Figure skating jumps are an essential part of the sport, whether you’re a beginner, a hobbyist, or a seasoned pro.
For the beginner, nailing the first jump is a thrilling experience you’ll be happy to repeat over and over again.
And for the seasoned pro, jumps must be mastered to beat out the competition.
Every element, from takeoff to landing and body position, is studied and practiced in painstaking detail.
Jumps form an essential element of competitive figure skating, requiring great height and excellent length (along with other elements) to be acknowledged by judges.
Figure skating jumps all look the same to the untrained eye.
However, there are multiple jumps the competitive figure skater must master.
These jumps are then incorporated into the skater’s routine, with revolutions (turns in the air) added to increase their difficulty.
To become a fantastic figure skater, start by mastering the following figure skating jumps.
First, figure skating jumps explained
With ice skating, you propel yourself across a smooth sheet of ice with metal skates.
Over time, figure skaters pushed the boundaries of skating to incorporate jumps.
These intricate jumps and turns you now see on TV during the Olympics are less than 80 years old but are what make the sport so enticing.
Jumps are broken down into:
- The setup (your body, feet, and arm positions)
- The takeoff
- The jump (the actual time in the air)
- The spin
- and the landing.
Before executing a jump, you’ll have to learn the basics after becoming proficient at skating.
Beginners first learn a bunny hop, a non-rotational jump that gets them accustomed to leaping off the ice from one leg and landing on the opposite one.
Next comes the Waltz jump, which involves a half-rotation and is the gateway to all other jumps.
From there, there are six recognized figure skating jumps to master:
- The Toe Loop
- The Salchow
- The Loop
- The Flip
- The Lutz
- The Axel
Jumps are named after the figure skaters who invented or pioneered them. These are now expected in competitions and shows worldwide.
After mastering these techniques, the skater increases the difficulty by adding revolutions in the jump phase ( for instance, a double, triple, or the rare and sometimes controversial quadruple jump).
Along with spins, twists, and jump combinations, jumps help create a routine that a panel of judges will score based on technique, difficulty, and creativity.
Edge vs. toe jumps
There are two different categories of jumps figure skaters will learn.
Capitalize on the fact that the ice skating blade has two edges on each side of a tiny radius of hollow.
The jumps generate power from the outside or inside edge of the skate to lift the skater off the ice to perform a rotation.
The skater uses the toe pick - the serrated tip of the figure skate blade - to help them take flight and perform a rotation.
The skater still uses an edge to take off, but by tapping the pick into the ice just before the jump, the skater creates a lever to transfer the body’s energy, which helps gain elevation.
Except for an Axel, figure skaters start from a backward position using an inside or outside edge.
Factors like the foot the skater land on and the edge determine the type of jump.
How long does it take to learn figure skating jumps?
It’s important to note that jumping is not for beginners.
If done incorrectly, an ice skating jump causes falls and injury.
It can take several years of consistent skating and training before you move on to jumps.
Most Olympic skaters excel from pre-teen age, allowing them to learn advanced moves like loops, flips, and axels.
When you do start to learn, however, jumps can take at least 6-12 months of consistent work to understand so it's important to be patient.
As the rotations increase, so does the difficulty.
The timeline depends on several factors, including the skater’s age (older skaters tend to take longer to learn a jump), training regimen, natural ability, coaching, and willingness to fail until it sticks.
The Toe Loop
The toe loop is one of the easier jumps to learn, created in the early 1920s by Bruce Mapes.
Most skaters learn this jump - along with the Salchow - after the Waltz.
As the name implies, this is a toe jump, where you’ll use the pick to help you leap off the ice.
You’ll start and land on the same back outside edge.
The ease of this move makes it perfect to combine with other advanced jumps when in competition.
How do you perform a toe loop?
It helps to build momentum first so that this jump can be set up with an inside three-turn, outside three-turn, or mohawk.
You can also perform this jump in a clockwise or counterclockwise position.
To perform the toe loop:
- Ge into your checked position, traveling backward on the right foot. The left foot is bent slightly but extended behind the left leg in a coss position (similar to Salchow).
- You should be on your right back outside edge with the left toe pick pointed downward, ready to drive into the ice.
- The left arm should be in front and the right arm behind in an ‘L’ position (this position will flip if you’re skating on the left foot).
- The right foot then draws toward the back foot, which then crosses over (to the left side of the left foot) to create the energy necessary for the jump.
- Take the hips, upper body, and arms with the draw to build that momentum. The back arm should draw to meet the other arm. As the body rotates, the arms should also be tucked into the torso.
- Next, bend the skating knee and take off from the right toe pick using that momentum you’ve generated, making a full rotation.
