Modifying Skate Fit and Balance:

© 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015 by Mitchell Grunes

Overall Size

Please re-read my initial comments about boot size and lace tightness, as that will fix 98-99% of all people who have trouble skating.

Boot Size Image Your next step is to determine whether the boot is too large or small. If you are still growing, or your weight changes (or your fluid content alters due to natural body cycles), you may find your feet change with time, so this may need to be redone periodically. For speed skates, there are inner liners which can be changed or removed as a child grows, but I don't know of anything similar for figure skates, though Riedell has sold some boots that are adjustable in size. Re-heat molding boots can stretch them a little. Unfortunately, people who buy extra large boots to accomodate a child's growth are often disappointed - the extra size causes the boot to break down even more quickly than the child grows. In the mean-time, the child has trouble skating, and may get blisters.

That said, I would personally prefer to start with boots that are fit a little loose to boots that are fit a little too tight, because stretching ("punching") leather tends to be temporary, often lasting as little as a few weeks, especially if you need to stretch the boot a lot, as you might in some spots if you have parts of your foot, like heel bones or toes, that stick far out relative to the initial shape of the boot. But that assumes you make modifications of the type we have indicated in these pages. Otherwise, loose boots will cause so many problems with control and blisters, that loose boots are a very bad idea.

You need a boot that hugs your heel, has the bend in the foot bed where the ball of your foot is, with an amount of bend that is both comfortable and lets you feel in control of what your skate is doing. As much as possible, the boot should be snugly comfortable all over. The the overall length of the boot is almost completely irrelevant, because the front of the boot does not touch the ice. (NOTE: as mentioned later, most fitters size the blade by the length of the boot outsole. So an extra long boot leads to an extra long blade. That's just plain wrong.) A really, really long boot would be a problem in the sense you couldn't bring your feet close together (though it would still look like you could), but I think you would know if that was an issue. Those things you can easily check.

The "Brannock Device" is the common device for measuring foot length and width. There are a variety of different such devices for different brands of skate boot. They are used to estimate stock sizes, but are insufficient to fully measure the 3D shape of the foot.

Lacing

It is a good idea to tighten in two passes, and to start at the very bottom. I leave a little slack at the very bottom in the first pass, and remove the slack from the rest of the laces. Then I go back to the bottom, and make it very tight. It is much easier to pull laces through the lace holes if you pull straight out than if you pull upwards and outwards. Some people who pull upwards at the same time find the lace cuts into their fingers. If you drop the tension on the lace for even an instant during the final tightening, such as when you switch hands to lace opposite sides of the boot, all will be lost. Instead, when switching hands after you have pulled the lace through, pull upwards, then pull inwards, to draw the sides of the boot together.

Tight lacing can be done by using one finger to lock the lower part of the lace onto a hole or hook while using the rest of your hand to pull the lace just above the hole or hook. It's awkward to do this with your hands, so some people prefer to use "lace pullers" - hooks that some shoe stores sell for about $1.

Many people find it easier tighten to use waxed cotton (non-elastic) laces, which don't slip as easily. This is probably a good idea if you have finger coordination problems, and are unable to tighten nylon laces enough. I don't use cotton laces because if they slip even a few thousandths of an inch, they lose their tension. Some people say cotton is prown to sudden breakage, when it wears out. I prefer nylon laces, which are somewhat elastic, but opinions differ. Nylon laces are slightly more slippery, and may be slightly harder for some people to hold and tighten. Some boot laces are wider than others, and are therefore easier to hold without slipping. I use the wider ones. Nylon/Cotton blends represent a compromise. As far as I know polyester laces are comparable to nylon, but may be a little less strong and more flexible.

I've claimed boot makers should replace all lace holes and hooks with jam cleats, so one could adjust range of motion and resistance everywhere separately. This would also make it easier for people with coordination or arthritis problems to tighten their laces. I don't know of any figure skates of that design, nor do I know of any with ski or hockey boot style buckles, which would be easier to tighten. But LaceVice looks like a device that sits on top of your tongue that contains simple cleats to let you tighten different levels of the lace to different levls of tightness. One person said it helped them when the tongues of their boots were too soft to prevent "lace bite".

Jackson ProFlex boots use a ratchet system to tighten a cable instead of laces. You can easily draw them very tight, but the tightening knob may get in the way of footwork, and some say the mechanism is failure prone, and quite difficult to repair.

