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How do Ice Skaters spin so fast whilst not getting dizzy?  Ice Skaters employ the law of conservation of angular momentum.  Skaters pick up speed by reducing their rotational inertia as they bring their mass closer to the body.   For the dizzy part, well they are just very good at dealing with it from years of training.  

Can I create a fast dizzy ice skate spin at home?

You can practice this at home very easily.  Take a small office chair on wheels or stand on a lazy susan – a strong one if allowed!  Whilst holding your arms out from your body to the side get someone to spin you.  When in rotation, bring your arms into your chest and you will feel the change in speed.  You have just employed the ‘moment of inertia’.  Try holding some light dumbells and experience and even better effect.

Imagine a vortex or circle around your body, with your arms outstretched drawing an imaginary radius of a circle.  The more you reduce that radius, the faster you spin.  Did you get dizzy lol ?

So what’s the physics of this spinning on the ice?

When a skater travels along the ice, their linear momentum is the result of their Mass and Velocity.  Now with a flick of the foot the skater can introduce a spin and linear momentum changes to ‘Angular Momentum’.   The level of angular momentum depends on the angular or rotational velocity, multiplied by the ‘Moment of Inertia’. 

The science says that angular momentum must stay consistent, therefore the Equation is L = RMV.  Example, R decreases & increases.  Angular momentum L is conserved, your mass M is constant, if the radius R decreases, therefore the velocity must increase.

Stay with us, here’s more science during the spin!

Angular momentum can easily be generated by the blades on the ice, it’s a very frictionless surface producing a fast exhilarating experience for the skater and spectator.  In the lead up to a spin, figure skaters skate in on a wide curve and with a change of the foot can push the direction of rotation into a spin, creating additional force and increasing velocity.  

By making their body shape smaller on the ice, their angular velocity increases.  This occurs due to a decrease in the moment of inertia. Imagine a vortex around you, the wider your funnel shape the slower you are.  Once you bring your arms inwards or bring an outstretched leg into the center, your radius (R) is smaller.  If this radius is reduced, so is the moment of inertia.  Due to the law of angular momentum conservation, the angular velocity has to increase to maintain angular momentum. 

What does this mean in practice – Yawn..

Basically, if you stick your arms out wide or have your legs outstretched during a spin, you can increase your speed by bringing them back in, even more so by crouching down.  Give it a try and you will feel the ultimate change in how fast you spin. Even Sonic the hedgehog would love this for a change. To slow back down, slowly open your arms out, increase your radius and feel the velocity / speed reduce. See our last update on how to skate for the first time, some nice tips to help you.

Why do ice skaters not get dizzy during a fast spin?

Did you know that skaters who undertake the spin will actually spin around more than 25 times!  But do you ever see them skating off or wobbling with dizziness?  No, so what powers do they have then?   When you spin around in the back garden at home the fluid in your ears spins too.  When you stop the fluid continues to move, yet your eyes tell you that you are still and that’s why you feel dizzy.  

Well how do dancers cope?

Ballet dancers undergo rigorous training which helps to suppress signals to their brain. The Cerebellum, the part of the brain that receives signals from the ear is smaller in dancers.  They train for years with the art of ‘spotting’, let us explain. Imagine looking at your eyes in the bathroom mirror and turn your right shoulder away 180 degrees, leave your head to the left and keep looking at your eyes.  Now quickly turn your body right around but flick your head around fast before your body comes back square on to the mirror.

Remember the head is the last to move and the first to come back.  This limited movement prevents the head from spinning too much and you will prevent excess movement in your ear.  With this constant training, your body is refining its instructions (signals) to the brain.  This is why the cerebellum in the brain is reported to be smaller in dancers.  

Do ice skaters have to work harder?

Does the dancing technique work for skaters?  Well, skaters spin a lot faster as you can imagine with high-speed rotations.  They still stare at a fixed position but don’t whip their necks around as this could cause injury at those speeds.  

Skaters literally train for years from a young age to perfect the act of spinning fast and not feeling dizzy, starting up from slow to fast levels of spin.  They simply evolve to perfect a lower tolerance to dizziness. If you know of any friends who skates to a strong level, spin them around on a chair and make them get up and walk, we bet they can walk in a straight line and pour you a cup tea with no bother!  Some figure skaters take a deep breath or will incorporate a dance move after a long spin to regain control.  This helps mask any potential dizziness, especially before a jump which requires more balance.  

Ice Skaters are masters of simply getting used to spins, it’s basically how they spin so fast and don’t get dizzy. But we bet they try and never look up?  It must be manic, try that on your chair at home.

Why don’t ice skaters make a hole in the ice during a spin? 

Skaters spin on the soft part of the blade right before the toe pick.  If they spun on the toe pick there would be less momentum, this way they also don’t drill into the ice. This blade position is just below the ball of the foot. However, if you notice them they are skating backward and the first toe pick will actually be slightly dragging into the ice to maintain balance.

What is the fastest ice skating spin?

The fastest spin on skates, on ice is 342 RPM, achieved by Olivia Oliver of Canada, in Warsaw in Poland, 19th Jan 2015.  She completed this in her home city in the National Stadium and used the awareness of her achievement to raise funds for a local charitable cause. My word how did she manage this ice skate at such speed without the dizzy head?

Can Spinning Fast Cause damage to the brain?

What a sensational spectacle it is to see such dynamic fast ice skaters, but can a constant fast spin cause long lasting effects on the skater?  It has been reported that spinning is similar to a concussion on the brain.  The Layback Spin where the skater bends her head back during the spin has been singled out to enforce strong G forces.  

Dr Wang of Elite Sports in Connecticut USA, says “when you go into a spin, it’s like a centrifuge.  You are pushing blood into your head”. Evidence shows it forces blood pressure into vessels in the eyes, head and then back out again as you slow down, creating a negative G.  Skaters can get headaches and bad dizziness due to the compounding effects of a constant fast spin.  For us recreational skaters or those skillful enough to undergo such spins, we are largely ok.  It’s the constant day in, day out practicing which can multiply over the years. Awareness of all potential effects is good for all sports safety.