There are six basic rotational jumps in figure skating: the toe loop, slachow, flip, loop, lutz, and axel. Before discussing each jump individually we should consider the basic mechanics at play in every jump. Each figure skating jump has three phases: entry, air position, and landing.Embed from Getty Images
I’ll discuss the specific entries of each jump in detail in their individual entries, but for now, let’s consider the basics of the entry to any jump. Much of the success of a jump relies on the precise calibration of speed, position, and body tension before the skater leaves the ice.
The key to a solid jump entry is the right blend of tension and relaxation to control the pop and the snap of a jump entry. Pop refers to the translation of a skater’s momentum into height. Snap refers to the arms drawing into the body in to initiate the rotation of the jump. The knees are springs to carry the skater up; the arms are rubber bands pulled taunt and then released to initiate the skater’s rotation. The ideal jump entry looks effortless and carries as much speed as the skater can control. The faster you enter the jump the more momentum you have to carry up and out of the jump.
Controlling the speed and spring for a jump requires strength from head to toe because the body needs to leave the ice as a unit. If the shoulders start rotating before the hips, a jump will quickly go askew. If a skater isn’t using their lower body to power the jump up they risk under rotating the jump and incurring various errors on the landing. Finally, if you aren’t in control of your takeoff edge and pick in (for toe jumps) you risk skidding out or popping the jump entirely.
If a skater has done their job on take-off, their body should remain virtually perpendicular to the ice as they travel through the air. Once a skater leaves the ice they need to maintain a tight air position in order to get the required rotations in before landing. That means arms tucked in tight (no chicken wing elbows here), shoulders down, and toes tucked pointed down and touching. All of these actions help conserve the speed and momentum generated on take off and make for a pretty jump.
The ideal jump landing is smooth and carries speed out on a long running edge. Controlling the landing requires the skater to check out of the rotation by releasing their arms and free leg (i.e. the non-landing leg) and holding the check by stretching their free leg and arms out. The arms and free leg unfurl and the skater looks like they’re stepping down and out of the jump.
A skater can do everything right up until the moment of the landing and still lose the jump. A clean landing requires a skater to roll smoothly off the toe, ideally just ahead of the ball of the foot. Land too high on the pick and you scrub a significant amount of speed (hampering a potential combination jump) and risk tripping on your own pick.
Alternatively, you don’t want to land flat on the blade, either. Doing so shifts the skater’s weight too far back on the blade rather than floating it over the landing knee, which makes it exceedingly difficult to remain upright. The result is either a flat fall, or a skater barrel rolling off the landing edge.
A skater’s height, strength, flexibility, and training influences their jumping ability and style. Not all toe loops or lutzes are created equal, and each skater can bring their own particular style to a jump.