- Finally, land on the right foot on a back outside edge and checkout with the arms extended to maintain your balance.
Mastering the jump
Make sure to practice back outside edges, so you’re comfortable taking off and landing on the skate’s edge.
Continue to work on improving your Waltz and Salchow jumps before moving on to the toe jump.
Practice maintaining a strong core and moving your torso while training both on and off the ice.
The first men’s figure skating champion, Ulrich Salchow, invented this jump around 1909. It’s an edge jump and can be done clockwise or counterclockwise.
Some coaches teach the Salchow after the skater is competent in the beginner Waltz jump.
The Salchow takes off from the back inside edge of one foot and lands on the back outside edge of the other. It’s a ¾ rotation jump since ¼ of the rotation starts before lift-off.
US and Olympic champion Nathan Chen once pulled off a quadruple Salchow, Lutz, flip jump, and toe jump in the same routine. He was 17 at the time.
How do you do a Salchow?
You have to enter the Salchow from a three-turn, mohawk, or even a backward crossover.
A forward outside edge three-turn is one of the best setups, with long turns and a strong, tall torso. A forward inside-edge mohawk works too.
- At the end of the turn in the checked position, swing the extended free leg around to the front, then away from the body. The arms should be extended to form a ‘T’ (left arm over the left knee and right arm extended away over the right leg.
- It’s important that you lead with the heel and not the toe to help generate momentum. Leading with the heel also differentiates the Salchow from a Waltz.
- Hooking that leg and bringing the arm over completes ¼ of the rotation on the ice.
- Take off from the standing leg on the inside edge, rotate, then land on the outside edge of the opposite foot. You want to make sure to propel yourself forward, or you will land in the wrong direction.
- Remember, the Salchow is an edge jump so try not to touch the ice.
- Don’t forget to ‘checkout’ on the outside edge of the opposite foot.
Mastering the jump
The Salchow demands good control and enough speed to get high enough to perform a rotation.
To master the jump, practice your arm placement and speed of your three-turns.
From there, focus on landing without that back foot touching the ice unless you’re trying double or triple Salchow.
Like all jumps, the goal is to master the mechanics of the jump, so it’s not confused with another.
Another edge jump, the loop, is also called the Rittberger, named after its inventor, Werner Rittberger.
The toe loop consists of using the toe pick of the opposite leg to help you take off.
With the loop, however, there’s no toe assist.
However, like the toe loop, you’ll take off and land with the same foot using the back outside edge of the skate.
How do you perform a loop?
You can set up the loop as you do most other jumps, with an inside three-turn or a mohawk with a left-back-inside edge.
This sets you up to perform a loop from a backward outside edge.
From there, you’ll do the following:
- If you’re rotating clockwise, use your left-outside edge. For counterclockwise, use your right outside edge.
- Build your momentum to set up the jump using either a three-turn or a mohawk.
- After the three-turn, adopt a slight lean on the right outside edge. Cross the left foot in front of the right, which should still be on the ice (counterclockwise setup).
- Since you don’t have the toe pick assist, adopt a slightly deeper knee bend to generate more energy in the jump. With the body leaning slightly, along with the knee bent, it almost looks like a seated position.
- With the knee bent, lift the left leg while taking off from the right. Generate as much power from the right leg as possible. The right leg makes a sharp, sweeping motion of about 90 degrees to help with takeoff.
- The right shoulders and arms should swing in the direction of the jump. Draw the arms in to help with the rotation.
- In the air, the legs are crossed, which can help with the number of rotations (double or triple loop, for instance).
- Land on the same back outside edge and check out with the arms spread and the left leg extended.
Mastering the loop
Practice performing the sweeping motion with the leg, shoulders, and arms. That’s synonymous with the loop.
This is especially important if you’re aiming for double or triple loops.
More importantly, practice the sweeping motion of the standing leg between 90-120 degrees.
As you don’t have the toe pick assist, this motion generates the power necessary for the jump.
Your arms and shoulders aren’t enough.
Going beyond this angle can also limit your ability to cross your legs in the jump.
Toe loops also require great knee and hip strength, so focus on strength and plyometric exercises that target these areas.
The flip has been around for decades, but its origin has been hard to pinpoint.
However, it’s a versatile jump - with moderate difficulty - that you can add to your routine.
Flips take off from a backward inside edge and land on the outside edge of the opposite foot.
It’s also toe-pick assisted and sometimes confused with the Salchow.
How do you do a flip?
You can try the flip once you have a handle on the single Loop and Salchow.
Like almost all other turns, the flip requires momentum and happens from a backward position.
Therefore, you can build up to the flip using an outside three-turn or a mohawk.
