As Niseko Black’s Head Ski Trainer and Action Sports Conditioning Pro I’ve been asked to put together an off-season program of fitness, specifically focused on skiing, that snow-pro’s and ski clients alike can follow at home, with no equipment!
Taking a slightly different approach to ski fitness, the series focuses on the bio-mechanics of skiing, rather than the just the muscles themselves.
Concentrating on two of my favourite strengthening exercises for skiing, this first article explains the role of the hip joint in skiing and the importance of not only strength, but that of mobility and flexibility too…
X = Ski-Fit – The Hip Joint
In an everyday sense – certainly not just skiing – the hips and integrated muscles shouldn’t necessarily simply be strong, they also need to be mobile as well as flexible. Increased mobility allows the joints to safely move to their fullest extent, whilst flexibility allows the muscles around the joint freer, smoother movement and safeguards against injury – imagine a weathered elastic band versus one in good condition…
This ability to move fully, with strength, allows the skier to ‘unblock’ their movements and achieve, perhaps, that extra little edge angle, foot steering or agility, required to reach peak performance. Further, when moving around in everyday life, the muscles of the hips and legs carry our full body weight, but when skiing, this load is amplified massively and exerted in various exaggerated directions. It is therefore clear that ultimate mobility, flexibility and strength are paramount when training to reach your utmost potential.
A Little About Hip Movement
Of the three main joints used in skiing, the ‘Big Guy’ performs an integral function in skiing biomechanics. When thinking about the dynamics of skiing, the most obvious movement of the hip joint occurs in the Sagittal plane; this being – what Ski Instructors refer to as – Flexion (squatting) and Extension (standing).
In the other two planes of movement, the hips perform less obvious actions, especially when the skier is flexed. In the Horizontal, or Rotational plane, they allow the legs to turn in or outwards, unsurprisingly known as Internal or External rotation, enabling the skier to steer or point the feet. Not so obviously, this action of the femur in the hip socket is also what allows us to edge the skis when flexed, by moving the knees and shins from side to side.
In the third and final, Frontal, plane, the hip joint enables us to Adduct and Abduct – that is, move the legs together or apart, respectively – think about narrowing or widening a skiing stance, or going from wedge to parallel.
The Hips, being such a large and mobile joint, are therefore a combination of a number of powerful and smaller, less powerful muscles that, as skiers, we should focus on keeping strong, mobile and flexible. Further, in an expert sense, knowing when to activate, especially the hip flexor muscles, can make all the difference to ski performance!
Ok, so that’s the science bit over – if you want to know more, follow this link…
All these movements of the hips (combined with the knees and ankles) allow the skier to make small adjustments and corrections, whilst keeping the skis in contact with the snow and maintaining speed, rhythm and control.
Skiing is a dynamic sport and I’m a huge advocate of functional training. That is, ski to get ski-fit, or cycle to get cycle-fit. That’s not to say that cross-training doesn’t play a vital role in an athlete’s training program, nor that a precise analysis of an athlete’s bio-mechanics can’t allow the trainer to prescribe artificial scenarios in which the athlete can make one’s weakness their strength. Therefore, in the absence of a mountain and ski lift in your back yard or office, the next best thing we have is in mimicking the dynamics of skiing in order to best prepare and eventually, improve strength, balance and proprioception (muscle memory).
Consider the two images below:
Moving from left to right, I’ve skied from fall line (skis pointing straight down the hill) to fall line, on the opposite arc. In order to do this, whilst maintaining a constant head-height and quiet upper body, I’ve been at my most extended (fall line) to my most flexed (transition), back to my most extended on the other side and my hips have made all the movements I mentioned earlier – they’ve gradually flexed, whilst my outside femur has externally rotated and the inside femur has internally rotated towards the transition, continuing to do so along with the hips’ gradual extension from the transition towards the opposite arc.
Mimic / Progression 1
Lateral Ski Jumps to Lateral & Vertical Ski Jumps – Flexion & Extension
Moving from left to right, in the first image, with my weight mostly on my heels, I’m in a fully flexed (skiing) position, or squat; back straight, chest up. I use my arms to help me explode as high and as far as possible to the side, landing on toes, balls, then heels, whilst flexing my knees to land as quiet and as softly as possible, back into the starting position. Repeat to the other side.
Once landed softly and in the original squat position, I then use my arms and the power in my upper legs and glutes to jump vertically, as high as possible, landing softly – toes, balls, heels – and flexing the knees into the starting position, before exploding to the other side and repeating for as many reps as possible in up to 60 seconds.
Mimic / Progression 2
Skater to Super Skater – Flexion, Extension, Rotation & Balance
From left image to right, whilst flexed and balancing on my outside foot (just like skiing), on 3 points of contact; ball-behind-big-toe, ball-behind-little-toe and heel, I swing my arms from outside to inside and explode from my foot, as high and far as possible, landing softly on the opposite foot – toe, ball, heel – whilst flexing my knee and hips to activate the muscles and allowing my arms to counter balance my mass. Taking a moment to balance on the new foot, I then repeat to the other side.
Once landed on the new outside foot, I explode vertically, as high as possible from only this foot, swinging my arms as I do, in order to achieve maximum height. I then land, balanced on the same foot and ‘skate’ to the opposite side, landing on the other foot, as described above. I then repeat the single-footed vertical jump on that side, landing softly, one-footed, before ‘skating’ to the other side and repeating the move for as many reps as possible in up to 60 seconds.
Both of the above strengthening exercises involve all the planar and muscular actions described in skiing and, alongside the muscles of the hips, clearly also activate many other muscles, mainly in the upper legs, but also the core, lower legs and trunk. They include a proprioceptive element – helping to develop balance and muscle memory – as well as a plyometric, or explosive strength component.
When performing either move, be sure to exhale with the effort, ensuring activation of the core muscles and helping to protect the lower back upon landing.
Please DO NOT perform either exercise without prior warm up – contact me for a FREE mobility / warm-up session you can cover in under 5 minutes – and please do stretch afterwards – again, at X-Life, advice is always FREE of charge and obligation!
A more in-depth hip mobility session will be covered in an article coming soon, with a skier-specific hip stretching session to follow.
A Little More About the Author
Besides, spending a significant part of his winters in Japan, training Niseko Black’s team of Ski Instructors, Bruce is a Master Personal Trainer, Exercise Specialist and Motivation & Nutrition Coach. As Owner / Director of X-Life Intelligent Fitness, being IKO qualified, he also spends a large part of his summer teaching and coaching kitesurfing, as well as running Kitesurf HQ, his luxury B&B in Fuerteventura.
X-Life’s smartphone app-based X = Ski-Fit program not only concentrates on a strengthening program for the skier, it attends to the often overlooked areas of mobility and less-frequently overlooked flexibility. Combining a series of 15 minute mobility, strength and flexibility videos, motivational support, not to mention the accountability that having a trainer is all about, more information on the full program can be found here, by emailing [email protected] or following this link to sign up for your complimentary 14 day trial!