A Beginner's Guide to Inline Skating

Ready to roll? Learn why — and how — you should pick up inline skating with this comprehensive guide.

Woman Putting On Rollerblades
Photo: Getty Images

Like bucket hats and claw clips, inline skating is a '90s trend that's worthy of a total resurgence. And for good reason — the low-impact workout can double as a social activity or a solo stress-reliever, and you won't need a gym membership or pricey gear to give it a try.

Further, inline skating is fantastic cross training for many sports, making it a great way to add variety to and round out your fitness routine. Take it from Kacie Cleveland, who became the first and fastest female to inline skate across the United States in 2012, skating more than 2,700 miles in 37 days. "I believe skating is one of the best cross training tools any athlete can use to stay in shape, get stronger, and have fun," she says.

Convinced? Here's your guide to inline skating, including an in-depth explanation of the activity, its benefits, and the gear you'll need to get started.

What Is Inline Skating?

Inline skating is an activity that involves human-powered movement on wheels. Inline skaters wear shoes that consist of a boot with a frame at the bottom that has three to four wheels. The wheels are set in-line for speed and maneuverability, hence the name. "When you put on an inline skate, the wheels go from front to back, going along the middle of your foot, longways," says Anna Zuver, a Rollerblade Ambassador. "An inline skater wears a pair of skates and uses their body weight and muscles to push into the wheels, side-to-side, to propel themselves forward."

Practicing and gaining confidence in the basic movements of inline skating opens you up to a variety of different skating styles and competitive sports. For example, you could take your inline skating skills and try inline speed skating, outdoor distance skating, paved-trail skating, or street skating, among other types of skating.

Inline skating is a sport that can be enjoyed both indoors and outdoors, and both are suitable for beginners. "Typically, I recommend inline skating on a smooth, flat area, free of debris," says Tom Hyser, product and marketing manager of Rollerblade. "An empty parking lot is a great place to start. If you would rather start out skating indoors, a roller-rink is a great option as well."

And heads up: Inline skates differ from roller skates — which you may have seen taking over social media recently. While inline skates have one central frame and a line of wheels, roller skates have two horizontal rows.

Inline Skating Equipment

If you're just starting out, a great option is to go to a local skate shop and rent skates. However, if you're ready to commit and invest in a pair, you can choose from various brands, including SEBA, FR, Rollerblade, and K2. (BTW, a lot of people use the terms "Rollerblading" and "inline skating" interchangeably, but the activity itself is called inline skating; Rollerblade is a registered trademark and the industry brand leader.)

When choosing inline skates as a beginner, it's best to opt for a snug fit and choose skates with 80 mm wheels, since they provide a lower center of gravity than larger wheels, making balancing easier, says Hyser. Make sure the skate comes with a brake, which will usually be located in the back of the right skate. Inline skates typically follow the same sizing as street shoes.

If you'd like to tote your phone, keys, or other essentials while skating, it's helpful to invest in a backpack or waist pack, notes Zuver. "I love doing longer skates with a fanny pack that has two water bottle holders — one for regular water, and one for sport drink — and enough space on the inside for my tools and snacks," she says. "I have a vintage one but have seen them pop up at REI."

Finally, you don't want to skip out on protective gear, including a helmet. "The purpose of a helmet is to prevent skull fractures, which can cause severe brain damage," says Zuver. "Most newer cycling-style helmets are equipped with MIPS, which a system designed to also help prevent concussions from an impact."

Knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist pads can also keep you safe. "[Instructors] teach skaters to always fall forward — sliding on your knee pads, wrist guards, and elbow pads," says Zuver. "Knees and hands tend to take the first impact in a skating fall. Wrist guards will save your palms from gnarly road rash and save your wrists from painful ligament sprains. Elbow pads are great for preventing road rash and bone bruises."

The Benefits of Inline Skating

As mentioned, inline skating is a stellar form of cross training for a lot of other sports. In fact, "the brand Rollerblade was started because hockey players needed to cross train in the summer, so they slapped wheels on their hockey boots and kept going," notes Cleveland. Whether you're using it to cross train or as your sole form of exercise, these are the benefits you can expect to glean from inline skating.

Strengthens Muscles and Improves Posture

The action of inline skating targets your lower body muscles such as your gluteus maximus, quads, hamstrings, and calves, but you move in different planes of motion than many other sports. "As an added benefit, [inline skating] also targets smaller stabilizing muscles such as the gluteus medius and adductors in the hips and the peroneal and tibialis muscles in the lower legs/feet, which go neglected in single-plane movements such as running or cycling," says Zuver. Targeting these muscles can improve your overall balance and joint stability — a great bonus for daily life and other sports. "Skating even works muscles in the core, as the upper body twists," she says.

Improves Proprioception

Inline skating can improve your proprioception, aka your body's awareness of movement and where your body is in space, says Zuver. When your proprioception is strong, you become nimbler on your feet, which makes you better at learning and performing other sports. Good proprioception helps your overall balance and coordination, she notes. Controlled, precise, coordinated, balanced movements are critical for daily life as well as sports, she explains. Skating trains your proprioception as it constantly challenges your balance, teaching your body to be more comfortable in less stable environments.

May Help Lower Stress

Finally, inline skating can provide an escape from the stressors of daily life, whether that escape is being around a great community of people on skates, or enjoying a solo skate session. As with other forms of exercise, the act of skating can cause your brain to receive a flood of endorphins, hormones that helps with stress management.

Inline skating can also give you a unique sense of freedom. "It's different from running because I can travel so much further and reach speeds that make me feel strong and powerful," says Zuver. "It's different from cycling because I'm more mobile to explore my environment — going over curbs onto sidewalks, up or down stairs, stepping through grass...skating feels free, which provides a major sense of joy."

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