Pilates series 3# on improving stability

Wendy Davies suggests three great exercises to help you generate more power per stroke


(c) Iain Weir

If you’ve been doing the basic Pilates exercises from the first two posts, you should now be able to isolate and switch on your deep postural abdominal muscles and stabilise your body. We’re now going to transfer this ability to exercises that are more focused on rowing technique.

For optimum rowing technique, you need to be able to:

  • Control the rotation of your thorax (mid-section), while keeping your pelvis stable.
  • Control segmental movement of your lumbar (lower) spine.
  • Keep your hamstrings flexible, while maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Combine these to create a smooth, flowing movement in the boat or on the rowing machine

These three exercises will help you achieve this. We’ll be using a Swiss ball (stability ball) as this enables you to activate more stabilising muscles without increasing the load on your body. The best size of stability ball for most rowers is 75cm in diameter.

It is very easy to ‘cheat’ by recruiting other muscles in order to do the specified move

You can also do these exercises using a ‘Sitfit’ (stability cushion) on an ergo. Sit in the catch position with feet fixed and perform the arm movements alone. You can make it more challenging by slowly lifting one foot from the ergo shoe and then performing the arm movements. Replace, and repeat with the other foot.

You should work through these exercises as a ladder – make sure you have perfected one exercise before moving on to the next.

Wendy Davies

Wendy Davies has over 20 years working with rowers and elite sportspeople, including at five Olympic Games, three Commonwealth Games and many training camps and World Championships.

Why do these exercises?

They will help to keep your spine and ribs injury free. They’ll also help ensure that all your energy is directed to the stroke, so making the boat go faster!

Exercise basics

Pilates exercises should be done at 30-40% of maximum muscle contraction. Remember to keep breathing normally throughout.
Exercise 1: A graphic explaining a pilates exercise. There is a photograph of a man sitting on an exercise ball. His point outwards horizontally, with the legs bent. One foot is touching the floor, and the other is slightly raised. Step 1: Sit on the stability ball and fold your arms across your chest, or straighten them out at chest level. Step 2: Check that your spine is in neutral. Step 3: Maintain a neutral spine while you slowly peel one foot off the floor and lower it again. If this is too challenging to begin with, just lift the heel – you can progress to the full version as you get stronger. Step 4: Repeat with the other foot. Alternate your feet for 20 reps in total. You can increase this as you improve.

A graphic explaining two pilates exercises. There is a photograph of a man sitting on an exercise ball. His arms point outwards horizontally and are turned to a 45-degree angle away from his body. His legs are bent; one foot is touching the floor, and the other is slightly raised. Exercise 2: This progresses the first exercise by introducing activation of the oblique abdominals – the deep muscle at the side of the transverse abdominals. Step 1: Raise the leg as above. Step 2: Slowly take one arm at a time out to the side – remember to maintain that neutral spine, and keep your pelvis and upper body still. Perform alternate arm movements for 20 reps, then repeat. Exercise 3: Step 1: Start as in exercises 1 and 2, and lift one foot off the ground. Step 2: Reach your arms straight out in front of you and clasp your hands together. Step 3: Keeping your pelvis still, slowly rotate your upper body, head and arms to the left, and then to the right. Do 10 reps, pause and repeat.

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