Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Toe Stops are Optional

Mallory for SkateXpress
With the start of the new 2014 season, I started to take over the weekly Agility Sessions at BCRD. I ran my first class (in English!) last week and decided to strike hard in doing a toe-stops-off course. Throughout my (short) quad skating life, I have always encouraged people to free themselves from that stops addiction: that habit may be the easy way at first but it will end up limiting you.

Some people are all for it, some strongly stand against it. I am in-between the two, not because I am an indecisive person, but because of personal convictions.
Toe stops are there, at your toes, it would be a shame not to exploit them. Yet, they should be used in full knowledge of their pros and cons. Here are my thoughts about that optional device that juts out of our derby plates.


Toe stops are part of your skates. Indeed. But they are not essential to them: The job of your skates is to make you ROLL, a task in which toe stops are NOT involved. They are an add-on, a device that can be used for the STOPPING PART. You could argue that stopping is a stage of the rolling process: The rolling has 1) a start (gaining momentum), 2) a body (the rolling itself) and 3) an end (stopping). Just like everything in life, and, in order to stick to the subject, just like any movement and trick. Never isolate elements from their contexts.

Toe stops help for stopping (the name is clear enough), and other derived processes. Yet, there are other and more primary options to stop, which you are already well aware of, using your WHEELS. You roll because your wheels are turned towards the direction you are going to, then all you need is to prevent them from rolling... in turning them to another angle. Wheels are vital for the rolling process and, with a little taming and control, work just as well for the stopping process. 'Fix the problem' at its source!


Using your toe stops should not be the solution to all your difficulties: as seen above, it should remain an option. Still, it can only be so if you have the choice to use them or not, that is to say: if you can select it, in a range of possible options, to do what you have in mind.

Broadening your abilities is fully part of your agility improvement. With more options, more tools, you are more likely to answer to the specific needs of the situation you are in. Teach your body new stances, new movement combos. This is not about collecting tricks and adding them to your ability list, this is not either about selecting the tricks according to their usefulness, this is about preparing your body to as many eventualities as possible: you never know what's around the corner.
You may not directly need to be able to do a power slide at high speed with a wide amplitude in a derby game, but if your body can handle that level of commitment for that trick, it will surely be able to do it when less is needed. HE WHO CAN DO MORE, CAN DO LESS.

With that philosophy of broadening your range of options, 
it would be illogical of me to not be interested in the supplementary option that are toe stops.


I do think that everybody is aware that there are ranges of options theoretically available. One may say that TOE STOPS ARE MORE STABLE THAN WHEELS, and by extension that wheels are an advanced option, so that low-skilled skaters only have that toe stops option on their ability list.
I would gladly debunk that stability argument as following. Indeed toe stops don't roll, which probably reminds your body of well-known mastered off-skates sensations, with gravity rules that you have been experiencing your whole life. It is more stable because you are just more used to non-rolling floor contacts.

Now, what is the huge ADVANTAGE OF WHEELS OVER STOPPERS? Quantity. 4 against 1 per foot: Outnumbered. "And so what?" you'd say. The rolling parameter set aside, would you feel more stable standing on a DVD case or on a bottle cap? The consequence of that number is that 4 wheels offer a far greater floor area than 1 toe stopper.
Thus, not only are wheels (theoretically) more stable but they are also more efficient to stop. More ground contact (due to bigger floor area) means more friction and thus more power transfer.
Note: Toe stops are also often (according to me, mis-) used for run-ups, instead of the wheel option (duck run) for the exact same reasons of 1) stability and power transfer due to that floor area detail and 2) aberration of using non-rolling weightbearings during a frontwards motion (i.e. mixing rolling and non-rolling).

Three-Wheeler or Hummer?
Note 2 Update 2014-01-23: I know that the reasoning is not exactly correct but I wanted to bring two extremes face to face. Indeed when using your toe stops you also lean on your two front wheels, which makes a triangle of three bearings. Nevertheless... The conclusion is the same.
< Which seems more stable to you?


Let's go back to the rolling problem. Rolling and stepping are two different (body) languages and should be treated as such. That is to say: Don't try to literally transpose your body movements and sensations from your source language (stepping) to your target language (rolling). Or it will give things weird that work not (that was a literal transposition from French.) Different rules, different vocabulary, different set of mind. Easier to say, I know.

Just like any language, the individual applications (of rolling/skating) vary from one skater to another. Everybody has their own special approach to skating according to their heights, their builts, their sensations, their experience… Diversity is natural. Some people will use some techniques more than others. And that's fine, as long as you master your subject and that you select one technique over another by choice, not by default.


In the world of INLINE SKATING, brakes are usually reserved to casual leisure skaters. When you learn in the street, your rite of passage is the taking off of that brake. Sew it if needed, but get rid of it if you want to be accepted by the community. In skating lessons, the taking off of the brake is is often a goal in itself too.

