PILATES FOR SKIERS
Updated: Sep 29
Rewind to March 2020 (if we dare…), a strict lockdown here in France (we were allowed just 1km from the house for up to 1 hour per day) combined with homeschooling left me feeling a little “meh” so when a wonderful friend of mine in the UK www.pilates2thecore.co.uk moved her classes online so it seemed like the ideal opportunity to be able to join in (every cloud and all that!) and take a little time for myself…. Normally I am a “sweat it out and get the heart rate going” kind of workout fan but Pilates is a different type of session and I realised that that is a good thing. With a niggling injury rearing its ugly head Pilates seemed to be a good way to help me get back on track in a number of ways and was the perfect addition to my other sports/activities.
So that, as they say, was that and I carried on with my Pilates practice before finding some courses that I could do to become a certified pilates instructor myself. And here I am! Keep an eye on my Instagram page for upcoming pilates workouts and specified exercises to help you get the most out of your next trip to the slopes.
WHAT IS PILATES?
Pilates is a full body workout, a form of low-impact exercise that aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. It strengthens and stabilises your core body, which is your foundation, so that you can move efficiently while improving your posture, flexibility, and mobility. Usually known for working the core, we must remember that the core includes the entire trunk (the abdominals, the hips, the inner and outer thighs, and the back) and most workouts will include specific moves to engage areas like your arms, glutes, and lower legs.
Pilates focusses on the deeper core muscles. During a pilates class you will be engaging your deep core muscles at all times, no matter the exercise or which other muscle groups are working with a focus on maintaining your breathing while holding the core tight.
Not generally associated as being a sweaty workout, it is generally a slower paced session that gives more time to focus on correct form to help alignment & proprioreception. Proprioreception is knowing where your body is in space without having to look at it. By concentrating on just one or two movements in each exercise we have time to bring our focus to different parts of the body and where they are in space thus increasing our body awareness.
PILATES & SKIING
Pilates will help with balance, strength, coordination, proprioreception and much, much more all of which will be of benefit next time you hit the slopes.
Core strength & stability
Although pilates is no match to specific strength training for building muscle it is is perfect for strengthening the obliques, abdominals and those all-important deep stabilising muscles. Developing a strong and stable core and centre is crucial to pilates. The core is the “powerhouse” of the body helping our balance. Core strength is the No. 1 most important thing because that’s where the control comes from as you ski. You have to be able to react really quickly to get back on track if things start to go wrong and to adapt to the ever changing terrain. For skiing it is important to try and work around the entire core, not just the “six pack” but also the deep abdominal muscles, which hold you upright and support dynamic movement. And the “core” does not just encompass the abdominal muscles but also includes the entire trunk (the abdominals, the hips, the inner and outer thighs, and the back) and most workouts will include moves specifically meant to engage areas like your arms, glutes, and lower legs.
Flexibility & mobility
The ability to move the body in the way you want without getting “stuck” or stiffening up is important in all aspects of day-to-day life. When skiing it helps if (when!) you fall to decrease the risk of injury if joints and muscles are a little more malleable.
In ski lessons you have probably been told to to face down the mountain at all times with your upper body. This requires you to dissociate your upper & lower body to achieve those perfect turns. This rotational separation requires a flexible spine and the ability to rotate at the thoracic spine.
Keeping body well aligned will help prevent injury (see post on injury prevention here).
Pilates teaches stability of the pelvis and neutral spine during dynamic exercises. Finding a neutral spine and maintaining it during the skiing motion is important because either sticking your bum out or tucking it under can prevent the muscles at the hips and pelvis from activating.
This is bad news for skiers as the side to side action of the hips during skiing requires strong lateral hip muscles. In particular, the side glutes – muscles which are often neglected – need to be functioning optimally. Luckily, Pilates moves like the side-lying leg series are ideal to target these muscles.
Proper alignment of the lower body is also essential for skiers. Knees need to be positioned centrally over feet. Again, Pilates is the perfect choice for skiers looking to work on their form. All Pilates exercises are designed to improve alignment, and many specifically focus on the relationship between the foot, ankle and hip.
Another plus of working on your alignment and form through Pilates is that doing so will make you a more efficient skier. This means you’ll feel less fatigued during your holiday and help you avoid any tiredness-related ski injuries.
Muscles imbalances are common in sport. And skiing is no different; the squat-stance involved in this sport means that it is quad-dominant. But Pilates exercises can help fix this by strengthening other muscle groups to rebalance the body thus helping to protect the lower back and vulnerable knee ligaments and reducing the risk of injury.
