The Olympic Advantage


These Olympic hopefuls make Pilates a key part of their training.
by Anne Marie O’Connor

When the XXII Winter Olympic Games open in Sochi, Russia, on February 7, a number of the competitors are Pilates fans who are relying on the method to help them get to the medal podium. Pilates Style talked to three Olympians and one Paralympian about how Pilates is helping them go for the gold.

Shani Davis
Sport:  Speed skating
Background:  A three-time Olympian, Davis won gold and silver medals in 2006 and 2010. He is the world-record holder in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters.


How It Helps Him Compete:  “As a speed skater, I have really strong muscles in my legs, but Pilates trains all those tiny muscles I might forget about when I’m skating. On the mat, you’re working on your core, your flexibility, your range of motion and your lower abdominals—all these things you might not work in a speed-skating drill, but that you definitely need.”

His Current Regimen:  “Since I travel all around the world, I’m not always able to find a Reformer, but I do the mat work—leg lifts, planks, lower abdominals, Hundreds—wherever I am.”

His Favorite Move:  “Whenever there is a machine, I like getting on it and working on my range of motion, really opening up the hips and my hip flexors.”

Amy Purdy
Sport:  Para-snowboarding
Background:  Purdy was an aspiring competitive snowboarder when she contracted meningitis 15 years ago, at age 19. Given just a two percent chance of surviving, she beat the odds, but ended up losing both her legs below the knee. Determined to live a full life, she learned to walk—and then snowboard—on her prosthetic legs.

Why She Loves Pilates:  “When I left the hospital three months after getting sick, I
had no legs, I was down to 83 pounds and I had tubes sticking out of me everywhere. Pilates was the only rehab I did—I worked on the apparatus four to five days a week for three-and-a-half years. It helped me learn to walk on my prosthetic legs, which are like walking on stilts. I didn’t want to ever look at [my prosthetics] as a burden. I wanted to be able to visualize them as being as much a part of me as my legs always were.”

How It Helps Her Compete:  “Pilates strengthened all my muscles, especially my core, which is what I rely on so much for snowboarding. It helped me with body awareness and learning how to use my body. I also liked that Pilates helped me with the whole mind/body connection. The different deep stretching you do is really important for using my body in different ways.”

Favorite Moves:  “I love Hundreds on the Reformer, which really helped me both with core strength and with my breathing.” Photo credits: NBC Olympics/USOC