Mechanics of Lifts

In pair lifts, one partner picks the other up off the ice and later places that partner back down on it. In between, the skaters will rotate half a turn or more using a variety of hands holds and positions. The rules do not preclude the woman from lifting the man, but this is never done.

One approach to lifts is to match the largest giant who can stand on skates with the smallest girl you can find over the age of 12 with the guts to be tossed around like a rag doll; but this is not what pair skating is supposed to be about. In a well executed, quality lift the girl contributes as much to the lift as the man. In pairs with good technique from both partners, the man is typically able to lift a partner about 2/3 his weight, and with outstanding technique the man can lift a partner near his own weight.

The two most important groups of pair lifts are overhead lifts, and twist lifts. In overhead lifts one or both arms of the lifting partner is fully extended positioning the lifted partner over the lifting partners head; while in a twist lift, the lifted partner is released at the top of the lift, rotates freely, and then is caught and placed back down on the ice.

Overhead lifts and twist lifts are divided into six groups in order of increasing difficulty. The following descriptions are for right handed skaters.

Group 1 - Armpit lifts: The simplest of the overhead lifts, these are mostly used at the novice level and below, and are not even counted as overhead lifts for the rules limiting the number of overhead lifts a team can perform. The man supports his partner with an extended right arm with his right hand under her left armpit, and with his left arm fully bent at the elbow. The woman's arms are extended with her left hand on the man's right shoulder and her right hand in the man's left. The man only has to lift the woman a few feet off the ice, and the woman primarily goes along for the ride. She helps the lift with a small jump at the start and only partially supports her own weight with her right arm.

Group 2 - Hand to Waist: The two most common examples are the hand to waist loop lift and the swan lift (forward platter). In these lifts the man grips the woman with both hands at her waist. For some hand to waist lifts the woman grasps the man's wrists with each of her hands, in others she doesn't hold on to him at all. These lifts are more difficult than the group 1 lifts because the man must lift the woman higher off the ice, holding her fully over his head. The woman again primarily does along for the ride, assisting the lift with a jump (larger than for group 1) at the start of the lift.

Group 3 - Hand to Hand: The most common examples are the press lift and the hand to hand loop lift. As for the group 2 lifts, the man lifts the woman with both arms fully extended, and holds her over his head. These lifts require more strength from both partners because the woman because her arms are also fully extended in hand to hand lifts. The woman is located higher off the ice than for group 1 or 2 lifts, and the woman must support her own weight using both her arms. The timing is more important for the team in these lifts as well. The women must get a good jump at the start of the lift and push herself up over the man's hands as she extends her arms. If the woman's timing is behind the man's, his arms will get extended too soon, and she will not be able to push herself up. If the woman's timing is ahead of the man's she becomes more of a dead weight for the man to lift, requiring greater strength from the man to muscle the lift up.

Group 4 - Hand to Hip: The star lift is the most common example of a hand to hip lift. In the group 2 and 3 lifts the man does the lifting with equal effort from both arms. In the star lift, more of the effort comes from the right arm which supports the woman with the right hand on her left hip. The man's left arm is fully extended as he grasps her right hand. The greater difficulty for the woman comes from her having to pull herself up over the man's left arm with her right arm. Her left hand in on the man's right shoulder in the air position. For both the man and the woman the effort in the lift relies more on the strength of their right arms (the stronger arm for right handed people). The woman also assists the lift with her jump at the start. Timing and coordination of the partner's motions is somewhat more important than in lower difficulty groups.

Group 5 - Hand to Hand Lasso: The term "lasso" started out as the name for a specific lift. It is now used for the group of lifts that make use of the handhold used in the lasso lift. In hand to hand lasso lifts both hands of the man are oriented with the palms pointing upwards and the right hand held above the left. As the lift goes up, the woman swings around so she ends up above the man's head, facing in the same direction as the man, with her legs behind the man's back. With this handhold must of the upper body force comes from the man's left arm (the weaker arm for a right handed person). Because the man's right arm is held higher than for the other lifts, the woman must get a strong jump at the start of the lift, and must pull herself up over the man's arms as she swings around his body. For both partners these motions require greater strength than in the lesser difficulty groups of lifts. The timing consideration noted for the hand to hand lifts hold here as well, to an even greater degree. If the woman gets behind, it is extremely difficult for her to pull herself up into position; and if she gets ahead, the man is then lifting dead weight primarily with his left arm.

Group 6 - One Hand Lasso: The classical example is the lasso lift done with one arm. The man lifts with his left arm only. The woman may use one or both arms, with the use of one arm, obviously, more difficult. If the both partners use one arm the lift requires great strength and coordination from both partners. Group 6 lifts also include several difficult lifts that start out as lasso lifts, or with other handholds, but then change to more difficult position; e.g., hydrant, knuckle, and swoop lifts.

