Pilates for winter sports

Whether you’re planning on slithering down the slopes this winter or skating around the winter wonderland whilst visualising your well-deserved mulled wine afterwards, there are lots of way Pilates can help you prepare for getting out there and trying winter sports.

Whatever you end up strapping onto your feet, chances are you’ll be sliding in some way and challenging your balance in ways that you rarely do at other times of the year. Your balance, or lack of it, will very quickly become apparent. Good balance is key to preventing falls and therefore preventing injuries.

The feet are the foundation of the body and act as great shock absorbers. A good skier will use their skis as though they are extensions of the feet and use the muscles around the feet and ankles to stabilise. Where the ankle power is insufficient or the joints are stiff, a skier will tend to rest their shins on the front of their boots, effectively losing this connection with the skis.

Luckily Pilates can help by working through a series of exercises which challenge your balance and improve mobility and stability around the foot and ankle, especially during the warm-up section of a class.

The chains of muscle which start in the ankle, connect via a web of connective tissue all the way up the legs and into the gluteal (bottom) muscles and the abdominals, are where the real power comes from. This core of muscles works closely with mobilising spine and hips, absorbing shocks and preparing for and reacting to changes underfoot. Power and stamina are required in the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thighs, the gluteals and abdominal muscles to prepare for a day out on the slopes/rink/tracks. A Pilates class will always have a focus in on these muscles.

PilatesPlus2013IMG_9642Hip twist for working spinal rotational mobility and stability

Many winter sports demand greater spinal mobility, which is well controlled much more than walking or running do. As your hips rotate on a turn, your torso counters that movement, rotating in the opposite direction. In skiing, the counter-rotation of the torso helps with edge control and provides momentum through a turn. If the spine cannot achieve this counter-rotational movement, it can lead to excessive rotation in another part of the body such as the hips, potentially leading to injuries here. Turns can be more sluggish and again increase the risk of injury. Pilates gently takes the spine to the end range of rotation several times during a class. With repeated practice, this can improve both the range of rotation and the muscles’ support of the movement.

All winter sports require a base fitness level and a week’s cross country skiing, for example, can be a real challenge, especially if a normal week for you involves at least 40 hours of sitting on your gluteals. You will get a little cardiovascular work within your Pilates warm up, but what Pilates really teaches you is how to breathe effectively. This means that when your breathing rate does increase, you are making full use of your lung capacity. It’s also a good idea to add some cardiovascular work to your programme to prepare for the winter season. That way, you’ll get in from a day’s activity and feel ready for a well-deserved stretch of the legs and hot dinner whilst planning the next day, rather than feel exhausted and dreading the next day!

What’s also key in winter sports is confidence. A confident skiier or snowboarder will approach the runs in a completely different way to those who are lacking confidence because they don’t have the balance or strength. A good skier will align their thigh bones with the gradient of the hill and maintain a good upright posture. If a skier lacks confidence, they assume a ‘sitting in the back seat’ posture. This position shortens the front of the body and reduces lung capacity, and overall decreases a skier’s response to changes in the slope. The position also stresses the spine, hips and knees so is definitely best avoided. Once you’ve built that base of balance and controlled mobility in your Pilates class, you can arrive at the slope confident to maintain an optimal posture to get the most out of your trip.

If you are planning a winter sports holiday this year, why not let your instructor know? They will be happy to build in some specific exercises to help you prepare. And the rest of the class will benefit from them too!

Trying a new sport for the first time? You are welcome to book a one to one session in our New Town clinic to help your work on specific issues and improve your balance, strength and mobility to prepare yourself to get the most out of your trip.