Bio-mechanics, strength and conditioning in Wheelchair Curling: Part 1

Wheelchair curling made its Paralympic debut at the 2006 Winter Paralympic Games. As of February 2015, there were athletes in 21 countries around the world actively competing in wheelchair curling. Because of the sport’s infancy there has been little bio-mechanical study done to support the development of wheelchair curling athletes. However, Curling Canada is taking steps in this direction through the studies of Brock Laschowski, a Master’s student of Engineering and a researcher at the University of Waterloo. In July 2015 Curling Canada publicized Brock’s latest interventions with the Canadian National Wheelchair curling team, which speaks to the infancy of bio-mechanical study in wheelchair curling and the steps taken to date (Curling Canada, “Wheelchair curling research underway at University of Waterloo”, July 6, 2015).

At its core, the study of bio-mechanics includes basic research into the study of movement aimed to better an athlete’s performance, but also to guard against injury. My research study revealed the muscle groups surrounding the joints used in the wheelchair curling delivery, how they move or stabilize the joint during the delivery, how to effectively train these muscles to align with the sport demands by player position, then applying this knowledge to a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) plan. Knowing this information, a coach can then develop the S&C plan for their athlete, or in concert with their Personal Trainer.

What and where in the body are the biomechanical demands of wheelchair curling? What types of injury can there be in wheelchair curling you ask?

Linked to the study of joint movement is previous epidemiological research of the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games which found that 9 out of 50 (18%) of athletes competing in wheelchair curling sought medical attention for musculoskeletal injuries, all of which were sustained to either the lower back or upper-extremity joints (Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine; January 2012; volume 12, Issue 1 – pp. 3-9). Why does this happen? Let’s take a look at a wheelchair curling delivery as shown by Team Ontario Skip, Collinda Joseph, anchored by teammate, Ross Nicholson.


In wheelchair curling the stone is delivered from a stationary position. Notice that Collinda’s torso has moved forward & downward, transferring power through the hip, shoulder, elbow and hand, until finally through a very long stick (as an extension of her arm) onto a stone. Enough momentum needs to be applied during the delivery to propel a 19kg stone down the ice quickly with maximum power; over and over again.

Referencing Brock’s recent study [1], biomechanically, the wheelchair delivery looks like this:


Max force – or max power – is applied through a kinematic chain of 4 joints with joints A – D being the hip, shoulder, elbow and wrist. “Joint” E is the angle of the stick onto the curling stone, and that angle is dependent upon the height of the athlete in the wheelchair and the length of the throwing stick. Determining the optimal angle for this “Joint” will be the subject of a different study.

The athlete’s hip & shoulder needs to flex during the delivery. In addition, the elbow extends and the wrist moves in an abduction/adduction movement depending on athlete hand preference and the turn being applied to the stone. Knowing this, a coach can now quickly ascertain which muscles power the delivery movement around the joint, which muscles stabilize the joint during delivery, and can initiate a training plan to simply train the muscles in pairs surrounding the joint as noted in the following chart. Better still, review this chart with the athlete’s Personal Trainer.

Step 1: Biomechanical demands of the sport of Wheelchair curling
Joint Hip Shoulder Elbow Wrist
Range of movement Flexion extension Flexion extension Extension Abduction/Adduction
Power Muscles Hip Flexors, Thigh muscles (Adductor/Abductor) Deltoids, Pectorals Triceps Wrist flexors and extensors, Wrist abductors and adductors
Exercises Seated butterfly stretch, Resistance band training Pushups, pull-downs, front raises, presses Pushdowns, kickbacks, dips, crushers Wrist hammer curls, straight curls
Stabilizing muscles Front body: core; Lower back: Pelvic core; Side body: Oblique’s Chest, lats, spinal rotators, rhomboids, traps, Infraspinatus Biceps
Exercises Floor flatteners, Later MB toss, Chair twist Seated rows, Reverse fly, lat pull downs Curls: hammer, dumbbell, rope, single arm Seated reverse curls, finger curls

[1] Brock Laschowski, Naser Mehrabi, and John McPhee (July, 2016). Optimal Control of Paralympic Wheelchair Curling. In Proceedings, 19th Biennial Meeting of the Canadian Society for Biomechanics, Hamilton, Ontario.

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