In QUAD SKATING, the situation is different for many reasons. Unlike in inline skating*, that device is used by high level athletes for (official) disciplines such as artistic skating, rink hockey… and derby. Nevertheless, quad set-ups without toe stops are frequent. Let's particularly mention free skating quad set-ups with short plates mounted to the front for a better run-up reactivity, amongst other reasons. The freeskate philosophy implies that toe stoppers are for newbies. They are considered useless: you can already do the same things with wheels. Then why bother adding an extra bulky device?
Let's also mention all the dancing disciplines on quad skates: jam skating, roller dance… for which toe stops are not just useless, they are incapacitating. Most of the time they are replaced by small plugs. That forefoot space is needed for movement amplitude and toe spins.

* One inline skating exception: artistic inline skates with the toe stop replacing the front wheel, modeled on quad and ice artistic skates.


In a training perspective, taking off those toe stops enables you to work efficiently on EDGES AND BODYWEIGHT DISTRIBUTION. No special drills are needed, the mere fact of skating 'stops-off' is enough to make you discover your degree of addiction as well as realize the range of possible options you just eclipse out of habit.



  1. A very good analysis of toe stops on quad skates.

    However I would like to add the following:

    Toe stops as far as I'm aware were introduced onto the quad skate by artistic skaters, purely to give them the same advantage as the ice figure skaters, These "Toe Stopes" were not so much for stopping but for assistance in the intricate jumps and turns that artistic skaters do.

    I don't mind if people choose to skate with toe stops or without, But there are an awful lot of people out there (particularly in the derby world) who would feel extremely uncomfortable if asked to skate without. This is not necessarily their fault, but the fault of how they were taught to skate in the first place. There seems to be a huge dependency on the toe stop in the way derby skaters are taught to skate, and this can impede the skaters ability to learn the more advanced moves such as Hockey Stops and Power Slides.

    Once you have become comfortable with hockey stops and power slides, you will then have the advantage of knowing how to use slide to varying degrees which can only be advantageous. You will then have the best of both worlds and be able to choose which you would prefer, to skate with toe stops or without them.

    I believe more toe stop-less drills should be introduced on a regular basis, to get skaters using the more advanced methods of starting (duck walking) and stopping, in the long run this will produce a more competent skater. Duck walking is again a foreign think for the body to do, Toe stop start will feel more natural, but there are lots of people out there who have perfected the duck walk and swear it's faster then a toe stop start. But it's a lot harder to master, and most people don't persevere.

    For an example the Leeds Hot Wheels league skate toe stop-less. I believe they are taught to bouting standard without toe stops, but are then allowed to use them in bouts if they wish. I understand that most choose not to use them.

    In summary each skater should ask themselves do they prefer toe stops or do they need them. If they need them, then they should practice some toe stop less drills. If they can skate without toe stops but just prefer to use them all well and good.

    Only those that can skate competently both with and without toe stops can objectively decide which is better for them. Those that can't skate without toe stops won't know the full story and be able to decide objectively.

    Rowland Cook (A.K.A. Reckless Rowly) - Certified Skating Instructor.

  2. What you have in front of your skates are not necessary stoppers.
    In the US, speed skater use toe starters. (no one ever used this technique in Europe in the great ages of quad speed, so I don't know what is really the point with this, but maybe it can be useful to some skaters...)
    In figure skating, it's used to help jump, not to stop.
    Only in rink hockey and derby is it used to actually stop.

    Power slides, and even hockey stops are far more efficient for stopping, even more for derby, where you often need to skate in the other way after a stop.
    IMO, stoppers for derby are usefull for only 2 purposes :
    1- Getting momentum while keeping your feet in a tiny area, so you won't hit any other skater's foot. (when accelerating with skates with classic duckwalk, you need quite some space on the sides)
    2- Accuracy. When you need to stop very close to the limits of a track without crossing the line, slides are less accurate (unless you totally master this technique) than stoppers.
    (well, it's also easier to assist your mates skating backwards to slow them drastically when using stoppers, but you can actually do that without stoppers)

  3. Thanks for both of you for your further analyses! I totally agree with you both.
    Only once you master several techniques can you objectively decide which one is the most appropriate (for you). I do agree that the learning of skating in a closed derby environment may put too much emphasis, and thus lead to too much dependance, on toe stops. But indeed there are gameplay advantages to toe stops in derby, especially because of the small space they require to use them.
    As for artistic skating, it is true that stopping is not the main job of toe stops, but still they are there, and the post was long enough not to make a too big digression on it, thank you for completing and pointing it out! :)

  4. I'd love to take off my toe stops, because I think it would force me to work on some weak areas. But lately the coaching in my league is all about toe stops. Everything up on toe stops. It's really taking the joy out of it for me.

  5. @Anonymous - That's exactly what I mean by the way skating is taught in derby. There is too much emphasis on toe stops, and this is impeding your ability improve in other areas. It's a shame but this happens too often.
    Toe stops are optional in Derby. There is nothing to state you have to use them.

    Perhaps you should approach your training dept, even show them this article, and let them know that you have other weak areas you wish to practice.

    Rowland Cook - Certified Skating Instructor