Thanks to Pilates, I stayed fit and ‘rowing tall’ this spring. In London, Ontario, winter hung on and Mother Nature seemed to ignore the pleas of the Canadian National team rowers that wanted spring to arrive. Along with some freak snow storms in April, the wind was ever present.
Rowing in a pair, I often found myself challenged by these blustery conditions. However, my 15-minute morning Pilates routine helped trigger my core muscles and remind me to fire those tiny stabilizers while rowing in all wind directions.
Obvious to experienced rowers but perhaps not to the neophytes, to set the balance in a pair, both sweep rowers rely on one another to carry their hands on an even plane and limit their side-to-side body and leg movements, which disrupt the equilibrium of the boat. Faced with a strong head or tailwind, both pair rowers will adjust their hands to clear their blades of the waves, but relative to one another, their handle heights should remain similar. But when a side wind is in play, the rules of the game change, and that is precisely when I thank Stott Pilates, the mastermind behind core strength and flexibility!
When the side wind blows, not only do the waves disrupt the glide of my hull (and consequently force me to steer), but my partner and I often differ on our recovery handle height to compensate for the crosswind. With one rower carrying her hands higher and the other lower, it’s very important that the core is strong on an unsteady platform. In such conditions, it seems that the tiny stabilizing muscles of the core are more solicited than the big quadriceps! I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not comfortable to row in a crosswind. Despite years practicing in windy conditions, I sometimes forget to engage my core and resort to the self-correcting method of setting up the boat with my body. My hand height will stay close to neutral, and I will use my body as a lever to lean to port to get to my catch, or sheer in the lower back to get my pivot.
Insert Pilates! Since a back injury in 2007, I have been a devout believer in core strength, especially Pilates. I’m not alone. These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find an endurance athlete that doesn’t have some type of Pilates or yoga regime to complement his or her cardiovascular sport. Pilates is my go-to for addressing my weak core and improving my strength, flexibility and posture while rowing. Being a sweep rower and dealing with a muscular imbalance in the trunk, Pilates certainly also helps my alignment. By supplementing my rowing with both floor Pilates and the Stott Pilates reformer, I’ve been able to rely on a stronger more stable core in windy conditions and hopefully avoid unnecessary injuries.
My devotion to Pilates is, I believe, paying dividends, and as with all things technical, it is a work in progress. Despite my best efforts, I am often reminded to engage the core!