Everything You Need to Know About Breaking In New Skates
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
Tips and tricks for the most wonderful milestones in skating.
Why do I have to break in new skates?
I literally had these created just for my foot, in just the perfect size, had them punched, molded, and it still hurts?! This is brutal! I'm doing it right now and all I could think about was "I know it works this way...but why?!" I ask myself this every time I have to do it. Especially when I've gone out of my way to get custom skates. So I figured you might like an answer also, for one of skating's most highly anticipated milestones (and that's not necessarily happy anticipation).
The short summary is this: it hurts to break in new ice skates because of the uniqueness of each person's foot and the importance of the tightness of skates.
Let me explain that more thoroughly:
Skating requires a ton of fine-tuned muscles in your feet to work in sync. Feet are meant to walk, maybe run, and jump when needed- just by human nature. That's why normal shoes don't require such peculiar attention-to-detail and such specific fittings. Being able to balance, distribute your weight correctly, maintain ankle strength, keep proper angles, etc. It all requires a very fine set of motor skills that normal feet just don't have or have a need for. That's why skates aren't like any ordinary pair of leather boots.
Think about normal tennis shoes; they have a generic fit that works well for most people with a foot of a similar length, a generic sole, and usually no ankle support, because theyre meant for day-to-day human activity. Such is not the case with skates.
How do I go about breaking in new skates?
Make sure you've got the right skates.
I know this seems like it should be self-explanatory, but you'd be surprised how many skaters buy used skates or skates online without knowing the proper sizing for their specific foot. That's why I would never buy a pair of skates without trying them on first. Even if you are dead-set on buying them online, go to your local pro-shop first to try on skates from that brand in person to see how they fit. Just like your feet will be different sizes in different brands of shoes, the same is true with skates. Work with someone who knows what theyre doing. The only way to find out where to go is to ask other skaters and/or coaches at your rink where they would recommend. This is one instance where word-of-mouth is going to be your best friend, and if you hear a lot of people saying good things about a particular shop, you might want to start there.
Ask if they can be baked.
Baking is a skater's best friend. And no, we're not talking about cupcakes. Most skates these days are able to get a huge head-start on the break-in process through a procedure where the boots are warmed in a small oven-type mechanism (by a professional, please don't go sticking your new skates in with your Wednesday night lasagna). Although some people do recommend an oven technique, I prefer to play it safe and not forever taint my skates with the smell of burnt cookies. Warming the skates allows the outer leather and the inner lining to become more malleable, which forms to the shape of the foot much faster than waiting for body heat to do things naturally. Note that not all skates are bake-able. But my general rule of thumb is that when you get a new pair of skates, it usually won't hurt to take a hair dryer to the inside of the boot for 2-3 minutes until everything warms up. Seriously, just lace up the skate with nothing in it (it doesn't even have to be tight), and point the barrel of the dryer inside for 2-3 minutes, until the outer leather of the skate becomes a little easier to bend with your fingers (slightly- don't go trying to fold anything in half). Once the skates cool down enough to not scald you, put on a pair of socks or tights that you'll be skating in, and lace those babies up tight. Put some hard guards on and walk around or sit in your skates for at least a half-hour.
Do it from home.
So as I previously mentioned, lacing up your skates and putting some hard guards on is a great way to get your skates a little more molded to your foot. Some skaters will swear by wearing damp socks under their skates (around the house) to break them in. Normal people (i.e. not hockey players) will wear whatever you plan to wear when you skate.
Wear the right undergarments.
We're not talking underwear. But while we're on the subject of socks, let's talk about what you or your skater should be wearing underneath the boots. I get it. When youre trying to get a 4-year-old on the ice, just the act itself is a miracle. And if you make them wear miserable things whenever they get out there, they're going to hate the entire sport.
Take it from the girl who quit skating specifically because of a pair of horrendously itchy socks. Don't be that parent.
BUT... when you or your skater start getting more serious about the ice, you'll want to throw tights into your everyday routine- so starting to get used to them now might be a good idea. Don't feel like throwing on an entire pair of tights? That's cool, me neither. That's why I prefer knee-high tights most of the time as a coach.
Take it slow.
Don't try to sell or donate those old skates just yet. Your new skates will absolutely obliterate you if you try to go 0-100 with them. Don't expect to get on the ice with the same ability and comfort as you did with your old skates; comfort is earned, not given. For a few weeks, you'll want to hold on to the old pair, because theyre going to be your best friends. The first time you step on the ice in your new skates, plan to skate in them for only 30-60 minutes. If your skater is a little one, you might even want to take it in 15-minute increments. So, for example, if you or your skater is skating 1 hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, use the new skates for the last 15-30 minutes of the session on Monday, for the last 30-45 minutes on Wednesday, and for 45-60 minutes on Friday. Depending on the skater's age, their pain tolerance, the type of skate, and their foot type, this timeline will be different for everyone. If youre the one breaking in the skates, you'll know what to look for. If it's a little skater in a stiff skate, you better hope they're good at communicating. Luckily, most of the time, children increase their skill level as they increase the rigidity of their skates- so it usually works out just fine. The general rule is that by the 5th or 6th skate, you should start to feel a noticeable difference in the level of comfort- and it only gets better from there, so just hang on.
Watch the lacing.
The first few times you lace up your new skates, how tightly you lace them is your direct gauge to how much pain you want to be in. Obviously if they aren't tight at all, the skates aren't going to be very useful. But, the tighter you lace them, the more pain you'll endure. So most skaters like to start by lacing the boots up lightly- just enough to feel secure, and then with each session they get a bit tighter. On the ankle portion of the boots you'll see hooks- for the first few sessions, leaving the top 1 or top 2 hooks out of the equation gives you a bit more flexibility to work with your skates' soles before worrying about the flexibility in the ankles.
Bend those knees.
Focus on especially performing maneuvers that require a good amount of bend in the knees- this requires the ankles to adapt and bend as well, which forces the skate to get malleable in the areas it's going to need to be flexible. Things like jumps, edges, footwork, etc. will all help make the process a bit quicker (but not necessarily less painful).
Add some pads.
Having a particularly tough time with a specific spot on the skate? That might be a sign that you need one area stretched, punched out, or a custom insole. But before you go to those lengths, which should only be used as a last resort, try first adding moleskin, medical tape, bunion pads, or band aids. You can order them online through any of those links, or find them at any pharmacy near you.
The break-in process isn't quick, and most of the time it isn't pretty. Have other suggestions or more questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or shoot a text to (424) Coach-M-4.