This article is from the Recreational Figure Skating FAQ, by Karen Bryden with numerous contributions by others.
The Axel can be a difficult jump to learn. Although mastering this
jump will inevitably take some time and quite a few falls, there are
several skills and exercises which can be used as stepping stones for
the Axel. Practicing them will provide you with some ingrained
knowledge of the correct technique for the different phases of the
jump and reduce the risk of injuries resulting from clumsy attempts.
1. Waltz jump: Having a strong confident waltz jump is an important
requirement for the Axel. Practice waltz jumps making sure that
you adopt the proper Axel take off position.
2. Waltz-loop combination: Doing a loop (or better, a loop-loop)
after the Waltz jump practices control of the free leg and hip and
also helps with the concept of weight transfer to a new rotation
3. Backspin: Practice as many backspins as possible. A particularly
useful exercise consists in snapping into a fast backspin from a
standstill (by quickly pulling in your arms and crossing your legs
at the ankle. This exercise simulates getting into the flight
position and fast rotation in the Axel and multi-revolution jumps.
Doing the backspin off the landing of a waltz jump is also a good
4. Step-up: From a standstill or a one-foot forwards glide, step onto
the take-off leg and practice the step-up into the Axel: swing
your arms forwards until they are extended in front of you and
drive your free knee upwards to hip height or higher and you roll
up onto the toepick of the jumping leg. When you are comfortable
with the step-up, try adding a fast backspin as you touch down
with the landing leg.