Curling Fitness Tip: My 4 Favourite Exercises for Powerful Sweeping

Ever wonder how hardcore competitive curlers train for their sport? Have you thought, “If I tried to sweep like that, I’d face plant!?” Or, “I could never be as strong as them”? You are not alone with these thoughts, but sweeping with strength shouldn’t belong to the elite or youth. A balanced training plan that includes some strength training, cardiovascular training and flexibility training can help improve your overall fitness, and have a positive affect on your curling game (see Top 8 reasons why you and your team need to train for curling). Below I’ve listed my 4 favourite exercises to train for “hardcore sweeping”–and yes! They are simple, accessible, and the variations are for everyone.

Before I get into my favourites, let’s talk about the facts and theories behind why I chose each exercise because of what sweeping does to the ice, and how that affects the rock. Many curlers and researchers have studied how to be the most effective sweeper. There are many ideas out there, but my favourite theory is one that applies Newtons second law; the relationship between an objects mass, acceleration and applied force is:

Force = Mass x Acceleration

In terms of sweeping, this translates into:

Mass (what percentage of your weight you can exert over the brush head)

X  Acceleration (How fast you can sweep back and forth)

 = Force (how much pressure you can exert into the ice over a period of time)

Try this experiment: First, rub your hands together as fast as you possibly can for 10 seconds. Next, try to press your hands together as hard as you can and rub them back and forth for 10 seconds. Which exercise created more “heat” and made your hands warmer? The answer should be that the faster you rubbed your hands together, the warmer they got. The goal of efficient sweeping is to find the sweet spot between maximum speed and pressure onto the ice.

In theory, if you can exert more force onto the ice as you sweep, you will “heat the ice” enough for the rock to “slide further and straighter”. (Yes, I realize there are many theories and scientific discoveries, but I think this one is the simplest explanation/idea, and works for the article).

Now remember, there are two parts to the sweeping action:

The push, and the pull.

Your push is usually quicker, and applies more force downwards onto the ice, whereas your pull is a little slower (if you are trying to lean into your broom), because sometimes you may have to ease off the pressure in order to help pull the broom back fast enough.

The following exercises are designed to train the muscles and the energy systems to maximize your push (and especially) your pull, while helping support your upper body in getting into the proper sweeping position.

*Note: Click on the word of each exercise to find a description video.

1.  Mountain Climbers 

Why: The secret to powerful sweeping lies in your core, and its ability to maintain stability during movement. If your core isn’t strong enough to hold you up as you slide or shuffle down the ice, you won’t be able to get into and hold the proper sweeping position. Mountain climbers combine the plank exercise (honourable mention), while forcing your body to remain stable as your limbs move. Add in a pushup (another honourable mention) or two once and awhile and you’ve got an exercise that mimics sweeping!

Muscles worked: Deltoids, triceps, pectorals, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, transverse abdominals, rectus abdominus, adductors, gluteals, quadriceps and hip flexors.

How:

  • Begin in a pushup plank position, keeping your core tight, glutes tight, legs tight, and your chin tucked.
  • You should be able to rest a glass of water on your back without spilling throughout the exercise.
  • Slowly and one at a time bring your knees to your chest and return that foot to its starting plank position.
  • Keep your body tight, go slow, and resist any rocking movements at the hips.

2. Bent Over Rows 

Why: Think back to the last time you had to sweep, you’ll remember that it’s easier to put pressure downwards because your body helps slide the broom away. Once you try to pull the broom back towards you, you might have to take pressure off of the broomhead, and transfer it to your feet (thus decreasing the amount of force you can exert –and ultimately how effective of a sweeper you are). Now, imagine if you could strengthen the muscles that help pull your arms backwards, and as a result you can maintain almost the same amount of pressure on the broomhead throughout both the push and the pull. With the bent over rowing exercise, you are strengthening and making your “pull” action more powerful. Not only is the push and the pull stronger, but your broomhead speed will increase –in exchange increasing the your force you create! Bonus: it also strengthens your core muscles and mimics the position you sweep in.

