Looking for a fun new way to workout? Here we’ll look at roller skates vs. rollerblades for exercise, including the muscles used and how to know which is better for you.
If you are looking for a new way to get motivated for a workout, an exciting alternative to the traditional gym sweat-it-out culture is roller sports.
This includes roller skating and rollerblading, both of which are a fun way to get your daily aerobic exercise (and fresh air!), and you don’t need to go to a gym or have a bunch of expensive equipment taking up the living room.
While roller skates and roller blades are often seen as toys for children, many adults find joy in roller sports and sports like roller derby and roller hockey have been played by adults for decades.
When first looking at roller sports, you may have no idea what the difference is or which one is better for working out. So, let’s get a bit of an introduction for each sport so you know exactly what is involved.
We will cover both roller skating and rollerblading in-depth, and then look at roller skates vs. rollerblades for exercise.
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The wheels on roller skates are placed in a quadrant, with four total wheels, which is why they are also referred to as quad skates. There are two wheels in the front of the shoe, and two wheels in the back. The shoes are soft boots, which varies from the hard boot in rollerblades.
Because of the wheel placement, there is quite a bit of support and stability. You have a reduced risk of falling sideways on roller skates. Instead, you only have to focus on going forwards and backwards.
The downside with the wheels is the placement reduces your ability to go fast and reduces agility.
Roller skating doesn’t use as many muscles as rollerblading. It’s more of a leisure sport, where the major effort is in getting speed up, but it can still be a great beginner exercise.
The roller skates will get you to use your core and arms, as well as legs and glutes. Staying upright on roller skates takes quite a bit of effort, although less than rollerblades.
When roller skating you can expect to work mainly the muscles in your lower body. These include the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. In addition, balancing upright requires the muscles of your core.
Even if you don’t realize it, when standing upright you are using the muscles of your core to stabilize and react as you lean forwards, backwards, or sideways.
The same can be said for rollerblading, except because you don’t have a stable ground underfoot, it works the core a lot harder. Even the arms get in on the exercise as they are used to help counterbalance when you start tipping sideways. This is especially true for beginners, which makes it a good workout.
Coming to a complete stop is much easier with roller skates. This is because of the wheel placement, with a pair of wheels in the front and back, allowing the user to stand and balance relatively easily.
Because stopping can be a scary part of roller sports, roller skating might be a good choice if you are concerned about potentially falling over to come to a complete halt.
Roller skates have a brake placed on the front of the boot. This means that to stop, all you have to do is point your toes downwards.
Depending on the type of skate, you might also have to do a slightly awkward dragging movement with your leg behind you, so it’s important to consider flexibility when choosing the kind of skate to use.
But there is no real difficulty in picking this move up for most beginners. It’s only really an issue if you have mobility or balance problems.
The main difference between roller skates and roller blades are the wheels. Roller skates have larger wheels, while rollerblades have a long wheelbase and have smaller wheels.
On rollerblades, the wheels are all lined up in a row. This is why rollerblading is also called inline skating and you may see rollerblades referred to as recreational inline skates.
A closure system in the skate boot helps keep the foot stable.
Because of how the wheels are placed, rollerblades can go a lot quicker, and have a lot more agility, meaning they are able to make tight turns at speed. This is in part because of the thin wheels, and in part because of the single-file line that the wheels are placed in.
Both factors result in a shoe that is optimized for speed and agility.
Unfortunately, that comes at the cost of a lot of sideways support. This can make standing still in rollerblades, or even going slowly in rollerblades, quite difficult.
Imagine rollerblades like riding a bike. It’s a lot easier to go fast on a bicycle, especially when turning corners. Going slow results in bad balance and wobbling, increasing the chance of falling over. The same can be said for rollerblades. So, although it can be intimidating for beginners, it is a lot better to go fast on rollerblades than slowly.
Softer wheels are used more with rollerblades. Softer wheels are great for outdoor skating because they can handle rough surfaces better. Harder wheels are ideal for smooth surfaces, like a roller rink.
The Roller Girl has great information on wheel hardness if you need help selecting the perfect wheel hardness.
Rollerblading uses all the same muscles as roller skating. This is because both exercises have the same basic movements to push off, turn, hold balance, and to get speed.
However, rollerblades provide more of a full-body workout.
This has been attributed to the position of the wheels on the rollerblades, which requires that the muscles used (glutes, hamstrings, calves, arms, and core) are working harder to keep balance. Essentially, because the rollerblades have less stability due to the single row of wheels, the muscles in the body need to work harder to stay upright.
