Back in November, when we were working on Pilates Equipment Circuit Classes, we had the chance to talk at length with Margy Verba, who runs FlowMotion Pilates in Bishop, California, and discovered that she had worked with members of the 2006 U.S. Olympic ski team. In the spirit of Vancouver 2010 Olympic fever, we invited her to share a behind-the-scenes look at the Pilates program she designed for skiers training for the 2006 Winter games in Torino.
By Margy Verba
In the spring of 2005, I was pondering the next step in my Pilates career. I had been working in the mountain resort town of Mammoth Lakes, California, and was in between studios. Then I got a very interesting call. Both the men’s and women’s U.S. ski teams were coming to do some training at Mammoth Mountain: Did I have time to work with them? Could I start the following week? After reflecting for about half a second, I accepted. I had already put together a Pilates program for skiers—when you work in a ski town, most of your clients are skiers, after all.
Because the teams travel with quite the entourage of coaches and athletic trainers, my first step was to interview them to find out how much time I would have with the athletes, and what they were hoping to get out of their Pilates training. After meeting with a few of the trainers, I came to understand that I would be working within the following constraints:
- I would only get about five sessions with each team
- Pilates was going to be a small piece of a structured training program designed by high-level scientists
- The teams’ trainers were looking for a program to take on the road, so I needed to come up with something portable—I decided to stick to mat and foam rollers.
I explained that in Pilates we work from the inside out, and that I first teach the subtleties of core stabilization, disassociation, and sequential use of the spine. I was informed that the women might be willing go into those subtleties with me, but that the men needed to “feel the burn” or I would lose their attention.
Based on the information I had, and with both goals and constraints in mind, I developed a program with an accompanying handout describing the exercises. This handout allowed them to take the program on the road. It also allowed me to slip in a few more subtle points, such as “Never do a 10 lb. effort for a 5 lb. movement.” In order to have some scheduling flexibility within their structured training program, I offered 15-minute, 30-minute and 60-minute routines. My portable mat program for the skiers included general performance-enhancer exercises as well as sport-specific exercises. To gain credibility, I also threw in a few exercises like Teaser and Side Plank Leg Kicks, that I, a nearly 50-year-old woman with graying hair could easily do, that would be a big challenge for them—exercises which require more core control than brute strength from big outer muscles.
I imagine my strategy worked. I did manage to get them to tune into some of the subtle aspects of Pilates. And, despite the trainers’ warnings about losing the male athletes’ attention, I had more men than women asking me to check their neutral spine and make sure they weren’t over-recruiting big outer muscles. Soon enough, the team moved on from Mammoth Lakes. I did hear from the head trainer that the foundation I provided served them well. And in Torino the following year, two of the skiers I worked with, Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso, even won gold.
Following is a sampling of exercises I included in each category:
Basic Performance-Enhancing Exercises
- Wake Up the Core – Lie down on back with knees bent, pretend feet are buried in concrete and try to lift.
- Spinal Mobility Warm-up – Roll down and up the wall one vertebra at a time.
- Breathing into the ribcage – Increases volume in the thoracic cavity to enhance oxygen intake.
Ski Performance Enhancement Exercises
- Tick-Tock – Controlled contralateral rotation between the ribcage and pelvis. Supine, arms go to one side and legs to the other.
- Scissors and Bicycle on the roller – Promotes disassociation and range of motion of the hip joint. Skiers especially need to disassociate at the hip joint to allow the hips to act as shock absorbers. (The roller is used to simulate spine corrector versions of these exercises.)
Exercises Addressing Skier-Specific Imbalances
- Swan Dive on the roller – Ski racers wear a back protector which locks their spine in a flexed position, so I wanted to introduce extension. (This simulates Swan on the Cadillac using the Push-Through bar).
- Side Arm Twist on the roller – This exercises addresses both contralateral rotation as well as extension. (This simulates Side Arm Twist on the Wunda Chair.)
- Self-Mobilization of the Foot – (From my training with Madeline Black) Skiers spend a lot of time in rigid ski boots, so this is very helpful.
Challenging Exercises to Keep Athletes’ Attention
- Teaser, with variations – Hold Teaser position; Lower and lift legs without moving torso; Lower and lift torso without moving legs
- One-Arm Teaser on the roller
- Side Plank Leg Kicks – (This one really got their attention!)
- Long Stretch on the roller– simulates Long Stretch on the Reformer
- Upstretch on the roller–simulates Upstretch on the Reformer
Have you worked with Olympic athletes before? Do you know about a Pilates training regimen for another Olympic sport? Share in the comments section below!
Margy Verba is a Pilates Method Alliance Gold Certified Instructor. Her studio, FlowMotion Pilates, is located in Bishop, California. For more information on the program, feel free to contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.