Muscles worked: Rear deltoid, latissumus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, erector spinae, bicep brachi.

How:

  • Set up on a bench in a tabletop position with the left knee, foot and hand stabilizing on the bench. Your right leg is straight with the foot stabilizing on the floor. Your back should be horizontal with the bench, and the angle at your left shoulder, hips and knee should be 90 degrees. Keep your chin tucked and your back and core strong and stable.
  • Hold the dumbbell in the right hand with your palm facing inwards. Lift the dumbbell up to the right side of your chest, keeping your elbow “tight”, and return to your starting point.
  • Do not allow your torso to rock during the exercise, and avoid dropping the dumbbell lower than your starting position. Repeat for reps on each side.
  • Other variations and progression can include bent over 2-dumbbell row, cable row, compound row, and bent over barbell row.

3. Lunges 

Why: Sweeping is typically thought of as primarily an upper body and core exercise, but your lower body also needs to gain strength if you want to “get low”, and maintain strong throughout long games and competitions. A lunge in its many variations is a perfect single leg exercise. Not only does it strengthen the bent leg, but also it actively stretches and lengthens the rear leg. For many, getting their weight off of their feet and over the brush head might be impossible, so keeping these muscles strong will also help prevent overuse injuries in the lower body. Bonus: This exercise strengthens and helps fine-tune the lower body weight control muscles thus improving your throwing technique.

Muscles worked: Hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings), hip flexors (quadriceps), transverse abdominus.

How:

Progression:

  • Stationary lunge –Begin with your core tight, chest open (avoid rounding your shoulders) and stand with your feet hip distance apart. Step forward with one leg keeping feet hip distance apart. Avoid the front foot from pointing inwards, and keep your knee tracking towards but not over the middle or baby toe. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and step forward with your back foot to return to your starting position. Repeat on each side for reps.
  • Walking lunge –Using the same starting position and form as the stationary lunge, only pause at the bottom for 1 or 2 seconds before walking forwards and switching the lead foot. Repeat for reps.
  • Side lunges – Begin with the same setup. This time step sideways to the right into a wide squat position, lunge to the right sinking your butt backwards, keeping chest high and core tight, weight in your right heel, and keep your right knee over your right foot and ankle. Return to starting position driving through the right foot, and repeat on left side. Repeat on each side for reps.

4. Interval Training 

Why: Front end players can expect to sweep 6 rocks an end, and nearly 48-60 rocks a game. On quick ice if you have to sweep from start to finish, you will be putting in work for almost 24 seconds, with only about a minute rest before your team throws their next rock. What you don’t want as a sweeper, is to still be recovering from your last sweeping bout during your teams next throw. Anaerobic interval training involves bouts of hard exercise, followed by active rest periods, and repeated a certain number of times. This type of workout trains your heart and lungs to become more efficient at pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body, removing waste products from tired muscles, and promotes quicker recovery times between shots, games, and competitions. Long distance aerobic training helps to train your cardiovascular system, but you need to work anaerobically once a week to prepare your body for rigorous games.

Muscles worked: Various, full body.

Example:

Step 1: Choose one of: running, skipping, biking, rowing machine, pushups, swimming, etc.

Step 2: (Work : Rest ratio is 1:2) After a good warm up, exercise hard for 20-60 seconds (your choice), active rest for 40-90 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times.

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It may not be one of your goals to sweep like Kennedy or Courtney, but if nothing else these exercises alongside a balanced training plan will help you get stronger, and help prevent injuries come the beginning of the season. If you can add a foot or two to how far you can drag a rock, that’s a foot or two closer to becoming club champion!

