The Physical Challenges of Curling

When the winter Olympics showcases Curling there’s always an uptick of interest in the sport. Being married to a US Senior National Curling Champion, I’m always intrigued, and have considered trying it, but I don’t want to (literally) hit the ice.

Although Curing can appear sort of silly, with all that sweeping of the ice, it’s actually QUITE physically and mentally challenging. It’s literally a game of “chess on ice,” both brawn and brain are required for a successful outcome! On top of strategy and teamwork, you need strength, cardiovascular endurance, balance and flexibility to successfully compete.

Curling opening ceremony USA Nationals Mixed
Curling opening ceremony USA Nationals Mixed

First, a little about the game:  There are 2 teams of 4 players or in the newer mixed doubles game, 2 players, that “deliver” or slide a 42lb granite stone across a sheet of ice toward a circular target of concentric circles dubbed “the house.” Points are scored for getting these rocks closest to the house’s center with both teams throwing stones in “ends” which are similar to baseball innings. Each game consists of 8-10 ends. Each team throws their stones trying to get as many rocks into the center while knocking their opponents rocks out, similar to shuffleboard.

But why do they sweep in front of the stone? Curlers induce a curl when they push out of the hack in a delivery. They turn the stone clockwise or counterclockwise giving the handle on the stone a turn with their wrist before releasing, thereby inducing a “curl.” The path of the rock can be influenced by the sweepers who accompany the rock with brooms as it travels down the sheet of ice. Sweeping warms the ice in front of the stone, making the stone curl less.  It decreases the friction that would slow down the stone, allowing it to go further. Sweeping can also prevent the rock from curling past its intended target.

What many don’t realize is that there is a great deal of physical activity involved in curling. It is a full body activity and requires an amazing amount of physical strength and endurance to compete.  Sweepers apply and downward pressure and move the brush back and forth while jogging sideways on ice. It involves a push and pull action and can be taxing to the rotator cuff pecs, deltoids, biceps, triceps, lats and forearms. A strong lower body provides a solid foundation and enables one to propel down the ice. A strong core aids balance and comes in handy both in starting and stopping sweeping.

In a typical game, players can sweep between 48-60 rocks per game. It is a test of endurance as it is both aerobic and anaerobic at the same time. It involves bouts of hard exercise followed by active rest and then repeated. In addition to aerobic exercise, anaerobic interval training is recommended at least once a week to promote quicker recovery times between shots and games.

After pushing out of the hack, the delivery of the rock requires the curler to balance almost their entire body weight over a sideways turned sliding leg with the opposite leg stretched out behind them. That sliding leg has to maintain that position isometrically using the quads and gluts. Hip flexors, hips, hamstrings and groin muscles need to be flexible. The gluts and gastrocs provide the power to thrust out and the anterior tibialis and gastrocsoleus stabilize the sliding leg during the delivery.

A balanced sport specific training program targets specific aspects of the sport improving strength, balance, cardiovascular condition and flexibility. Throughout the week we will be adding one exercise per day to our blog to help you get in shape and hurry hard. Enjoy and congratulations to all of the Olympic Athletes.

Here is the first exercise in the series:

Balance:  Lower Body lunges with Bosu

While maintaining a straight upper body with the face and chest upright, take a large step forwards on to the Bosu. Looking straight ahead, lower your body until your front thigh is horizontal to the floor, and then push off with the forward leg. Use both legs and challenge yourself further by holding dumbbells. Repeat 10 reps on each leg.

  Dynamic : Groin Stretch Perform before a game to warm muscles, it should not be static but should get you moving.  Lunge directly to the side with toes facing forwards. Push off the foot and return to the initial position to complete one rep. Do 10 reps, rest and repeat for 3 sets.


Sport Specific: Sweeping with a Body Bar

To be sport specific and mimic the action of sweeping, place a 10lb weighted plate atop a towel and insert a 15-20lb fitness bar into the hole. “Sweep” across the gym floor in 30 second intervals, left to right and then right to left. Rest and repeat 5-10 times.

  Core strengthening: Ball Roll Out Rest your forearms on top of the PhysioBall with the balls of your the feet on the floor- slowly roll the ball away from the body without rounding the back and return to start to complete one rep. Repeat 5-10 reps per set, build to 3 sets.  


Tamar Amitay Physical therapist NYCTamar Amitay, PT, MS, Founder and Principal of Thrive Integrated Physical Therapy, is a highly regarded physical therapist recognized within the New York City medical community as a remarkable clinician, diagnostician and healer. Graduating in 1986 with academic honors from New York University she has over 28 years of clinical experience in rehabilitation and outpatient private practice and working at NYU Rusk Institute, JFK Medical Center. (read more)