Ask the Expert: Pro Motion Pole Harness Expert Nick Perna
Note from Ice Mom: Master PSA rated and World and National USFS coach Nick Perna is my guest expert today. He has trained many high-level figure skaters like Olympic Gold Medalists Sarah Hughes and Evan Lysacek using the Pro Motion Pole Harness. (Click here to read the article about Sarah Hughes on the pole harness.) Nick is also one of the instructors with Audrey Weisiger’s Grassroots to Champions figure skating seminars. (Click here to read more about the Grassroots to Champions seminars and find the 2010 seminar schedule.)
Hello. My name is Nick Perna and I am a PSA Master Rated instructor and a US Figure Skating National and World Team Coach. I have been teaching skating for almost thirty years.
I am a former pairs skater who has carved out a niche in the sport with a unique training device…the Pro-Motion Hand-held Jump Harness — which has earned me the moniker, “The Fishing Pole Guy.” In fact, I have been using the pole harness so often, for so long, that almost everyone in the skating industry thinks that I AM THE INVENTOR OF IT!
The truth is…I did NOT invent the “pole harness.” That, in itself, is an interesting story.
I used to teach Axels to little kids by using their sweatshirts as a sort of “harness.” I would pull the back of the shirt above their head and use it to, essentially, “lift them up by the scruff of the neck.” This allowed them to complete the rotation for an Axel easily and with less chance of injury. They also found it quite fun!
After doing this for some time, I got the idea to design and make a “hand-held” harness that looked like an adjustable vest, attached to a cable, that swiveled around on the end of a suitcase handle!
Now, (here comes the incredible part)…I had just started to construct a prototype of this “hand-held harness” in my basement workshop when I took a break and went upstairs to get the mail and eat lunch. When I opened up the mailbox, there was an issue of Skating magazine. I started to flip through the magazine and there, right in front of me, was an advertisement for a HAND-HELD HARNESS!!
I stood there in total amazement…it had already been invented!
The inventor was a Canadian, male coach, by the name of Jan Glerup.
I immediately thought, “Well, I might as well just go ahead and buy one of these!”
I purchased one right away, and used it in the rink on many different “guinea pig.”
The athletes that initially wore it told me that they felt like a fish, a dog or a puppet!
It took quite some time to figure out how to track the skater correctly and to time the jumps properly, but it most certainly DID WORK and the students benefited from it greatly.
I have been using the pole harness now for over twenty years(!) and have worked closely with the inventor on many cosmetic changes, safety modifications, and specialized handling issues to improve the use of this teaching tool.
I have had the privilege of coaching many of the top skaters in the world while they were on the pole harness including Sasha Cohen, (she even included me in her book!) Sarah Hughes, Emily Hughes, Michael Weiss (he was one of the first “guinea pigs”!) Evan Lysacek, Johnny Weir, Elena and Anton (the first to do throw quad Salchows and throw quad loops on the pole!) Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman and many, many others!
In fact, one of my colleagues recently pointed out to me that there was probably no other single piece of equipment in ALL OF SPORTS that has been used to help train as many champions as the original pole harness that I have! Pretty cool, huh?
Now, one of the advantages that the pole has over a traditional “track harness” system is that the skater can skate across the entire rink and use their own preferred set-up, or even their program entrance, for the jump they are working on. They are not “tied-down” to doing the jump “on a line” at one end of the rink. They can also skate full-out and enter the jump with as much speed as they need or want. Another advantage is that the pole harness does NOT allow a coach to lift a student and basically HANG them up in the air like you sometimes see people doing with the track system. There is no “artificial” feeling of being hoisted up into the air by the coach, as the pole does not allow for this. The skater truly feels what it is like to execute the jump on their own.
The pole harness is, most definitely, a wonderful tool to help aid the advancement of the student who is learning difficult jumps. It is NOT a “crutch” when used properly by an experienced coach. This includes knowing WHEN to put the student on the pole and when NOT to…based on their individual jump mechanics and mental preparation.
An important point I need to add here, is that the pole harness is quite difficult for most small, female coaches to use. You do not have to be a bodybuilder to use it, but it does take some upper body strength to do properly. People always find it amazing when they first see me using the pole with skaters that are taller and bigger than I am. They can’t believe that I can actually ”lift” them up like that. Well…the answer is…it’s all an illusion! I’m really NOT lifting them up very much at all! I’m simply working with their own jump timing to “ASSIST” them with the height.
All in all, it is a wonderful invention that has contributed greatly to the progression of figure skating around the world.