“Work Hard, Hurry Hard, Play Hard”

Stephanie Thompson, CPT, HBA Kin, B.Ed

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In case you missed the youtube links:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist…

Additional Reading:

Interested in learning more about a proper dynamic warm-up? Check out my article: “Am I doing my Pre-Game Warm-up Right?” -A Guide for Curlers

Check out this wonderful article from the Golden Hawks High Performance Centre. The article touches on some key points for proper sweeping form, the theories supporting them and some of the research that is being done through Western University on the mechanics of brushing.

Enjoy this article from Scott Arnold and curling.ca about their results from a study one in 2010.

Check out my original article Top 8 reasons why you and your team need to train for curling.

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Top 8 Reasons Why You & Your Team Need to TRAIN for Curling. The first few are obvious, but #4 is not what you would expect!

In the past, many curlers were not concerned about being fit. Today, however, fitness conditioning has come to the forefront as recreational and competitive curlers alike strive to enhance their play and reduce the risk of common injuries. Curlers everywhere are discovering that curling-specific training can help them improve their power, flexibility and strength, translating to better performance on the ice.

Growing up playing on the Ontario Junior Curling Tour I was always lucky to play with other like-minded, fitness valuing teammates. We knew that playing multiple sports, and staying active through the off-ice season would help us to achieve our goals when we did step back on the ice together. As we began to compete in our later years as a junior, we stared thinking more about the importance of following a curling specific training plan as a team, but it was tough to find a personal trainer who not only understood the demands of curling, but who was affordable for youth who had to save their money for the on-ice season. It wasn’t until 2009 when John Morris and Dean Gemmell’s book Fit to Curl came out highlighting the importance of, and some suggestions on how to train for curling that my thoughts shifted, and I began to create my own team training plans.

Since my days as a junior I have completed a degree in Kinesiology, Education and have become a certified personal trainer. Years of experience have brought me to this moment, where I compile my Top 8 list of why YOU and your team will benefit from following a training plan, especially in the off-ice season.

So here’s my list of the Top 8 reasons Why you need to TRAIN for curling:

1. Advance your throwing technique:

You spend hours of practice working on your balance, flexibility, and timing, but did you know that a few hours in the gym can help to strengthen your bodies ability to hold itself up during the throw? Strength, mobility and muscular endurance are all improved when you commit to a strength and conditioning plan. Not only will you be able to play for longer without getting sore, but you gain greater muscle control; which transfers over into not only improving your throwing and sweeping techniques, but you become a more efficient and consistent athlete. Strength improves power generation, which is essential not only for takeouts and peels, but for lighter weight control. An increase in strength also improves your stability and balance when sliding. On the flip side, it’s tough to generate a lot of weight accurately, if you are also worried about your balance.

2. Improve sweeping force, power and form:

As a sweeper you need to be able to create the optimal balance of mass and speed of your brush head as you side lunge, slide or shuffle down the ice for between 8-24 seconds. Sweeping with the optimal form is a full body task. Your upper body needs to be strong enough to: a) hold yourself up, b) move your brush head forwards and backwards –fast and c) apply enough pressure downwards to allow yourself to sweep quickly. Your core is there to stabilize you, to transfer weight, and to provide torque for increased power. Your lower body needs to be strong, and it’s no secret that a front end player will lunge/walk/slide up to 3km in a single game. Have you ever played a game, or a few games and after 6 or 8 ends your arms are tired, your form is suffering, and your brush speed diminishes? A proper interval and aerobic training plan can expand your competition endurance and improve your muscles’ ability to do many bouts of intense exercise daily. Not only do long competition weekends become easier, but you will recover quicker between practices and games.

3. Prevent/rehabilitate injuries

An appropriate and individualized training plan can help identify and improve any existing muscle imbalances. It’s no secret that curling favours each leg in different ways, and sweeping only on one side can make one side of the body stronger than the other. Strengthening and stretching the muscles around areas susceptible to injury from overuse (i.e. knees and shoulders), and identifying inhibited neural pathways can help to heal, and prevent future injury.