Because rollerblading takes more effort than roller skating, rollerblades are more often used as an exercise tool than roller skates.
If you are skating for fun and not for exercise, there are additional benefits to the speed and agility of rollerblades over roller skates that might make them more suitable, regardless of the extra muscles needed to use them.
It is worth noting that rollerblades have a higher impact than roller skates if the intensity of the exercise is something that you are looking for.
Stopping with rollerblades is a lot harder than with roller skates. Because of the position of the wheels, going slowly with rollerblades is much more difficult than with roller skates. This is only exponentially more difficult when it comes to stopping.
The brakes on rollerblades are found at the back of the shoe, so to stop you have to lean backwards. This can be unnerving, and for some people can increase the chance of injury if they fall backwards.
Most people are more comfortable leaning forward, so the requirement to lean backwards can feel counterintuitive and uncomfortable.
Additionally, once you have come to a complete stop, you then have the issue of balancing on the rollerblades to get to the ground or a chair safely to take them off. This can be very difficult, and rollerblades might be more likely to cause a fall when putting them on and taking them off.
As a side note, rollerblades are also more difficult to get going in. Once you stand up you have a few seconds of difficult balancing before you can push off and get speed up. These first few seconds are where most falls happen, again because of the shape of the wheels.
Rollerblades vs. roller skates
Both rollerblades and roller skates have their own benefits and issues. Roller skates are more suitable for beginners because the shape and alignment of the wheels promote stability and safety.
However, once you have moved on from the beginner stages, the lack of speed and agility can actually work against roller skates in terms of safety. This is because you are less likely to be able to avoid unexpected obstacles and are less able to turn quickly.
Rollerblades are more suitable for people who are more experienced in skating, as they have the best agility and speed. However, if you are looking for a low-impact exercise with low risk, roller skates would be a better option.
Rollerblades’ single row of wheels reduce the stability of the skate and increase the risk of falling, as well as increase the effort that is required to make the skates work.
When it comes to the muscles used, both roller skates and rollerblades have similar muscles required for use. They both use the legs to control the skates, the core to stabilize and hold the body upright, and the arms as counterbalances to maintain stability.
The type of skate to use can also depend on how you prefer to stop. If you have difficulty leaning backwards or aren’t sure that you trust yourself to lean backwards, roller skates might be a better fit for you.
The brake on roller skates is found at the front of the shoe, so stopping can be achieved by leaning forward or dragging a leg behind to slow down to stop.
The roller skates are also much easier to use at slower speeds and are less likely to cause falls. On the other hand, rollerblades require that you lean backwards to stop, and are difficult to use at slow speeds. Although stopping with rollerblades is difficult, most beginners don’t struggle too much when they are learning.
Because you can go faster in rollerblades, rollerblades are better for going longer distances, which may make them a better workout.
If you haven’t been on a pair of rollerblades in a long time, wearing protective gear, like wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads may be helpful. Stopping can be hard on rollerblades and turning is tricky if you’re doing it for the first time in a while. Try traveling in a straight line at first, with a grass area near by to stop in.
Terrain for roller skates and rollerblades
Terrain that works best with each type of skate is the final and arguably most important consideration when looking for which type will suit you. If you are learning outside, rollerblades are the best bet.
This is because the smaller wheels are less likely to get caught on cracks or in holes on the sidewalk, making them a better choice for a smoother ride.
Rollerblades are also the only type of skate used by marathon skaters, which indicates that they are the best bet for long distances according to industry experts.
On the other hand, roller skates are best suited for indoor use, and are much preferable for tricks because they aren’t required to go fast all the time.
The bottom line
Both roller skating and rollerblading are excellent choices for exercise and both with give the leg muscles a great workout. The difference between them mainly comes down to comfort level, and what you are trying to use them for.
If exercise is the main goal, rollerblades have roller skates beaten by a little bit, but if you are more interested in working out indoors, or learning tricks and dancing, roller skates are a perfectly suitable alternative.
Both rollerblades and roller skates can be used as an excellent alternative to the typical gym workout. If you are interested in learning to skate, try getting involved with skate teams in your community.
New skaters may find it a little easier to start with roller skates until you can advance your skill level, but if you’re up for a challenge and understand there will be a learning curve, rollerblades are great fun too.
Both rollerblading and roller skating can be a great, muscle engaging workout and a fun new way to get in some exercise, daily movement and help with stress relief.
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