they were passionate about, which isn’t hard to do! Science IS in our world, we just need to acknowledge it.

Now, I would like to conclude with a video to prove that what goes up must come down, featuring myself. Enjoy 🙂


1 thought on “Physics on Skates?

  1. Emily Fiacco Tuite

    HI Daniele,

    This is so funny because I figure skate too and I almost wrote my blog post about the physics behind figure skating as well. I have been figure skating since I was 4 years old and I did not know a lot about this myself. Well what I did know, I got from the movie Ice Princess. Now when I go skating I can understand how I am able to do what I love doing. Also I like your use of language in this post and how you included the video at the end. Here is an article that I found that talks about the science behind figure skating.

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