4. Improve mental toughness skills

Sometimes the hardest part about following a training plan is getting off the couch and going to workout. Following a training plan improves your resiliency, and enhances your body and mind’s ability to work under pressure or when you might not feel like working hard at all. At such a high level of sport, your ability to be consistent in your training throughout the summer, makes it easier to keep your training habits through the winter –especially when the habit of getting on to the ice almost daily is a must. A lot can be taken from your workouts in terms of mental preparation. A squat session takes patience; you need proper technique, proper timing, proper breathing and a set cannot be rushed. This carries over on to the ice; where your success is dictated by your commitment to proper technique, timing, breathing, and patience. Following a regular exercise routine also reduces stress and can alleviate, and help you cope with competition anxiety. Your warm up for your training, serves as practice to prepare you for pre-game warm ups so that when September comes, you don’t have waste any games finding your groove.

5. Increase your self confidence and self efficacy

Self confidence “relates to self-assurance in one’s personal judgment, ability, and power”, and self efficacy is “the extent or strength of one’s belief in one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals”. Committing and adhering to a training plan increases both forms of confidence and efficacy, especially that first time you step on the ice in September. It also comes in handy when you get into pressure situations; you won’t doubt your abilities because you know you’ve put lots of work in, you’ll just trust training. The first few competitions everyone is coming off of [insert other sport here ie. golf] season and may not have had much ice time. As an individual knowing you were dedicated daily to improving your fitness, stepping on the ice becomes less daunting. This is also when all the other points begin to show on the ice. Not all teams commit to regular training plans, so their game continues where they left off last season. But, you and your team step onto the ice stronger, fitter, with better balance and more confidence than a couple months ago –that, is motivation enough to get off the couch and get training.

6. Boosts energy levels and improves mood.

Regular exercise has been recognized to improve your mood, and your outlook on life. Knowing that you and your team have put hours of hard work in both on and off the ice will give you confidence during all games. Exercise releases endorphins (happy chemicals) into your body. So, when you feel down about not being able to go curling tonight, or you begin to miss your teammates and the amazing social atmosphere of the curling world, get moving and it will make the summer months go by quicker. 😉

7. Develop team cohesion

Many teams are comprised of players who live all across the province. When the ice is out it’s tough for teammates to do some daily bonding. Knowing all the players on your team are working hard off the ice and through the summer will improve your confidence, trust and respect you hold for each other. Having someone to work out with, or who is pushing themselves just as hard as you are can bring people together and provide motivation. A team that begins their off-ice season in May for example gains 4 or 5 months of bonding and training ahead of teams that begin their bonding in September and October.

8. Sharpen memory

Exercise is proven to enhance brain health and function. Committing to regular exercise provides ‘me’ time, and gives the brain a break from more cognitive tasks. All players on the team, not just the skip need to focus, pay attention and remember all aspects of the game. With a sharper memory it becomes easier to recall a rock will react down a certain path, how well your skip threw their draw to the button when they need to throw their next draw going into the 6th, how a team reacted to your strategy in a previous game, and how the rock responds as you sweep it down the ice. Every player has a role, and every one of them needs to be sharp

Final Thoughts

The best part about this article, is that it focuses on the importance of training for both recreational and competitive curlers, and the health benefits of committing to leading a healthy active lifestyle extend beyond this list of 8 reasons. Following a balanced and sport specific training plan (that includes aerobic, anaerobic, strength training and flexibility training) can provide an amazing foundation for any athlete and team as they head into their recreational or competitive season. An athlete receives physical, social, emotional and spiritual benefits from training throughout the off-ice season, allowing them to play hard all year long, efficiently and to the best of their abilities.

 Work Hard, Play Hard, Hurry Hard

Stephanie

Ps. Feeling inspired and motivated? I offer personal training for curlers and non-curlers, as well as junior curling training plans and team weekends. Contact me: stephthompson.cpt@gmail.com for a free introductory package, and while you’re at it check out Personal Training with Stephanie Thompson