Spine & Sport: The new face of curling

Curling is a sport that has moved beyond plaid pants and into serious fitness

  • Nov. 16, 2011 7:00 a.m.

Curling. It started in the 16th century in Scotland. And it is becoming an evolving, progressive sport to keep an eye on. Who could have predicted plaid stylish pants and the best looking curling females ever?

Of the 1.5 million curlers worldwide, 80 per cent are Canadians. It is the classic way for Canadians to take advantage of the winter months. The growth and popularity of curling in the last 20 years is amazing. Our youth are as involved as the retired.

Gone are the days of it being a demonstration sport. No longer should debate or banter exist on whether curling is a “sport” or a “game.” An athletic approach to curling is happening. “Fitness” is the new buzz word in curling circles. We now have young, athletic, fit people raising the bar. Players and fans, take note. Curling is moving with the times. As it should. Top curlers are hitting the gym. Kevin Martin works out with a trainer, focusing on balance, core and cardio.

The trend to fitness prompted John Morris, who played third on Martin’s rink, to write a book. Just released this year, it is called Fit to Curl (available online and at some curling clubs). The book has sport-specific training ideas, interval training to help with sweeping, core and leg strength and balance. The book is geared for all levels of curlers, whether you want to make a few more shots on league night or win some bonspiels. The book has great photos, offers advice on nutrition, exercises, team dynamics and the mental aspect of the game. The underlying theme is that being fit can help you enjoy the game even more and play the sport for longer. And not just to help reduce the common ailments of knee and back injuries in the sport. Fitter also means curlers are able to withstand a demanding three-game-a-day schedule, sweep with some strength and endurance and show some balance and core strength on their delivery. As a physiotherapist, if a curler enters my office and wants a few tips on what to focus on for exercises I focus on two aspects of the game.

1) The delivery (flexibility and leg strength needed)

2) Sweeping (core and arm strength needed)

It is difficult to describe exercises in a written article but here is a taste of what I am talking about.

1. Hip Flexor Stretch — visualize the delivery in curling. Notice the back leg. You need flexible hip flexors for this to be an easy position for you, so use a good hip flexor stretch. Stretching before stepping out on the ice is best. This prepares the hip for what you want it to do.

2. Lunges — strong legs are needed to get in and out of a delivery position. Leg strength is also needed to keep upright as you deliver. Quadriceps, hamstrings and butt muscles need to be strengthened using lunges or squats.

3. Core Exercises — brooms and gliders are used to help stabilize curlers during delivery. But most stabilization comes from your own stomach muscles. Core strength is key. There are too many ways to strengthen the core to mention here. Lots of exercise options. Think abdominal crunches, ball exercises, planks etc .

4. Shoulder Strength — we can’t forget the arm muscles. Serious arm strength and stamina is needed in curling. Sweeping for about 100 feet for each of the 80 rocks delivered in a game? Time for some push-ups, curlers! I love push-ups. They target all shoulder muscle groups: one exercise for many muscles.

Sometimes a few exercises specific to your sport is all it takes. A home program can be just as effective as a gym pass to help you prepare for curling. Curling is a workout, so be prepared: fitness and curling go together!

Cheryl Witter is a physiotherapist at North End Spine & Sports Physical Therapy & Massage Therapy in Vernon.