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What is the Difference Between Roller Skates and Roller Blades?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 23, 2024
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The biggest difference between roller skates and roller blades is the way in which the wheels are aligned on each. Both are essentially shoes that allow users to roll. Roller skates generally have four wheels arranged in a rectangular pattern, with two in the front and two in the back, as they would be in a car. Blades, on the other hand, have anywhere from three to five wheels arranged in a single row in a way that often resembles an ice skate. There also tend to be differences when it comes to why people choose one over the other. In many cases skates are seen more as a recreational tool while blades may be viewed as a more serious piece of athletic equipment. Skiers and ice skaters may use roller blades as a means of training and exercise in the warmer months, for instance, but skates wouldn’t provide the same experience.

Wheel Alignment and Basic Style

In most cases, roller skates are essentially shoes with four wheels attached in two rows on the sole. Some skates have stylized appearances, but traditionally they are built in much the way that a regular athletic shoe would be. They may have some ankle support, but are typically made of cloth. Most lace up with regular shoelaces.

Roller blades, which may also be called “inline skates,” tend to be built differently. Here wheels are generally aligned in the middle of the foot, from the heel to the toe, in a straight line. The shoe itself is often much sturdier, too, often making use of plastic clasps and bindings. It’s often the case that roller blades resemble downhill ski boots more than they do shoes, and intense ankle supports and stability aids are usually standard.

Balance and Stopping

Roller skaters typically don’t have to think much about balance, since the shoes are more or less stable on their own. Getting the hang of rolling can take some practice, but in many cases even young children can quickly take to skating thanks to the stability of the wheel alignment. The same isn’t usually true with blades. Balancing on a single line of wheels often takes a great deal of agility, and some degree of skill.

Another difference between roller skates and roller blades is the stoppers and braking mechanisms. Roller skate stoppers tend to be round and are positioned on the front of the shoe at the toe. Using them requires skaters to raise their heels and tip their toes forward to stop. Blade stoppers are rectangular and are generally positioned at the rear of the skate near the heel. To stop on roller blades, the wearer simply has to do the opposite action as is required on skates, namely lift the toes and slant the heel into the ground until the stopper meets the surface.

Not all roller blades have stoppers, though. This is particularly true of models designed for serious athletes. In these cases wearers simply have to stop on their own, usually by bringing the feet together into a wedge and naturally slowing down, the same way one would on ice skates.

Primary Objectives

Both skates and blades are often used for recreation, but skates are often seen as more casual — which is to say they’re often used just for fun — while blades are more often used by people looking for a more serious workout. The alignment of inline wheels usually makes it possible to reach greater speeds and the type of movement needed for balance often encourages the use of several different muscle groups, too. People sometimes roller blade along running trails or bike paths as a way to get exercise and cover a lot of distance. Skates are more common in indoor roller rinks or skate parks, or may be worn on sidewalks as a leisurely way of getting from one place to the next. Both types are considered by many experts to be good aerobic exercise tools, though the intensity does tend to vary a lot.


Roller skates and roller blades also have different histories. Skates were very popular with children in the 1970s, and were cultural phenomenon in alternative areas like roller rinks and roller derbies for the more extreme. They were first patented in 1760 in Europe, and today’s form was first devised in 1863.

Roller blades were first developed out of the roller skate design in the 1980s, primarily as a substitute training method for ice skating. They became popular in the 1980s and 1990s with the marketing of the Rollerblade® brand of inline skates. Roller blades have helped to increase the popularity of roller hockey, freestyle slalom skating, and speed skating.

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Discussion Comments
By anon263005 — On Apr 22, 2012

I have learned to roller skate, but I realized when on the road it's way too bumpy to skate. So will it take the same skill to rollerblade as it did to roller skate?

By surfNturf — On Dec 25, 2010

Suntan12-I used to rollerblade and I have to say that it is great exercise especially for the legs and hips.

The nice thing is that you don’t even realize the calories that you are burning until you stop. Your legs get in great shape fast.

The best thing to do is to look for rollerblades or roller skates on sale.

Stores like Sports Authority have them all of the time. The nice thing about that store is that the staff members can help you select the best pair for you and they can also help you with the fit of the skates.

The fit is probably the most important aspect of the skates because if you are not comfortable you won’t be able to skate well.

If you don’t skate well after a while you will become frustrated and lose interest. So it is best to get the right pair from the onset so that you can enjoy the outdoors and get great exercise as well.

By suntan12 — On Dec 24, 2010

Good roller skates are easier to balance with than roller blades. Roller blades have one straight line down the middle with four or five wheels on it.

If you are buying new roller skates, it is best to get some practice in a roller rink so that you are comfortable skating.

It takes time to get used to skating, but once you do you never forget. Adult roller skates will cost about $50 and up, but before you buy your new roller skates you might want to get some lessons at the rink.

Most skating rinks offer skating lessons for those that are uncomfortable skating.

Once you had some exposure then you can ask the trainer what roller skates to buy. Outside roller skates will be the same as inside roller skates.

For outside use you may have to buy a knee pad, an elbow pad and a helmet in case that you fall. Razor skates are a great brand and they also make scooters. Most toy stores carry this brand of roller skates for sale for children.

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