There was a time in the mid to late ’90s, when in-line skating was pretty much the coolest thing you could do. Back then, some 17 million people were “Rollerblading,” as everyone called it, both for sport and recreation. But then it fell from favor and, except for a brief return in the 2010s, lost its cool-kid appeal around the turn of the century.
Now, it’s making another comeback. There’s a resurgence of skaters on paved pathways, city sidewalks and in local parks, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Some are new to the sport and for others, it’s a nostalgic return to the past.
Like many outdoor sports, in-line skating became more popular during the pandemic — in May 2020, the company Rollerblade reported its highest shipping month in 20 years. While sales have leveled off since then, skates are still on feet.
Christy Wiseman, a 28-year-old urban planner from Boulder, Colo., is part of a younger generation taking up the sport. Noticing skaters on her nearby bike paths in late 2019 took Ms. Wiseman back to her childhood, gliding around her neighborhood in pink skates. So just before the beginning of the pandemic, Ms. Wiseman bought her first adult pair.
“I remembered the sense of freedom and independence I got from skating,” she said. “It was just so fun, and I wanted to bring some of that back.”
There are serious physical benefits.
Shaking up your fitness routine with in-line skating has big physical payoffs, said Esther Goldsmith, a London-based exercise and sports physiologist with the bio-analytics firm Orreco. “Depending on how you’re skating, you can reap both aerobic and anaerobic benefits,” she said. “But you also engage a wide variety of muscles you might not from a sport like running or cycling.” You’ll pull in stabilizing muscles from your abs and calves, for instance, as well as inner and outer thigh muscles.
What sets in-line skating apart from sports like hiking, running and most types of swimming is that you move in a lateral plane of motion, rather than just front and back. Over time, these types of functional muscles — those we use in daily life — decline if not challenged in this manner. “Skating takes your body side to side, involves your core, and improves your balance,” Ms. Goldsmith said.
Skating also trains your nervous system by requiring your body to do several movements at once, like squatting and pushing off to the sides (particularly if you’re mixing up your style). This is helpful in both athletic and daily activities, said Ms. Goldsmith. “When your muscles and nerves are more prepared, it reduces the likelihood for tweaking your back, for example,” said Ms. Goldsmith. “Skating trains your body for these daily activities without even realizing it.”
The payoff from learning to glide balanced on one foot at a time is also valuable. “Our balance peaks in our late 30s and begins to decline in our 40s,” Ms. Goldsmith said. “Many accidents happen over the age of 65 because of trips and falls. Skating regularly adds balance to the routine and that can help slow down that decline.”
That doesn’t mean skating is without risk — falls happen, and sometimes sprains or broken bones accompany them. But by mastering foundational skills and padding up with helmets, wrist and knee guards, you can mitigate your chances of injury.
You might find some friends.
Skating can also provide a sense of community through local clubs and organized skates. One of the biggest and oldest is Empire Skate Club’s Wednesday Night Skate in New York City, with as many as 300 people taking a 12- to 15-mile tour of the city, often finishing up with drinks afterward.
Miguel Patino, a 61-year old Manhattan-based executive, has been skating since his youth, first on traditional roller skates, then switching to in-lines in the early ’90s. Today he trains with a local racing team, skates two miles daily to and from work, and frequently joins in Empire’s Wednesday night group skates. There’s a simple joy and sense of freedom he feels from the sport, Mr. Patino said. “I feel so natural and happy every time I put skates on.”
You can go from basic to flashy.
While it’s tempting to break out a new pair of skates and simply go, your experience can be much better with a few lessons and basics, said Brittany Strachan, Ms. Wiseman’s coach and co-owner of Colorado Skate Fitness. Classes that teach foundational moves, like starting, stopping, turning and rolling, might take eight weeks, she said. “After that, you can progress to fitness-oriented classes.”
Arnav “Sonic” Shah, a certified skate instructor from New York, offers these tips to get started: “Always start on flat terrain, like a basketball court,” he said, “and learn how to stop before anything else.”
Then follow these form tips:
“Pick a distance or a time you feel comfortable with and then go,” Mr. Shah said. “Always stay within your limits.”
Ms. Wiseman started with private lessons to up her skill level. “I was spending a lot of energy just trying to slow down and stop, so I started by learning to stop with multiple methods,” she said. “That’s really a prerequisite to skating on paths or other public spaces.”
As she got better and people began to return to group exercise activities, Ms. Wiseman started taking a local skate fitness class. There she learned crossovers, how to transition from skating forward to backward and back again, how to glide on one foot and other foundational skills.
A sample fitness class, said Ms. Strachan, is often designed to include high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and might involve a warm-up followed by some drill work, plus short bursts of skating combined with strength training.
In-line skating comes in many flavors: endurance, speed, freestyle tricks and even dance. You might find mastering skate-park tricks or maneuvers intriguing, or you may want to get a full-body workout from a skate fitness class. Today, Ms. Wiseman is training for skating marathon distance, and is also practicing spinning, slaloming and other maneuvers. Her current trick to master: a waltz jump, a move that originated on ice.
After getting comfortable with her skills, Ms. Wiseman found a diverse group of people to skate with on a regular basis. “The only prerequisite to in-line skating is simply desire to learn,” she said. “The fastest hour of my week is my skate fitness class. It really does hearken back to the freedom of childhood.”
Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer covering health and science. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Outside, Harvard Medical School magazine and many others.