By Abbi Seward, M.S – Providence, RI
What could be better than fresh air, fun on the snow with friends? Sounds great, right? Unless all your muscles hurt that night. That kind of kills the thrill. If you’ve practiced Pilates you may stay out on the slopes for hours and out ski your buddies! There is even a move called ‘moguls’! Joe Pilates, German by birth, was a skier, too. If it worked for him almost a hundred years ago on basically straight boards, think how the exercise has advanced, add new ski technology and you’re going to rip! Olympic downhill skier, Julia Mancuso does and she is practices Pilates and has been known to do so with her ski boots on!! Go Julia!! Free style skier Emily Cook is another Olympian with Pilates as part of her workout. If the best of the best know something the rest of us can follow their lead!
Way back when I started my practice of Pilates to help my sailboat racing. And it did, but that’s a summer article. No one mentioned what it would do for my winter love of skiing. Pilates has definitely improved my style, my stamina, prevented injuries and kept me pain free. So skier, what have you done to prepare and improve your on the snow fitness?
Pilates is for everyone and skiers can benefit. The work starts with the core, what we refer to the powerhouse. A Pilates program is going to set you up to stabilize and accept the shocks that come with the sport. Pilates recruits all the abdominal muscles, starting inside on the transverse, to the obliques and the rectus (aka ‘six pack’) on the front surface to stabilize you on the hill. If your core isn’t activated, you can end up in the ‘back seat’ with the skis scooting out in front of you, out of control. The Pilates work done helps keep you tall, upright and over the center of your skis, in balance and in control.
This ‘core’ is only the start of the stabilization. We then move to the ‘secondary’ powerhouse including the back and shoulder muscles. Pilates trains all these to work in tandem and the total powerhouse is your base of support. The work creates a balanced body with muscle recruitment from many points. We work on a collection of equipment including the Reformer, the Chair, the Cadillac and the Mat which is more familiar to most, as it is seen in health clubs. With all this we incorporate planks, lunges, bridges and much more. We start creating stability in one plane of motion and move into multiple plane work, which is what skiing involves.
Skiing isn’t a static sport and legs need to be strong, lively and have a good range of motion. If you’ve ever felt quad burn, you know skiing is quadricep dominated. Pilates work brings the hamstrings into play creating balance, and support for the knees. We tell students to hug the midline; doing so engages the adductors, also keeping the skier over the skis, in balance and able to recover from a caught edge or those mystery ‘snow snakes’ that grab when you least expect them! The hips flex, the knees bend, all tracking forward in strength, control and balance.
The foundation principles of Pilates include centering, control and concentration. All necessary on the ski slopes. Another principle is stabilization. From the shoulders to the pelvis, while the core is stabilized, the lower body can work in independent motion. The hips can flex, open and move independently of the upper body. The inner thighs will be strong enough to hold you up when the terrain changes. You’re going to be more in control, key for the weekend skier avoiding the yahoos running downhill full speed in a snow plow! You’ll be using your hips more freely to initiate turns or quick life-saving stops. You’re going to fall less as your strong core is going to let you stabilize and adapt to changes in the pitch of the hill or uneven surfaces. You’ll be more in tune with your body.
All good, right? I’m stronger now than I ever was on the slopes, and that includes decades of weight lifting. I’m balanced, side to side and front to back. I’m using my hips to take me through turns, moving independently of my upper torso following the hill. My hamstrings are strong to balance the quad heavy ski positions. My balanced body is strong enough to stop falls before they take me down. I can ski for hours with the cold more likely to drive me in than exhaustion. A real change from the days before I discovered Pilates. How about you?
Abbi Seward, M.S. teaches Pilates at Providence Pilates Center. She is a Comprehensive Equipment Certified Instructor with Power Pilates and holds a specialty from the Pink Ribbon Program, providing specialized work for breast cancer survivors. Abbi is also a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and has been teaching fitness for more than 20 years.