Roller skating has experienced a resurgence in popularity lately, thanks to an influx of social media users documenting their progress while developing their skills on wheels.
The days of skating around in an oval rink have given way to a dancy, outdoorsy approach to rolling around. But is it good exercise?
The short answer: Roller skating absolutely can be good exercise. It can improve your strength, balance, core stability, and cardiovascular endurance.
Roller skating mostly works the muscles of your hips and legs. Your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves will all get a good workout. Skating also gives your backside a few unique advantages.
Because the push off of the skate is not straight back but a bit out to the side, you’re more fully activating your gluteus maximus, whose function is to extend and laterally rotate the hip (1).
When pushing off, you’re also relying heavily on your gluteus medius, which is designed for that hip-abducting action that skating demands.
This collaboration of glute muscles can not only help create a well-balanced hip aesthetically but also create better body stability and even decrease back pain caused by muscular imbalance (
Skating also challenges your balance and heavily relies on the muscles of your core. Trying to stay in control on unstable wheels calls on your midsection to stabilize, react, and adapt to changing stimuli as you move through space.
Meanwhile, your spinal erectors, rectus abdominus, and rotator muscles of your abdomen and lower back all play a role in keeping you upright.
Roller skating works the muscles of your lower body and trunk but especially targets your glutes.
If you are a skilled enough skater to maintain a somewhat vigorous pace, this exercise can be an absolute calorie scorcher.
Roller skating has an intensity rating of 7 metabolic equivalents (METs), making it comparable to group cycling or a moderate effort on the rowing machine (3).
A 160-pound (73-kg) person roller skating at a consistent intensity for 30 minutes could expect to burn about 267 calories.
What’s more, roller skating offers benefits beyond a good calorie burn.
The improved balance and core stability it affords can affect total body comfort. Its low impact nature makes it gentler on your joints than other intense forms of exercise. Plus, if you’re practicing some tricks or skills, it can even improve your flexibility and mind-body connection.
Roller skating burns about the same number of calories as group cycling or a moderate effort on the rowing machine. Additional benefits to skating include improved balance and core stability, which may decrease lower back pain.
You can skate indoors at a roller rink or outside, but you may want to commit to one or the other if you don’t want to invest in two pairs of skates or switch your wheels back and forth regularly.
Wheels designed for indoor use are a little lighter and more rigid. Their upside is a smoother ride and potentially greater agility. If you take your indoor wheels outdoors, you have a greater fall risk, as indoor wheels are not as soft and forgiving as those designed for outdoor use.
A potential downside of skating indoors is that you’re limited to the schedule of when the rink is available, as well as perhaps the added expense of rink time.
Outdoor wheels are a bit larger and softer than indoor skates. This makes them substantially more forgiving than the indoor wheels, but you lose the easy maneuverability of the indoor wheels.
The outside skater, however, does not face the accessibility issues of the indoor skater. As long as the weather allows, you can always pop out for a quick workout without the travel and monetary cost of a rink.
Ultimately, it comes down to your goals.
Do you want to perfect an intricate trick? Do you like to be among other skaters, away from the crowds on the sidewalk? If so, a skating rink might suit you better.
Conversely, if fresh air and a bit of the unknown are your thing, outdoor skating might be more up your alley.
Be sure to choose the right skates for where you prefer to skate, whether that be outside or at an indoor rink.
The energy expenditure between roller skates (or “quad skates” featuring the traditional rectangular wheel placement) and inline skates, in which all four wheels are in a line, are similar.
Inline skates are rated at 7.5 METs of intensity, only slightly higher than the quad skates. This could be because inline skates are designed for speed rather than tricks or dancing.
You can use the skate you like for the activity you like, but most comparisons show that people tend to find balancing a bit easier on traditional roller skates, while many find the maneuverability for speed superior on inline skates.
Another consideration while choosing a skate is braking. Quad skates have the brake at the toe, while inline skates have it at the back. Neither is inherently superior. Like the feeling of balance, it’s a matter of comfort and preference.
Inline skates may offer a slightly harder workout because your balance is challenged more. Besides the wheel alignment, the main difference between roller skates and inline skates is the brake placement.
Any form of exercise has its inherent risks, but because of the speed involved in skating, it does carry a bit more risk.
The most common injuries from roller skating are the result of falling — cuts and scrapes are common, but wrist sprains and fractures are also a possibility.
A bad fall might lead to a head injury, including a concussion. As such, it’s important to take advantage of safety equipment like wrist guards and helmets.
Finally, you should not roller skate while pregnant. Your balance may already be compromised from your shifting center of gravity and the laxity of your joints, so the risks associated with falling on skates while pregnant are greater.
Because of the speed involved, skating does present some risk of injury. Do not roller skate if you’re pregnant or injured.
Like any form of exercise, start slowly and thoughtfully. Select the right skates for your body and your goals. Buy the safety equipment, and use it!
If you’re a new skater, get your bearings on wheels first. Practice moving forward and keeping your motion as natural as possible. Practice stopping before you commit to speed. Allow your endurance to build alongside your skill.
If you’re ready to add showier elements, such as skating backward or spinning, slow down to practice the fundamentals of the skill before trying to make it look ready for social media. Keep your focus on staying strong, healthy, and upright.
Use safety equipment such as knees and elbow pads, a helmet, and even wrist guards. Learn to skate slowly and focus on your form.
Roller skating is an effective form of exercise. First and foremost, it’s fun, and fun exercise is more likely to bring long-term success.
This cardiovascular workout also strengthens your hips and legs, as well as your core. The risks involved can be mitigated with caution and safety equipment, while its mind and body benefits may be immeasurable.