Other types of one arm lifts - such as one arm press and one arm star - are also generally considered to be one group higher in difficulty than their normal two arm versions, as are combinations lifts and lifts with twisting or other unusual dismounts.

Twist lifts start out like hand to waist loop lifts, but at the top of the lift the woman pushes up off the man's wrists, rotates in the air, and is then caught and placed back on the ice. Single twists, where the woman rotates one-half turn, are considered a group 2 lift in difficulty. Double twist, with one and one-half rotations, are group 4 lifts and triple twists, two and one-half rotations, are group 6 lifts. Twist lifts are more than just the man tossing his partner into the air. The woman assists in the takeoff with a jump at the start and by helping to support herself by pushing down on the man's wrists. At the top of the lift she assists by pushing off his wrists into the air. The woman also has to complete her rotations in the air - and preferable do so without putting an elbow in the man's eye. The man, on the other hand, is actually supposed to catch the woman and place her on the ice - not just appear to touch her the instant before she lands thanks to the effects of gravity alone.

In the above descriptions we noted that the woman assists in lifts by jumping at the start of the lift. The force required to lift the woman depends on her weight, how high she is lifted, how long it takes, and how much of an initial jump she makes. If the man lifts with constant force during a 1 second time interval, and the girl does not help him out with an initial jump, it requires about 144 lbf to lift a 100 pound girl 6 ft into the air. If the woman helps out with a moderate size jump, the same person can be lifted with 124 lbf; or by applying the original 144 lbf, the same 6 ft lift would take 0.8 second. Thus, by jumping, the girl can make the lift more than 15% easier on the man, or make it go up 20% faster. With a strong jump the gains are even more substantial.

In reality, a lift does not go up with constant force. Maximum force occurs during the first part of the lift, and then is reduced so the girl comes to a vertical stop at the top of the lift (except in a twist, where she goes flying up into the air). If the team want the lift to go up in faster than 1 second, the girl must jump higher and the man must exert a stronger force. For example, a 6 ft lift completed in 1/2 second, with a strong initial jump, would require about 250 lbf exerted over a period of about 0.35 seconds. For a lift to have more “snap” on the takeoff, it requires greater effort on the part of both team members to get the job done.

During a lift, forces are applied by muscles in the arms, shoulders, and legs. Different lifts distribute the load in different ways, and in any one lift the force is applied by the different muscle groups at different times during the lift. Because legs are much stronger than arms, the woman's initial jump is important in making it easier for the man to get his arms extended, permitting the bulk of the remaining effort to be provided by his legs. The deeper the man's crouch at the start of a lift, the more the required effort is shifted from his arms to his legs. Conversely, if his timing is off and he comes up in the legs too soon (or the woman is too slow in her entry to the lift) the more the effort is shifted to the man's arm and the harder the lift for him.

The position of the team while the woman is in the air is also critical for a successful lift. In the overhead position, the load the woman places on the man is primarily directed down through his arms to his shoulders, and then his back and legs. If the woman gets ahead or behind the man so that the load is no longer directly down his arms, much greater strength is required of the man to save the position, and a greater strain is placed on his back. As an extreme example, this is the difference between trying to hold a bag of concrete directly over your head compared to holding it in front of you with arms outstretched. [If you don't believe the latter is considerably more difficult than the former, time yourself with the heavy object of your choice - just don't use your little sister.] Part of the difficulty some teams have with twist lifts, when the woman is large for the man, is the fact that the weight of the woman is forward of the man's shoulders which places him at the mechanical disadvantage just described.

Another factor that can affect the stability of a lift is the wobbling top effect discussed last month when describing spins.

Lifts are required to rotate as the man moves down the ice. The center of mass of the woman (and the team as a whole) should be over the rotation axis of the lift. If not, the team will start to wobble like a tilted top and the woman will be pulled out of position. Saving this situation is extremely difficult, and most commonly the lift will either be ended early, or the man will take the woman down to his shoulders or back. In the extreme, the man can also be pulled out of position and catch an edge, with unpleasant consequences for all involved. Because the head of the woman in some lifts can be more than 10 feet off the ice, the effects of errors in position can be greatly magnified compared to singles skater who, even when upright, remain far closer to the ice.

While an extremely strong man can muscle out most of the lifts with a small enough partner, one should not equate that with good pair skating, or even good lifting. If a lift looks like it has succeeded only by brute force, it probably did; thanks primarily to the man. That kind of lift does not deserve a great deal of credit. A lift that appears to go up effortlessly, rotates easily, and sets down smoothly is the result of strength, timing, and coordination on the part of both partners. That is a quality lift.

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