After a nasty crash in the final race of the 2003 World Cup season, Caroline Lalive's body was in shambles: Two torn knee ligaments, broken ribs, and a concussion. She was too scared to step back into her bindings. The seven-year ski team veteran and two-time Olympian knew she needed to give her training a facelift if she wanted to make a comeback in 2004, so she turned to Wendy Puckett, co-owner of Steamboat Pilates, for a stringent core workout and a much-needed mental break. By October, she was back racking up points at the World Cup opener in Solden, Austria.
If you think Pilates means strapping yourself onto a sliding metal contraption that resembles a mobile hospital bed, think again. You've got to start simple. "One of the best things about Pilates is you can do it anywhere with just a little floor space, says Lalive. It's true that many of the following exercises look suspiciously like the squats and crunches you've been doing for years in the weight room. What's different, however, is that while strengthening the smaller muscles in your lower body, Pilates also focuses on activating the core—abs, back, and torso. "Most skiers overtax their big muscles because they haven't learned how to use their core muscles, says Lalive. "If your core is weak, your upper body will keep collapsing—and that's not just inefficient, it's dangerous.
The training technique—developed by a German exercise guru, Joseph Pilates—combines yoga's control of movement with weight lifting's burn to sharpen the body's kinesthetic awareness and increase strength. "Pilates consists of fluid movements that are really functional for skiers. It builds your muscles by elongating them so you get a much greater range of strength, says Puckett. By combining the two training philosophies, you end up tapping into the stabilizing muscles your body uses when you're skiing uneven terrain. "When you're going downhill at 60 to 80 miles per hour and something knocks you off-balance, it's important to keep your composure. Pilates helps you find that body position, says Lalive.
Doing Pilates not only helped Lalive regain her high level of fitness, it pushed her past previous limits. "Pilates has really increased my confidence. I'm stronger and more aware of my movements, she says. To get the same result, Puckett warns you to resist the urge to crank out the moves in record time. Instead, perform them in a deliberate, controlled tempo. Says Lalive, "You'll know you're doing them right when you start to shake.
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