Pre-Season Conditioning with Ardha Utkatasana: Chair or Half Squat Pose

 By Monique Parker

Svastha Yoga teacher Julie Cortopassi demonstrating half squat pose.

As snow season approaches, Taos athletes can get in some last minute pre-season conditioning with a popular yoga posture that benefits all winter sports: Ardha Utkatasana, also called Chair or Half Squat pose. Whether you snow shoe, cross country ski, downhill ski, snowboard, or ice skate, Utkatasana can help you to improve your performance while decreasing the risk of injury.

Even if winter sports aren’t your thing, the squat (often considered the king of exercises), because it strengthens key posture muscles—erector spinae, gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings, and abdominals, is an exercise that can make navigating through life easier. Think of the muscles you use when you’re getting up off the floor, or in and out of the car. And, the squat is versatile: you can perform it anywhere (office, home, outdoors), as part of a larger routine or as an isolated exercise by itself.

Utkatasana, the classic deep knee yogic squat may increase the potential of injury to knee ligaments and therefore should be performed after considerable preparation.

There are a variety of squat variations to creatively challenge your muscles and keep you from getting bored:

  1. Standing in either wide or narrow stance
  2. Varying the degree of knee flexion (ranging from a few inches to a half squat to a squat where the thighs are lowered past parallel)
  3. Using weights or no load at all
  4. Going symmetrical (two feet on the ground) vs. asymmetrical (one legged squat)
  5. Lifting the heels off the floor (which also targets calf muscles)
  6. Squeezing a block between the thighs to help hug or co-contract the hamstring and quadriceps muscles

Squatting requires a high level of proprioception when done correctly (the ability to sense the position, location, and movement of the body in space). It’s also a closed-chain exercise, which coordinates the ankle, knee, and hip joints so they move together in a functional pattern.

“Yoga is a great tool for developing proprioception and balance in the muscles used for skiing and boarding. So when you’re sliding down a hill with something strapped to your feet, you can react to the terrain and more skillfully move through those inevitability awkward moments with fluidity,” says yoga instructor Monica Martin. “The more ready you are before you’re on skis or a board, the less warm up time it takes to be comfortable in the terrain you want to be in.”

Besides being used for ski conditioning, the half squat is also the basic stance used in ice-skating (knees bent, back straight, and arms out). In fact, when students learn to skate they’re frequently told that “if you start to fall, get small,” meaning, regain balance by bending the knees, keeping the feet and arms pointed forward. In this half squat pose, skaters find stability out on the ice.

“I always think of these instructions when I’m walking outside in winter, especially on icy parking lots,” says Carrie Leven, an ice skater and yoga practitioner, “and have saved myself from falling many times.”

One legged squat is a great variation for toning and strengthening legs in preparation for ice skating.

Skaters use one-legged squats to condition their legs and core and improve balance for performing sit spins and moves like “shoot the duck”, a full one-legged squat with the opposite leg extended forward. “The half-chair strengthens the core abdominals, back, and leg muscles that are so important to holding the body firmly upright in forward and backwards skating, as well as in the fast turns and jumps,” adds Leven.

Besides being a great sports conditioner, the modified squat is also used in physical therapy centers and may be appropriate for the rehabilitation of most knee injuries. If you have knee issues, please consult your doctor or physical therapist before performing this exercise.

Whether or not you ski, board, or skate, the benefits of Ardha Utkatasana, can’t be ignored. Happy Trails!

Carrie Leven will be offering a free “Yoga for Ice Skating” conditioning class October 28 from 11am-12:15 at the Taos Youth and Family Center. “Practicing yoga off the ice gives people strength, stability and confidence on the ice,” Leven says. For more information, call 586-1480.

Squatting with the heels up puts greater emphasis on the calves, develops balance, and is one of the core postures in the famous Bikram Yoga series.

Julie Cortopassi instructs a Gentle Svastha Yoga class on Fridays from 12-1:15pm at Santosha Yoga of Taos. “We work on postures that develop core strength and stability and to prevent bone loss,” says Julie. “We put in effort in conjunction with using the breath to create a holistic feeling of being strong, yet relaxed.”

Monica Martin, together with partner Josh Fredrickson, a ski instructor with over 20 years experience, designed a Pre-Snow Season Yoga Conditioning series that she teaches on Tuesdays 5:15-6:30pm at the Edelweiss Lodge & Spa at the TSV, and Wednesdays 6:15-7:30pm at AwarenessWorks Feldenkreis Studio in the Northstar Plaza in El Prado.

First Published in The Taos News on October 18, 2012