Advanced skaters sometimes do a backward three-turn into a mohawk before going into the flip.
Here are some steps to perform the move:
- As you’re moving backward, extend your dominant leg behind you. This is your toe pick assist leg. (for instance, your right leg), and leave your skating leg slightly bent. The goal is to make as straight a line as possible and not cross the legs as in other jumps. Bend your back forward slightly.
- Your dominant arm should be in front of you and the other arm behind you, almost in an ‘L’ position.
- Reaching your extended leg as far back as possible, gently drive the toe pick into the ice. Keep your back bent forward slightly to not transfer all the energy to your back foot.
- Glide the standing foot around using an inside edge, then flick it up.
- Take off with that foot with the knee bent.
- Pull your arms down, and as you’re turning. When you’re jumping, the arms switch positions in one fluid movement. At full speed, the change in arms provides the initial momentum. While you’re in the air, tuck in your arms during the full rotation.
- Land on the opposite foot in the checkout position with your arms and trailing leg extended.
How to master the flip
It helps to practice the leg movements holding onto the rink walls.
Make sure you have the front and back legs in the right position, and practice gliding that standing leg around and flicking it up, using the toe-pick to help you off the ice.
You can also try the flip, landing on two feet before you move on to one foot.
Austrian figure skater Alois Lutz first performed the Lutz in a competition in 1913.
This jump is a toe pick-assisted jump similar to the flip, which we will get to later. It uses the outside edge from a backward position, landing on the outside edge of the opposite foot.
The Lutz is considered the second most difficult jump to perform, requiring constant practice.
As you master the single Lutz, you can add rotations which will increase the score in the competition.
American Brandon Mroz performed the first recorded quadruple Lutz in 2011.
How do you do the Lutz?
While the untrained eye cannot tell the difference, in competition, it will be considered an edge change, or you may be heavily penalized.
You’ll need to build some momentum heading backward with your hands spread wide with palms facing inside.
Some skaters use crossovers, but a glide may work as well.
Now it’s time for the jump:
- To get into position, drop your hands, then switch to form a ‘T’ with the body. The left arm should be in front of you with the right hand behind you.
- Tuck your right leg behind you with the toe pick into the ice, knee slightly bent while looking over your shoulder.
- Lean the left skate to the outside edge. Do so by keeping a strong core and an upright, tall posture. Try to avoid leaning too far forward or backward. Lean slightly to the outside edge
- Now stretch the right leg back to form a cross with the left leg. Tap that right toe pick to give the body leverage, then take off from the outside edge of the left leg while rotating the upper half of the body.
- The upper body and arms play a crucial role in the jump. Lifting the upper torso and head in an upward diagonal position provides more energy and control. The left arm is quickly tucked into the chest while the right arm is thrust forward and into the body to generate the rotation.
- When you make the rotation, you land and ‘checkout’ on the outside edge of the right foot.
Mastering the jump
Note that some skaters prefer to do this jump from their dominant left foot.
The instructions are the same, but the legs and positioning are reversed.
Elite coaches will spend time practicing the outside edge before learning the Lutz.
Additionally, extend your leg as far back as possible before tapping the toe to prevent dispersing the energy into the ice.
The Axel jump is arguably the most popular jump because of its high level of difficulty.
This jump dates as far back as 1882, when first performed by figure skater Axel Paulsen.
It’s also the most noticeable jump as it uses a forward takeoff - the only jump to do so.
A quadruple axel was avoided in competition until recently achieved by 17-year-old Ilia Manilin.
Mastering the axel and adding multiple rotations unlocks the peak of a skater’s powers.
How do you do an axel?
You’ll need to jump forward and rotate about 1 ½ times (between the ground and air), which can be scary for some.
As a requirement, you should already have a grasp of the other five jumps mentioned here.
The axel is an edge jump, so you must have your forward outside and back outside edge mastered.
Here are some of the steps for your axel:
- If you’re taking off clockwise, the axel starts from the left outside edge and lands on the right outside edge and a backward position. Do the opposite for a counterclockwise jump.
- Build your momentum by skating forward to get into position. Approach the jump with your right outside edge. Bend your knee and extend your trailing leg back as far as possible.
- Extend your arms as far back as possible, then swing the trailing leg, arms and shoulders forward as you explode off the skating leg.
- In the air, quickly draw in your arms, almost like wings, cross the legs and rotate 1 ½ times in the air.
- Land in a backward position on the opposite foot, using the outside edge.
- Perform a check out extending the arms and the opposite leg. It can take some time to stick your landing but keep trying until you can do it. Over time, you’ll be able to generate more power so you can perform a double or triple axel.