Rusty the old hook: zetrules on Flickr.com Creative Commons
Photo of Nick Perna: courtesy of Nick Perna
Harnessing a Star
Hughes works on jumpswhile held by strings
Thursday, October 25, 2001
By John Jeansonne, STAFF CORRESPONDENT
Colorado Springs, Colo. — Think of Pinocchio. As the Olympic
figure-skating season commences tonight with an international field
in the annual Skate America event here, Sarah Hughes has evolved
into a real, live medal contender for February’s Salt Lake
City Winter Games.
trains under direction of Nick Perna,
whose fishing pole and harness keeps the Olympic
medal contender from getting hurt.
But it was just a few months ago that she was rigged up in a harness
with strings extended from a fishingpole- like gizmo being controlled
by a skating coach who appeared to be guiding her around the ice.
That was in late June, with Hughes in the midst of offseason training
that included a session with Virginia-based coach Nick Perna.
At the time, Hughes, a 16-year-old high school junior from Great
Neck North who lives in Kings Point, was diverting from her normal
routine to work on a new jump, the triple axel.
Hughes’ coach, Robin Wagner, had arranged for Perna to spend
the day at Hughes’ training rink, Ice House in
Hackensack. The idea was to allow Hughes to “let go”
on the jump without fear of a heavy fall that could cause injury.
The project was just another of the countless unseen details in
the development of an elite skater. Ballet sessions, weight training,
choreography. Settling on the right music and finding the best outfits.
Lining up skating judges to “monitor” an occasional
practice to get feedback on what does and doesn’t impress
about a routine. Doing photo shoots so that the US Figure Skating
Association would have pictures of Hughes, the bronze medalist at
the March world championships, to be used for event publicity and
Not to mention the drilling, drilling, drilling.
In the big picture of preparation, Hughes’ day working with
Perna was mostly allegory: She was a puppet on
strings. Her Geppetto, Perna, is a former pairs skater who has carved
out a niche in the sport with his unique training device —
which has earned him the moniker, “The Fishing Pole Guy”
— with two-time men’s national
champion Michael Weiss among the users of his harness.
Hughes’ Schedule for 2001-02
| *Trophee Lalique
||Auburn Hills, Mich.
|#Grand Prix Final
|| Kitchener, Ontario
|Nationals (Olympic trials)
Prix series events
# Top six ladies qualify from Grand Prix series
+Made for TV pro-am
"Kids that wear it say they feel like a fish, a dog or a puppet,”
Perna said. “I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I used
to grab the backs of little kids’ sweatshirts and pull it
over their heads when they’d do their axels — holding
them by the scruff of their necks, so to speak. But with that, they
couldn’t really skate into jumps.”
In the process of designing a “handheld suitcase gadget”
in his basement, Perna stumbled onto an ad in a skating magazine
for the Pro Motion Hand-Held Harness — the “fishing
pole” — invented by a Canadian named Jan Glerup and
priced at $500. “I was his first customer,” Perna said.
“It fit exactly what I was trying to do.”
Sasha Cohen, 17, a Californian who hopes to contend along with Hughes
for one of the three Olympic berths for US women, also has been
a Perna puppet. And though the fishing pole thing-a-ma-jig hardly
is the silver bullet for churning out skating champions, it does
represent another small step along the way.
“I hadn’t been on it in about a year,” Hughes
said. With Perna following her around the ice, not more than a couple
of paces away, as she sailed into her jumps, Hughes found herself
doing double takes on her first few tries. “I’m like:
Wait, there’s someone who’s skating with me,”
It reminded her a bit of when she was a small child “and I
used to run away all the time, so at Disney World,
my mom attached something to my wrist. So I’ve been on a leash.”
The fact is that training for this big season has kept her on a
short leash almost constantly. Some mornings she puts in a brief
appearance at school; every morning she rides with Wagner, at least
an hour each way, to her training rink. There are tutoring sessions,
occasional television tapings, interviews and the endless search
for the Great Secret of appealing to judges’ tastes.
Wagner said she spends countless hours at a record store, yet for
Hughes’ new short program being debuted tonight, Wagner chose
Gounod’s “Ave Maria” after hearing the piece wafting
from her husband’s study at home. The entire four-minute program
was to be set to Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe,”
but “the ending is so dark,” Wagner said, that she spliced
in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 at the finish.
Also, Hughes “has new duds but they might not be the final
duds,” Wagner said. She will show off a white,
one-shoulder-uncovered number that Wagner calls “her Greek
Goddess outfit” in the short program, and a “purple-blue,
beaded, sparkly” dress in the long.
“We’ll use this first event as a barometer,” Wagner
said. “And a springboard. We wanted programs that will
present Sarah’s strengths: Her power, fluidity, lines —
her ‘longness.’ She has a gentleness with underlying
power. With the long program, we hope this will mesmerize the audience.
From beginning to end, we want them to hold their breaths, then
go, ‘Wow.’ ” Hughes, after the long training season,
is more than ready to get on with it. “Finally!” she
There are no strings on her.
© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with
permission and www.newsday.com