Q&A With My Olympic Figure Skater Cousin

Featuring Paul Poirier


Paul Poirier is a Canadian figure skater who's represented Canada at a slew of world competitions including the 2 different Olympics. He also happens to be my cousin, so naturally, I wanted to feature him on the Man Factory. Although his sport is all about technique, skill, and finesse, strength is an important component too, as you'll see. Here's a Q&A session Paul was kind enough to do with me. I think you'll find it interesting.


My cousins Paul Poirier with his skating partner, Piper Gilles. AP photo/Ivan Sekretarev
My cousins Paul Poirier with his skating partner, Piper Gilles. AP photo/Ivan Sekretarev

1. How long have you been figure skating, and what first got you interested in the sport? 

I first started figure skating when I was 5 years old, 21 years ago. What first attracted me was working at my own pace and getting personal challenges (versus team sports), the quick sense of progression, and the promise of being allowed to skate without a helmet.


2. Can you give us an overview of your competition history, including the performance you feel most proud of?

My journey as an athlete has been marked with many victories and many failures. I’ve had the chance to represent Canada at 55 international competitions, including 9 World Championships and 2 Olympic Games. I think I’m most proud of being able to continue my career and thrive after changing partners in 2011, a time where it would’ve been easy to give up. A specific performance I’m very proud of is my skate at the Japan Grand Prix in 2013. While it was not our best finish, we were able to complete two very solid skates only 6 months after I had an ankle reconstruction. It was a performance that taught me much about my own resilience.


3. What does a typical day look like for you, from when you wake up until going to sleep?

Training is always varied, based on how we’ve periodized our training around our competition schedule. That said, an average day would start at 6am (wake up at 4 :50) with a warm up and 3.5 hours of skating, followed by a cool down. After lunch we’ll either return to the ice for another hour, go to the gym to lift weights, and/or take a dance class (ballet, modern, or ballroom, depending on the themes of our dances).  After training I’ll usually head home to stretch and care for my body or go to physio.


4. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to become and remain an elite athlete?

I think for me what’s been most challenging has been to overcome my own sense of self-sufficiency. I’ve had to realize that I cannot make the strides I wish to all by myself, and that an essential part of my job is to work with my partner and choose to surround ourselves with the right coaching and support team to take us where we want to go.


5. Why is training for strength vital for what you do? What sort of strength building exercises do you perform regularly?

While figure skating is a very technically demanding sport, good technique is only useful inasmuch as you have the strength to harness it. The best skaters use the mechanics of skating to do the work for them. That requires the skater to have an incredible amount of control in order not to be overtaken by the huge amounts of momentum your body is subject to. Our strength training has four primary components: general strength exercises, stability work to help the skater remain in control through demanding movements (a combination of single leg balance and core work, where the athlete must often fight a rotational force), explosive power exercises to encourage quick speed increases on the ice (sprints and plyometrics), and maintenance exercises for injury prevention.


6. What are your best numbers in the squat, deadlift, and dumbbell overhead press (weight and reps)?

Squat – 295 for 3 reps; deadlift – 315 for 3 reps; overhead press – 50 each arm for 3 reps


7. Do you believe training for strength is important for everyone, not just elite athletes? Why or why not?

I think strength training is vital for most everyone, as it provides the structure necessary for the body to remain robust and resilient, especially as one gets ill or hurt or ages. Additionally, as humans, we all have preferred motor patterns and muscle groups that can cause imbalances over time and lead to injury and pain. Strength training helps us to address the unused and weaker parts of our body to promote balance and prevent unwanted injury.


8. Tell us the particulars of your most serious skating related injury, and how you came back from that mentally and physically.

As briefly described above, in May of 2013 I shattered and dislocated my right ankle, leading to surgery and several intense months of rehab.  What made it most difficult psychologically were the weeks of boredom and loneliness, and the prospect that the injury would end my career. I think what helped most through the recovery process was to surround myself as much as possible by loved ones, and secondly, to treat my rehab as my job. This mindset made me take my recovery seriously, to be vigilant with my exercises, to try to do them with excellence each time, as well as to attempt to do as much as possible within the limitations I had; more importantly taking my rehab seriously gave me a sense of purpose that helped bolster me emotionally through the process.


9. What are three pieces of advice you’d give aspiring athletes in any sport?

The advice I’ll give may seem obvious, but I think these tips are important reminders to any athlete at any level. First, your career will never proceed in a straight line: constant progress is unrealistic, and oftentimes we must wait months or years to finally see and feel the effects of the constant work we’ve been putting in. Secondly, do not underestimate recovery.  Take care of your body through stretching and massage (or foam rolling or whatever else you like), and treat this as a serious part of your training, not as an afterthought. Periodize your training so there are easier and harder days, easier and harder weeks. Take time off occasionally. Sleep is your best friend. Thirdly, strive to make yourself uncomfortable. Doing things the way you always do will lead to the same outcomes. Integrate new ideas, perspectives, and techniques into your training as needed. Do not be content with simply getting through a training session. Growth and improvement comes through challenges and discomfort.


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