Pilates isn't just for yummy mummies... honest!

Here the RYA share exactly why Pilates could actually be the key to improving your windsurfing:

How can pilates improve your windsurfing???

You know that feeling you get when you walk out into cold water, and everything kind of, well, clenches?

Who would have thought the muscles that make that happen – and that stop girls peeing for that matter – would make you a better windsurfer?

Stay with me on this one…..

Boards are starting to come out of hibernation, and windsurfers are thinking about enjoying some quality time back out on the water.

Windsurfing is a seriously physical sport; light winds equal more exerted pumping, while when the breeze is on the focus is more on muscular strength and endurance.

A good aerobic base is really important as injuries happen when you get fatigued. The better your cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength and endurance, the longer you can windsurf without tiring and the less likely you are to pick up injuries.

But many of the actions in windsurfing are the exact opposite to things we do in everyday life and our bodies are asked to get into, and stay in positions, that just aren’t natural for them. And all this is happening on an unstable platform, i.e. moving water and against wind, where balance is never split 50:50 between each leg.

Now back to those ‘clench’ muscles....

[part title="‘Firing the core’"]

‘Firing the core’

Firing the core!

Those ‘clench’ muscles are what are known as the pelvic floor muscles, and along with the transverse abdominis muscles (TVA) – like a corset muscle around the lower back – these muscles make up what are referred to, in Pilates, as the ‘core’.

The core is the central principle of Pilates, and Pilates is very good for windsurfing.

Bonnie Williams is an Isle of Wight-based Pilates instructor who has worked with many sailors and windsurfers on injury prevention and training techniques. She explains why improving core strength can make such a difference to windsurfers.

“The whole ethos of Pilates is centred on stability; being able to hold good, ‘safe’ body positions to avoid putting stress through, and overloading, other joints and muscles that can lead to injuries or make the recovery process slower.

“This comes from having a strong core and Pilates is about making small, deep muscles work that you wouldn’t normally work, and wouldn’t normally hit in the gym. It’s about strengthening and lengthening muscles to provide a solid base from which all other movements can happen as comfortably and safely as possible."

Everything in Pilates is focused around the ‘Neutral Spine’ concept – this is the strongest and safest position for your spine to be in when you’re doing exercise. It means your body is in line and balanced and you won’t pull muscles so easily.

Picture a plumb line hanging from your ear lobe, which runs down alongside the body passed the centre of your shoulder, hip bone, knee finishing level with your ankle bone. If this line hangs straight down then your spine is in optimal alignment.

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The Neutral Spine position isn’t easy for some people to find. Even with your bum and shoulders flat on the floor your back can be arched, or if you do manage to flatten your back, your bum or shoulders can lift off the floor.

Finding and holding the Neutral Spine position involves working the core muscles.

[part title="Why is Pilates good for windsurfing?"]

Why is Pilates good for windsurfing?

Think about some of the positions you adopt on your board. For starters you’re in a half-squat position for much of the time with your arms reaching forwards.

You have to pick the sail out of the water, and depending on what type of windsurfing you are doing, there can be a lot of vigorous movements through your shoulder, elbow, hip and knee joints.

This all creates a lot of pressure on your lower back that if your lower back muscles can’t cope with, leads to you overcompensating with others muscles and joints. This equals increased injury risk while also guaranteeing you will be sore the next day.

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1. Balance – you’re able to hold yourself in the best, correct position for longer, protecting your lower back, and executing any movement through that base. This means less pressure on arms and legs as you’re not heaving through other areas.

2. Strength – the strengthening and lengthening of muscles that happens in a Pilates workout means you’re more likely to be able to use that muscle for longer without it fatiguing.

3. Flexibility – the strengthening and lengthening process through Pilates increases suppleness and reduces the risk of overstretching and helps recovery.

4. Mobility - Pilates involves a lot of controlled, dynamic movements, which aid joint mobility in shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and neck and can help you better execute certain moves on the water.

5. Flow – Pilates classes encourage controlled transitions between movements. Sudden, jerky movements are more likely to lead to injury but if you’re more in control of these movements the less likely you are to hurt yourself.

“People don’t always realise an injury they are suffering from might have its root cause somewhere else in the body," continues Bonnie.

“A lot of knee problems, for example, stem from not having strong gluteal muscles or tight hamstrings. Pilates helps to balance those sorts of issues out, which then contribute to improving all the factors listed above."

[part title="Where To Begin – Bonnie’s Top Tips"]

Where To Begin – Bonnie’s Top Tips

1. Beginners should at least attend some introductory classes to locate their core muscles and master the Neutral Spine alignment.

2. Look for an Pilates instructor who is REPS (Register of Exercise Professionals) registered - www.exerciseregister.org

3. Pilates should be incorporated into a training schedule to compliment cardiovascular and strength and conditioning training not replace.

4. Doing Pilates 2-3 times a week for 30 minutes will have you quickly feeling the benefits. You can practice good posture and engaging your TVA and pelvic floor whilst doing mundane jobs like waiting in a queue or brushing your teeth!

5. Once you’ve mastered the Neutral Spine, there are loads of YouTube videos of Pilates exercises you can practice at home.

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