Almost exactly a year ago, professional figure skaters-slash-siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, enthralled the judges, live audience, and TV viewers across the world with their ice dancing routines at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. Their mesmerizing synchronization, on-ice chemistry, and nearly flawless execution earned the "ShibSibs" two bronze medals, plus legions of online fans.
Yet after that multiple-medal high, the dynamic duo announced last spring that they are taking a break from the pro circuit. And while we don’t know when (or even if) they’ll make their return, we do know that they’re still committed to their fitness.
Thanks to an Instagram video that Kirk Myers, CEO and owner of NYC-based gym Dogpound, posted over the weekend, we have a glimpse of how Maia in particular is spending her time of late. The video shows the younger Shibutani, 24, demoing three challenging movements that offer a ton of benefits—whether you're a pro figure skater or an average exerciser.
You can check out the video, via @kirkmyersfitness, here:
Here, we break down the moves, the benefits they provide and how that can translate to ice skating, and how to modify each exercise.
1. Slide Board Skater
What it is: A lateral (side-to-side) cardio and lower-body strengthening move done atop the slide board, a specialized piece of gym equipment good for gliding moves.
Primary benefits: This fast-paced movement will get your heart rate up, making it a great form of cardio, Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF. Thanks to the side-to-side motion, it engages the inner and outer thighs, the outer glute muscles (specifically the gluteus medius), hip abductors, and upper quads, making it a solid lower-half-strengthening move for any person, athlete or not. Gaining strength in the outer hip and glute area helps stabilize the rest of the legs, and strength in the inner thighs supports the core, says Mansour. Both of these things ultimately help us to move more efficiently overall.
How that translates to ice skating: Training your body to move side to side is important for any sport that requires you to make quick movements. If you only ever strengthen your body moving forward and backward, there's a greater chance you'll injure yourself when you do have to move laterally. That being said, this specific exercise is generally more beneficial for speed skaters than figure skaters, Lee Cabell, Professional Skaters Association master-rated coach and former faculty at the School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall University, tells SELF. The side-to-side movement doesn’t exactly mimic the typical motions of figure skating, but would translate more directly to the motions performed by a speed skater, explains Cabell.
How to modify it: You don’t need a slide board to replicate the cardio and strengthening benefits of this move. Try the following modification at home with the help of a simple sliding device—either sliders, paper plates, towels, or socks and a hardwood floor.
- Stand up straight, feet hip-distance apart, and place your sliding device of choice under your right foot. Slightly bend your left knee. This is the starting position.
- Pumping your arms and engaging your core, quickly push your right foot straight out to the side and then quickly bring it back to the starting position.
- This is 1 rep. Do 30 reps at a fast pace.
- Switch legs and do 30 reps on your left leg.
To amp up the cardio challenge of this move, you can reach your arms straight overhead with every rep, suggests Mansour.
2. Single-Leg Reverse Deadlift on a BOSU
What it is: An “extremely challenging” variation of the single-leg deadlift made more advanced thanks to a BOSU ball and ankle weights. This move requires a high level of balance and strength to do properly, says Mansour, so it may be too challenging for beginners. (We share an easier version you can try below.)
Primary benefits: Balance work and total-body strengthening. This exercise works your quads, hamstrings, thighs, glutes, and calves, as well as the stabilizing muscles around your ankles, knees, and hips, says Mansour. You’ll also engage your erector spinae (muscles along the spine), upper back, latissimus dorsi (the broadest muscles on each side of your back), shoulders, and your core—primarily the transverse abdominis (your deep core muscle) plus the smaller stabilizing muscles, she says.
If you watch the video closely, you’ll notice Shibutani turns her foot out as she extends her leg behind her. In a regular single-leg reverse deadlift, you typically extend your foot straight out with toes pointed down behind you, which targets the gluteus maximus (your biggest butt muscle) and hamstring. Shibutani’s slight outward turn, however, changes the strengthening focus to be more on the inner and outer thighs and hips, explains Mansour.
You may also notice that Shibutani is wearing ankle weights, which amp up the strengthening benefits on the leg that is extended, while also helping her stationary leg stay grounded, explains Mansour. The small hand weights she holds are likely another balance aid, Mansour adds.
Lastly, note that Shibutani arches her back and reaches her extended leg far above back level. While she may be able to do this safely, the average person could hurt their lower back by attempting this level of extension on a single-leg deadlift, which is why no matter what type of single-leg deadlift variation you attempt, Mansour suggests raising your back leg no higher than back level and keeping your lower back flat (not arched) at all times.
How that translates to ice skating: This tough balance exercise can help improve the proprioception (or body awareness) of the ankle joint and strengthen the surrounding muscles, explains Cabell. “That’s beneficial because figure skaters skate in very hard boots—it’s like skating in a cast,” says Cabell. “For that reason, figure skaters do not really have the option to exercise the muscles and ligaments around the ankle joint, which is why we see ankle sprains.” Doing movements like this that strengthen the ankle joint and build proprioception of that area can help prevent ankle sprains, he says.
How to modify it: To get similar balance, strengthening, and stabilizing benefits, try a classic single-leg deadlift on the floor. You'll need a medium to heavy weight—a kettlebell or dumbbell would work best.
- Stand with your feet together, holding the weight firmly in your right hand in front of your right thigh. Slightly bend your left knee.
- Shift your weight to your left leg and lift your right leg straight behind your body, hinging at the hips to bring your torso parallel to the floor as you lower the weight. Keep your back flat and core tight as you lower.
- Stop when you feel a stretch in your left hamstring.
- From here, press through your left heel to reverse the movement and stand back up. As you do, keep the right leg straight and slide the weight back to the starting position. Make sure to keep your back flat throughout.
- Pause at the top and squeeze your butt. This is 1 rep.
- Do 10 reps; switch legs and do another 10 reps.
Plank Jack With Gliders
What it is: A variation of the classic plank that really engages the muscles in the thighs.
Primary benefits: In addition to the benefits of a standard plank, which include core strengthening and stabilization, you’ll strengthen your inner and outer thighs, thanks to the moving leg component, says Mansour. Moving your legs will also demand even more core engagement than if you simply stayed in place, since you really have to use your abdominals to keep your body still.
How that translates to ice skating: “I consider the core muscles the most important muscles for figure skaters,” says Cabell. A strong midsection can help a figure skater maintain good posture on ice, he explains. On top of that,“figure skating is a three-dimensional sport,” he adds, meaning skaters must be able to flex, extend, and rotate their bodies while on the ice. Core strength, particularly in the obliques (muscles on the sides of your stomach), is crucial for said rotation. In addition to helping a skater twist, core strength is also crucial for staying upright and maintaining good posture after a lift. If you’re a skater, “your core muscles can save you or break you,” says Cabell.
How to modify it: Before you attempt the following, make sure you can hold a standard plank for at least 30 seconds. Once you’ve mastered that, you can try the following plank variation, which is tougher than a standard plank but easier than Shibutani’s move. Similar to the first move, you’ll need a simple sliding device—either sliders, paper plates, towels, or socks and a hardwood floor.
- Get on all fours and place your sliding device of choice under each foot.
- With your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips squarely over your knees, press through your toes to lift your knees off the ground and extend your legs fully behind you.
- Squeeze your glutes and legs, and brace your core so that your body forms one long, straight line from your shoulders to your hips to your ankles.
- From here, slide your left leg out to the side several inches; pause for a moment and then slide it back in.
- This is 1 rep. Do 5 reps on with your left leg and then switch legs and do another 5 reps.