What’s the Best Strategy for Reducing Drag in Competitive Speed Skating?

April 18, 2024

From the world’s top skaters racing in the Olympics, to the aspiring scholar in the sport, everyone in the speed skating world is pursuing the same ultimate goal: speed. To achieve this, skaters must overcome various obstacles, the most significant of which is arguably wind resistance or drag. The impact of drag on a skater’s time and performance is substantial, making its reduction a hot topic in the field.

In this article, we delve into the best strategies for reducing drag in speed skating. We will consider the sport’s unique needs, explore the latest data and insights, and examine the impact of factors such as the suit design, skating model, surface of the ice, along with the tactics of the race itself.

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The Role of the Skating Model

Before we dive into tactics and gear, we must first understand the model of the speed skater. Their form, how they move across the ice, and their interaction with the surface and wind is a crucial element in the fight against drag.

Studies have revealed that the optimal model for speed skating requires a low, bent-over position to reduce wind resistance. This position, although demanding on the muscles, lowers the skater’s profile, making it harder for wind to catch and slow them down. By consistently maintaining this form, skaters can enhance their performance and achieve faster times.

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Moreover, the technique is important. Crossref data shows that skaters who can evenly distribute their weight and maintain a fluid motion across the ice surface can reduce unnecessary air turbulence, effectively reducing drag.

The Science of Speed Skating Suits

When it comes to speed skating, the suit is not merely a uniform but a scientifically designed piece of equipment that can significantly affect a skater’s performance. Let’s explore how these suits are designed to reduce drag and optimize speed.

Speed skating suits are typically made of a synthetic material with a smooth, shiny surface to minimize friction between the skater and the air. The suits are also designed to be skin-tight, to prevent any loose fabric from creating additional wind resistance.

Most notably, the suits feature strategic fabric placement based on wind-tunnel testing. These tests allow designers to identify areas of high wind resistance and modify the suit design to reduce it. For example, roughened patches of fabric are often placed in areas of low air pressure to interrupt the airflow and reduce drag.

The Effect of Ice Surface on Speed Skating

The ice surface plays a significant role in the speed of a skater. Although it might seem trivial to the untrained eye, the condition of the ice can greatly affect a skater’s performance.

A perfect ice surface for speed skating is smooth, hard, and fast. The harder the ice, the lower the friction, allowing skaters to glide more efficiently. If the ice is too soft, it can create more resistance, slowing the skater down.

Ice temperature is also critical. Colder ice is harder and therefore faster, whilst warmer ice tends to be softer and slower. For this reason, indoor skating rinks often keep their ice temperatures between -5 to -6 degrees Celsius for optimum skating condition.

The Influence of Racing Tactics

The final piece of the puzzle lies within the tactics of the race itself. From strategic positioning to the use of drafting, these manoeuvres can effectively reduce drag and improve a skater’s time.

Drafting is a common tactic in speed skating where a skater positions themselves directly behind another skater. The lead skater effectively breaks the wind for the following skater, reducing their wind resistance and allowing them to conserve energy.

Choosing the right moment to overtake is also crucial. Skaters must decide when to make their move, taking into account the wind direction, their energy levels, and the remaining distance to the finish line.

The Future of Speed Skating

As speed skating continues to evolve, the strategies for reducing drag will continue to develop and improve. The ongoing collaboration between scientists, engineers, and athletes will undoubtedly yield even more advanced tactics, suit designs, and ice surface maintenance techniques.

Emerging technologies like predictive analytics and machine learning may also play a role, as they can help to analyze a skater’s performance and provide personalized advice on optimal racing strategies and form adjustments.

In this high-speed, high-stakes world where every millisecond counts, reducing drag is an ongoing challenge for every speed skater. It’s a fascinating field where the smallest changes can make the biggest differences, and where the pursuit of speed drives relentless innovation.

The Role of Aerodynamic Drag in Speed Skating

The concept of aerodynamic drag is a vital aspect of understanding speed skating performance. This force, which acts against the direction of movement, is made up of two components: pressure drag and friction drag.

Pressure drag, sometimes referred to as form drag, is induced by the skater’s body shape and its interaction with the wind. As a skater moves, they create a pressure difference in the air, causing a force that opposes their direction. On the other hand, friction drag arises from the interaction between the skater’s skin and the air.

One notable scholar in this field, Len Brownlie, has extensively studied the aerodynamics of speed skaters. His work, available on Google Scholar and Scholar Crossref, has highlighted the importance of maintaining a low profile and minimizing the body’s surface area exposed to the wind to reduce pressure drag.

A skater’s Reynolds number, a dimensionless value used to predict flow patterns, can also influence the friction drag. According to a study released on preprints org, maintaining a low Reynolds number can help minimize the boundary layer thickness and, consequently, the friction drag.

The Future of Ice Maintenance and Preparation

The ice rink and its condition have a significant impact on a speed skater’s performance. As the sport evolves, so does the technology and knowledge regarding ice maintenance and preparation.

According to a study published in Int Sports Physiol Perform, the ideal condition for the ice in speed skating is a surface that is hard and smooth. It has been found that the coefficient of friction decreases with the hardness of the ice, allowing skaters to glide more efficiently.

The temperature of the ice is also a critical factor. Experiments have shown that the friction coefficient decreases as the ice temperature drops. Thus, ice rinks often maintain their ice at a temperature of around -5 to -6 degrees Celsius for optimum conditions.

The future holds promising advancements in this arena. One area of exploration is the relationship between air temperature, ice temperature, and skater performance. It’s also speculated that machine learning could aid in predicting the optimal ice temperature and hardness based on various factors.


In conclusion, the quest for speed in speed skating is an intricate dance between the skater, their equipment, and the environment. From the skating model to suit design, ice surface conditions, and race tactics, every aspect plays a crucial role in reducing drag and optimizing speed.

Drag reduction is an ongoing challenge that drives continuous innovation in this high-speed sport. The future promises further advancements in suit design and ice preparation, influenced by continuous research and emerging technologies.

The ultimate goal remains the same: to go faster. And as every speed skater knows, every millisecond counts. So the pursuit of speed, and the strategies to achieve it, will undoubtedly continue to evolve, keeping the sport of speed skating exciting and continually pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.