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I thought I’d write this post because I’ve found the internet curiously scarce on information regarding figure skating as exercise. Which it is. Totally. My burning legs and aching muscles are proof of that.

So are the few pounds I’ve dropped since beginning skating. It hasn’t been that much (about ten pounds over the year), but the difference has been noticeable since my legs have toned up and I’ve dropped nearly two dress/pant sizes. And perhaps muscle gain is obscuring some of the loss.

I didn’t take up figure skating for fitness reasons, but that’s been a great benefit. Okay, I did want to take up a hobby that would get me active, but I was much more interested in learning to skate than in losing weight.

The problem was, I had no idea just how much skating burned. The internet is pretty vague, giving a range too wide to be helpful (I’ve seen anything from 250 to 1,000 calories per hour). So I bought a heart rate monitor – the kind with a chest strap and a watch that records workout data – to get the count accurate. I don’t wear it every time I skate, but I’ve worn it enough times to get a good idea of what my skating burns.

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Just tooling around doing moves (edges, 3-turns, patterns) keeps my heart rate just below the fat-burning range, which burns about 300 to 400 calories an hour. Jumps and spins get my heart rate into the aerobic zone and I burn much more, from 500 to 650 an hour. But I don’t stay at that level of intensity throughout, and sometimes I’m just skating aimlessly while thinking of what to practice next, so I’ve settled on two numbers that I think work well for my needs: An hour of moves burns an average of 400 calories an hour. Doing low freestyle (spins, single jumps, footwork), I get over 500.

I may create a third category with a higher burn rate for practices with higher intensity, but I’m good with these two numbers for now. I erred on the conservative side, and those numbers are adjusted to subtract my BMR calories from the number my heart rate monitor gives me (to avoid double-counting). I opted to round down rather than overestimating.

At first I was shocked that the calorie burns were so high and wondered if they were grossly inflated somehow. But the more I stop and think about how I feel when I’m doing practicing, the more it makes sense. My heart gets pumping with jumps and spins really work my core, especially the camel. The sit spins are killer on my (still very weak) quads. Stroking around the perimeter has you in a constant squat, especially if you’re aiming for good knee bend. When I was doing program runthroughs back to back, it almost felt like interval training — a hard 90 seconds, a few minutes to cool down, another hard 90 seconds, and so forth.

The best thing about skating for me is that I could stay out there for hours, and not think about getting in my workout. When I used to go to the gym and do the cardio machines, I’d be bored out of my mind; it was such a chore to log 30 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical. I had to keep my mind distracted so I wasn’t thinking about how much I hated to be there, exercising on purpose when I could be doing more interesting things. I don’t mean to say that losing weight with skating is easy, because I’m pretty sure I worked my butt off this past year. However, it’s not an ordeal in the way that gym workouts used to be; I don’t have to force myself to do it, and most of the time I want to be doing even more, which is awesome.

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