Pilates also includes a lot of single leg work, which is great for skiers who need to have equally strong and stable legs to manoeuvre both skis evenly. We can work on unilateral balance and one legged exercises for both strength and balance, which is important to even out any strength discrepancies that can occur between the legs. By working legs one at a time there is no chance that a weaker leg can compensate for a stronger one.
Proprioreception is knowing where your body is in space without having to look at it. You just don’t have time to look as you fly down the slopes. By concentrating on just one or two relatively small movements in each exercise we have time to bring our focus to that part of the body and where it is in space thus increasing our unconscious awareness which will help on the slopes.
Pilates complements every other fitness endeavour because it prepares your body to move better in every way. During a pilates session we can try to mimic the instability that is felt as a cause of the differing terrain and snow surface by introducing props, such as a pilates small ball or Swiss ball, thus increasing the core engagement whilst working other muscles at the same time - killing two birds with one stone!
Pilates has progression at it's heart. Quality movements over quantity of reps is the key. The intensity of each exercise can be ramped up as you progress as well as the number of reps. And the complexity of a move can also increase by adding variations and using, for example, arms & legs in a single move both of which are excellent for honinig your coordination.
All the above will also help reduce injury rates!
Core strength will help you recover your balance in the event of a mishap.
Stronger muscles, particularly in the legs, will help increase stability around the vulnerable knee joints.
Greater flexibility will help if/when you fall and to maintain good form while skiing.
Reduced discrepancies between strength in each leg & different muscle groups will help ensure that both legs & all muscles are working efficiently meaning that no one leg or muscle group is trying to compensate for any weaknesses. If any compensations are made this will affect posture & alignment.
The use of props can enhance the exercises and increase control, balance and stability.
Props would include Pilates ball, loop band, magic circle, long foam roller and Swiss ball.
All have a place within skiing
Relaxation - we need to be able to relax as we ski to avoid rigidity & movements that are forced rather than matching the terrain.
Concentration - bringing a focus to what you are doing rather than going on to autopilot. By concentrating on your movements you will ensure you perform them more effectively helping you feel more relaxed & flowing.
Control - to have control one must maintain proper form, alignment and continued effort during each movement exercise and transition.
Breathing - obviously rather important in all aspects of life! Efficient breathing will provide your body with enough oxygen to perform properly and increase stamina for those longer ski runs. By learning to breathe in an efficient and consistent way in Pilates we match the breath to the movement which will help us make flowing rather than jerky movements and transitions.
Centring - pilates exercises generally start in the core and radiate outwards. Developing a strong and stable core and centre is crucial to pilates. The core is the “powerhouse” of the body helping our balance and core strength is the No. 1 most important thing because that’s where the control comes from as you ski.
Coordination - as well as the coordination of breathing and movement in pilates there is also the fact that as exercises become more advanced we often bring in both arms & legs and, in this way, we can challenge our coordination. In addition, as we progress we start to increase the pace of the exercises thus continually challenging our coordination. The coordination of movements and body parts, which are doing different things, is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of training for skiing.
Stamina - increasing the amount of repetitions and the speed of the exercises as you progress through your pilates practice will help increase stamina for pilates and other sports.
Flow - pilates is done with rhythm and flow with one movement transitioning smoothly into the next and matching your breathing, something we should definitely be trying to do when skiing.
Precision - the ability to do the exercises with optimum alignment, unconscious control and just the right amount of effort will increase body awareness & the knowledge of what the body is doing/where it is in space. We want to be precise in our movements when skiing, as we all know that one small slip up can bring the house down!
Adding pilates into your movement routine will strengthen your core, glutes, hamstrings, and back body while also creating stability and mobility within the body. This will prepare you for those unexpected movements you might experience when doing an activity like skiing. Pilates will also help you see where you might be weaker in your body and help to provide strength in those areas where you might be weak or tight, building a strong foundation for your favourite winter sport!
Pilates is a wonderful full body workout that has a very real place as a complement to other exercise programmes when preparing for your ski trip…
Improve mobility and flexibility
Improve alignment and posture
Reduce effects of fatigue
Reduce the risk of injury
Combining Pilates with strength training, cardio fitness/endurance and some plyometrics will help ensure all bases are covered and you are ready to hit the slopes this winter.
So keep an eye on my Instagram page for some routines and specific exercises to get you ski ready!
This blog post may offer health & fitness information which is designed for educational purposes only. The information in this post is not meant as an alternative to seeking professional medical or training advice. Please know that performing any exercise or programme is solely at your own risk. If you are new to exercise or planning to embark on a new fitness programme you should seek professional face-to-face advice to tailor any programme to your own specific requirements.