Mastering your jump
What makes the axle so difficult is that it requires an equal amount of speed uncontrol.
Too much speed leads to falls, and insufficient speed means you will not complete your rotation.
Combining the Waltz and loop jumps can help you get accustomed to mechanics.
Most coaches recommend learning the steps from a standstill position first before adding speed.
You’ll need to work on the Waltz/loop combo, your outside edge work, and your back scratch spin, as each of these moves plays a role in the final result.
Mastering the axel also requires a strong mindset.
You have to believe you can land it, as you’ll have lots of falls and failures.
Why do you need to master these figure skating jumps?
If you’re figure skating for fun, jumps are not a requirement.
However, mastering at least one jump increases your skill level.
It’s through trying, failing, learning, and finally succeeding that you also build strength, resilience, and confidence.
If being a competitive or professional figure skater is your goal, mastering these jumps is non-negotiable.
Figure skating is a fierce, competitive sport, with new skaters pushing the boundaries every year so mastering these jumps is essential.
You can then add doubles and triples to your jumps to create a solid routine and get an edge on the competition.
How can you improve your jumps?
Learning your jumps is just the start.
The feeling you get when you land one for the first time is indescribable, yet that’s just the beginning.
The hard part is to constantly improve your technique, which can take years.
You can do a few things to narrow the gap and improve your jumps in a shorter window.
Don’t forget those arms.
It’s common to think that all you need to pull off jumps are powerful legs.
However, mastering figure skating jumps requires your entire body, and the arms are no exception.
Spreading your arms wide and making tucking them in at the right moment helps you to turn in the right direction and generate more energy.
It’s not uncommon for skaters to use resistance bands to strengthen their arms, which helps execute double and triple jumps in the future.
Practice your posture and rotations (on and off the ice)
Figure skating jumps can be broken down into multiple stages.
Nailing your jumps requires you to adopt the right position at every stage.
Spend time practicing just one part of the jump, both on and off the ice.
This includes upper body positioning, knee and leg position inside and outside edges, and arms.
Record yourself at home using your smartphone so you can break down the film with your coach.
Recording yourself also helps you identify and correct mistakes.
There are also tools you can use, like slide boards, spinners, and balance bills which can help you master your posture without applying pressure or force to your joints.
Try these off-ice exercises
Strength and conditioning take your jumps to the next level.
This is why figure skaters have a detailed exercise program off the ice.
Even if you don’t have a strength coach, here are some helpful off-ice exercises:
- Plyometric jumping exercises will be your best friend. Depth jumps, broad jumps, and box jumps lengthen the muscles and help you generate more power by training you to press through your ankles and feet when taking off for a jump.
- Weighted squats, calf raises, leg raises, and leg lifts build muscle, helping you get airborne while protecting your ligaments and bones when landing.
- Don’t skip your rope work. Jump rope is excellent for figure skating as it improves stamina, jump height and power. Furthermore, incorporating moves like double-unders can significantly enhance your double moves like Double Axels.
- Stretching, especially before and after exercise, helps improve your flexibility and reduces the chances of injury. Stretching also helps you with nailing your technique. Invest in training or equipment to help you
Consider at-home synthetic ice
Sometimes you need to practice your figure skating jumps on ice, but you can’t get to a practice rink.
PolyGlide Ice is made of a special infused polyethylene you can skate on with your metal blades.
Each panel can connect like puzzle pieces, making the rink scalable and, in some cases, portable.
Here are a few to choose from:
With synthetic ice, you can create your own mini-rink in your backyard, driveway, garage, or spare room.
Practice, practice, practice (followed by rest)
Jumps are difficult to master as they often go against what your body naturally wants to do.
Therefore, only through practice can you achieve mastery.
There should be time scheduled to practice your jumps, especially if you’re doing combinations or advanced jumps with multiple rotations.
While practice is key, rest is equally important.
Proper rest helps you avoid injury and takes the stress off of nailing every jump.
Learning jumps is an exciting part of figure skating that allows you to compete at a high level.
You can create combinations or add rotations once you master the basics in a single jump.
Becoming a pro almost feels like a full-time job and you’ll need time with coaches to correct your mechanics as you continue to train.
You'll need to allocate some time to work on the routines and get in some off-ice conditioning exercises as well.
As an up-and-coming competitive skater, the six jumps mentioned above are your priority.
Try your best to learn them in order of difficulty, and you'll start to notice one builds on the other.
Above all, be patient, yet have fun!
Never lose that joy!
As we all know..... ice skating is an exhilarating experience.
In due time, you’ll take flight, mastering the figure skating jumps and becoming the competitive skater you’ve always dreamed of becoming!
So keep on Skating! .....(and Jumping!! ;-)