My PT for core stabilization, flexibility, hip strength

by Mary on January 10, 2016

I read in Skating Magazine that you should become strong for skating, not skate to become strong. That’s advice I’ve ignored until I got injured and had to make up for it off-ice. I once heard a skater’s comment that seems more and more true to me; “I skate because I don’t like going to the gym. But I have to go to the gym because I skate.”

I’ve been working hard on PT to help my knees and ankles. I got a referral at the UFSA Adult Figure Skating Championships last spring. USFSA has a fitness program for its athletes called S.T.A.R.S, and its director gave us a talk about periodization. Afterward I asked him for advice about my hypermobility, which makes it hard for me to stabilize my joints and easy to get to overuse injuries.

He recommended a PT in my area who sometimes works with USFS athletes. I was lucky to have several appointments with him before he stopped doing clinic work. He gave me some skating-specific exercises, like eye exercises to help with tracking for skating rotations, and some more general advice. Now he’s moved on to other things: recently he provided PT for the US skaters at the NHK trophy. What an amazing opportunity, wouldn’t it have been great to watch Yuzuru Hanyu at that event?

This PT thought my glutes were pretty underdeveloped compared to the rest of my legs, not what you want in a skater. He found my hips to be extremely flexible and weak in rotation. He recommended an SI belt for support until I could work up their strength. This PT practice emphasizes core stabilization and he gave me detailed handouts on strengthening the multifidi muscles of the back, the transverse abdominus, and the pelvic floor. He identified a rib flare postural problem and gave me 90/90 PRI breathing with a ball and balloon to help (you can do it without the balloon).

I’ve done PT in the past to work on my knee tracking. I hope I’ve learned my lesson that I can’t slack off on my exercises for hip strength. The first time I didn’t do those picky little exercises like clamshells properly and when I went back to my sports medicine doctor my hips were still weak. Grr. I had to do a second round with a different PT who kept a close watch on me instead of handing me off to an untrained assistant (lesson learned, don’t let them do that to you). My hips were improved but still not great, and now, a few years later, they are weak again.

I took a break from PT and have now found a new one. She tells me I’ve made some gains but I know I still have work to do. My ankles feel better and my gait is improved, but jumping still causes knee pain afterward.

My list of exercises keeps changing. For a long time I had clamshells, simple side-lying hip extensions, and Sahrmann bent knee fall-outs on a foam roller, but those have been cut. Below is what I have for now. I was doing them all on some days though that takes an exorbitant amount of time. Now I do some of the exercises on most days. Here’s the list:

90/90 PRI breathing (I often skip this).

Dead bug on a foam roller, arm reaches to opposite leg (bent at the knee with foot on floor, other leg straight). Keep posture, press low back into foam roller, don’t let chest arch.

Bridge with march step.

Sidelying H & I– this is a hip raise with supporting leg bent at the knee and heel pressed into the ground. Raised leg goes up straight, then very slowly reaches in a straight line to the front, then the back. It goes slowly down either in the middle or the back (back is harder). Keep multifidus muscles and glute on the whole time. Hips stacked, don’t arch back or chest or overuse larger back muscles.

Bridge and roll (bridge with hip lifting on one side only, other leg remains straight on floor). Activate glutes and muscles on the outside of the leg which is lifting hip, almost feels like a clamshell on that side.

Foam rolling/massage tools. Snow angel stretch on foam roller. 

Leg stretches: Achilles (green strap, stairs, against wall), quad stretch.

Toe extension: strengthening each individual toe against resistance, using tiny stretchy tube looped around toe. This seems silly and takes a lot of time, but has gotten results for my gait. Plantar fascia massage with ball.

Band workout for feet/ankles: Dorsiflexion, eversion, combined up and out.

Single leg stance on foam balance pad, also with rotating free hip in and out.

There’s no doubt this workout really gets my glutes. I dare you to try this and tell me how your hips feel afterward. I’d better see some more gains!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo January 10, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Mary, I feel your pain (or something comparable). Your post inspires me to write up a post on my off-ice routine (which I did well over a year ago, but it certainly has changed). I will share that when I do. It seems like we have some of the same issues and do the same kinds of exercises. I have started doing this “heel slide” instead of clamshells, and feel like they are doing more for me. You are certainly right that finding the right PT makes all the difference. Injury just reinforced that I should have been doing this all along!
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mary January 10, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Cool, looking forward to reading that. We do have a lot of the same issues. I’ve had that P-T tendonitis you are dealing with now. I think tendonitis of the ankles and feet is pretty common among our sort, my sports medicine doctor told me he had a lot of dancers with it and I know of other skaters who’ve had it too. As far as the glutes, it’s weird that skating is supposed to give you buns of steel and yet sometimes, it doesn’t. In my case I have huge quads instead. I have more to say on this topic, perhaps another post will be in the works sometime.


Jo January 13, 2016 at 12:44 am

Here’s my post on off-ice exercises:
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Eva January 11, 2016 at 1:59 am

How cool that you got a referral from the STARS combine. I did that at ANs in Boston two years ago and found it eye opening. I could probably do more exercises to improve my strength for skating since I seem to keep injuring myself.
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mary January 12, 2016 at 3:06 am

Sorry about your injuries, I hope you will not have any to deal with this year. Yes, I was happy to get that referral. On the one hand I wish I’d made more use of it while that PT was available, but on the other hand at least I got the referral and made the effort to see the guy, it was an eye-opener.


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