We have emphasized a snug boot fit throughout these pages. But don't use such a tight fit or lacing that your feet tingle or you cut off sensation or circulation, or you could lose your feet! This is especially likely if you have "diabetic feet" or any other type of very poor circulation problem in your feet. It is said such people should avoid tight footwear, so it is possible some such people should not skate, or should only do the very low level skating possible with soft relatively loose fit boots. If in doubt, consult an appropriate physician, such as a podiatrist.

The Insole

Boots are generally smaller higher up on the boot. So, to make more space, remove the insole completely, or use a thinner insole. Very thin socks help. To make less space, use a thicker insole, or add in a second insole. Unfortunately, thick socks tend to shift and slip, so may not be a good idea.

Make a new insole by tracing the old one on top of a piece of leather or felt, then cutting to the same shape. This helps prevent the insole from sliding around.

Glue together multiple thicknesses if required.

Keep the old insole so you can repeat this step when needed.

For the most part, boot makers make insoles out of incompressible materials like leather or felt, so I have suggested the same. But some boot makers now make insoles with squishier insoles, and boot makers sometimes use somewhat squishier materials to reduce inflammation (and its side effects, such as the growth of bone spurs and fragments in the middle of joints) on skaters who jump. If you prefer squishy insoles, buy cheap (e.g., $1-$2) foam insoles from the local drugstore, and trim them to match the size of the current boot insoles. Expensive insoles offer no advantage. However, I have found that for me the soft squishy insoles do not keep my feet particularly comfortable, especially with heavy use.

Some people skate without socks (though that breaks down the leather a little faster), to gain better control, or to make more space. The skin is much more sensitive and likely to develop problems if you do not wear socks, and the boots will stink. (Foot deodorizers may help.) But thick socks are a bad idea, because they are too squishy, and they generally let your foot slide or roll around, leading to a loss of control, or to blisters. If you wear socks, keep them thin and incompressible.

Socks have an interesting advantage if you want to very quickly try out simple modifications to take up space, or change the distribution of pressure on different parts of your feet, without having to remove and tape the insole or boot interior. You can roll up paper towels and stick them inside the sock where you want them. But paper towels (such as come from public restrooms) are usually more abrasive than socks, so you must make sure you have enough pressure that the foot won't slip against them and make a blister. This may also be a great quick reversible way to convince someone that selectively taking up space can solve a lot of their skating problems.

Insoles With Wings

You can make the insole wider than the original in places. The insole will wrap around to the sides of your feet, reduce the effective width. This can also widen a rigid orthotic, so that it fits tightly and cannot rock, but don't make it so wide it widens the boot.

Blisters, Calluses, Corns and Bunions

Blisters are almost always caused by laces that are too loose or boots that are too loose at some point. So are some calluses and corns. (But, blisters, calluses and corns on the front and sides of toes indicate there is excess contact and/or sliding there - which there should not be.) But other factors can contribute, such as moisture and sensitivity to the chemicals used to manufacture the boot. In my case, skating without socks led to the development of corns and calluses, which went away when I returned to socks again, so I am probably slightly sensitive to the chemicals in my boots. If you get the fit right, blisters, calluses and corns rarely form. Of course, if you prefer to keep a little room in the back and front of the top part of the boot (as many freestyle skaters do), you do not have the type of fit that will prevent blisters, so you will have to cover the areas where the boot can slide against your foot or sock, as described below. (With that style fit, you will also have to accept a greatly reduced boot lifetime, such as 3 - 6 months instead of 2 - 10 years, because there is room for a breakdown crease to form.)

If blisters break, then follow standard first aid advice: e.g., as with any open sore, wash and disinfect them, and perhaps use antibiotics, before covering them with something sterile.

Cover the area with something so blisters don't reform or get worse. I use Band-Aids (or other brand sterile adhesive strips). You can wrap a little sports gauze instead. Someone on skatingforums.com wrote that she had used "a non-woven, hypo-allergenic [medical] adhesive tape that used to be called Hypofix. It is a thin, papery tape that comes in different widths. Because it is thin, it doesn't cause her problems with bulk, but protects the area." Many people use gel pads, such as those made by Silipose.

Bunions, which are sideways bends in the feet around the toes, are more controversial in how they form. But one common theory is that there is excess pressure on the sides of the toes, where there should be little or none.

If an injury appears serious, consult a physician.

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