Alpine Skiing

Those with a passion for alpine skiing spend thousands of dollars on quality skis, boots, poles and goggles. Then there may be the added time and expense planning a week long ski vacation. With all of this preparation, our clients often think they are ready for the season, but what about preparing your body for the demands of a day spent on the slopes?

This article will provide some practical tips for trainers and strength coaches looking for ways to quickly assess their clients’ needs from a strength and balance perspective. Specific exercise progressions are provided with the goal of improving performance on skis. As always when designing a program, we look at the demands of the activity, what is required for success and our clients’ competency levels. For example, a recreational skier who sticks to mainly the green and blue groomed runs does not need to engage in the high intensity plyometric training we may use on a competitive skier. Assuming an injury free skier with sufficient mobility, the essential demands of alpine skiing are:

  • Dynamic Balance
  • Muscular Strength
  • Muscular Endurance

Dynamic balance requires a transition from movement to stabilization. A quick way to subjectively evaluate dynamic balance for a skier is through either a single leg drop and stick or a single leg hop and stick. Decide which test to use based on your client’s age, experience and skiing skill. Ask them where they do most of their skiing (i.e., what type of runs?). It is never a bad idea to begin with the basic drop and stick test for three to five repetitions. If the technique is flawless, then move on to the more dynamic and challenging hop and stick.

Stabilization Tests for Alpine Skiers

Single Leg Drop and Stick (Intermediate) – Figure 1

  • Allow the athlete to find single leg standing balance.
  • Ask athlete to quickly drop into a squat position (depth with which they are comfortable) and then maintain balance in that position for five seconds.
  • Cue athlete to keep one foot off the floor throughout the entire set.

Figure 1

Single Leg Hop and Stick (Advanced) – Figures 2 and 3

  • Allow the athlete to find single leg standing balance.
  • Ask athlete to perform a small hop up into the air and land in a squat position (depth with which they are comfortable) and maintain balance in that position for five seconds.
  • From this squat position, perform the next hop.
  • Cue athlete to keep one foot off the floor throughout the entire set.
Figure 2 Figure 3

When performing these tests, look for triple flexion at the hip knee and ankle as the impact is absorbed. I tell my athletes to use their leg like a shock absorber. While descending into the squat position, observe alignment at the hip, knee and ankle (is the knee falling inward? outward?). Look for level hips and a neutral back position.

If a flaw is detected, then start removing layers of challenge from the drill. Can the athlete hold a static semi-squat position with perfect alignment and balance? If so, then this will become their starting point exercise. If the athlete cannot execute this skill, then perhaps you need to begin with single leg standing balance and hold. Depending on the level of skier, your goal is to complete five flawless repetitions of either the single leg drop and stick or single leg hop and stick.

Muscular strength and endurance allows the skier to challenge the mountain from first to last chair. When a skier’s legs fatigue, not only does the skiing become less enjoyable, but it also increases the risk of a fall and potential injury. An effective field test I use to evaluate muscular strength is the single leg squat. Keep in mind, any stability issues uncovered in the previous section must be addressed before venturing on to this evaluation. My expectation is that a recreational novice skier will be able to perform the single leg squat to 45 degrees of knee flexion with a neutral spine and neutral alignment through the hip, knee and ankle. Keeping the same criteria, an intermediate skier will squat from 45 to 90 degrees, and an elite racer should be able to squat from 90 degrees to thighs parallel with perfect form. Use this same method to evaluate muscular endurance. Have the skier perform repeated single leg squats for maximum repetitions. Once the athlete fails to maintain proper alignment or reduces the range of motion, stop the test. Use a steady tempo for this portion of the evaluation (UP-DOWN-UP-DOWN). Count the number of repetitions and use this value as a baseline for measuring improvement. As a general guideline, work toward 30 reps.

If you find your skier needs to improve general muscular strength or muscular endurance, you can always continue with squatting, split squats, multi directional lunges and step ups. These are all great exercises for the skier. Below are three techniques that have worked particularly well for skiers I have trained.

Single Leg Ball Squat (Intermediate) – Figure 4

  • Watch for proper alignment through the hip, knee and ankle.
  • Remind the athlete to reach back with buttocks as they descend into a comfortable squat.
  • Gradually try to squat lower.
  • Complete two to four sets of four to eight reps for muscular strength or 10 to 15 reps for muscular endurance.
  • Advanced Progression 1: Keep tension on the quadriceps, gluteals and hamstrings by working in the lower range of the movement. Rather than returning to a full standing position, only extend the knee to 30 degrees.
  • Advanced Progression 2: Build a complex set around this exercise by moving straight from the single leg ball squat to a double leg squat jump and absorb.

Figure 4

Single Leg Lateral Ball Squat (Intermediate) – Figure 5

  • Watch for proper alignment through the hip, knee and ankle.
  • Watch for side flexion of the torso – you want to maintain a neutral position.
  • Remind the athlete to reach back with buttocks as they descend into a comfortable squat.
  • Complete two to four sets of four to eight reps for muscular strength or 10 to 15 reps for muscular endurance.

Figure 5

Single Leg Squat to Tap with Stability Ball (Advanced) – Figure 6

  • Maintain contact between stability ball and calf throughout exercise.
  • Remind athlete to reach back with buttocks as they descend into a comfortable squat.
  • Complete two to four sets of four to eight reps for muscular strength or 10 to 15 reps for muscular endurance.
  • Advanced Progression 1: To increase the demand of this exercise, increase the tempo of the concentric portion. Lower hips toward the ball with control. When the buttocks lightly touch the ball, explosively drive through the gluteals up to the starting position. Establish balance and control at the top and then repeat.

Figure 6

BOSU Hop Hop Stick (Advanced) – Figures and 7 and 8

  • Stand in an athletic position on the dome side of a BOSU with feet hip width apart.
  • Athlete performs three squat jumps on top of the BOSU, absorbing at the hips, knees and ankles (triple flexion) between each repetition.
  • The athlete will land the third jump down into a low athletic position with hands in front of the body. Cue the athlete to absorb with the legs, allowing for minimal rebound in the BOSU.
  • If the athlete lands off balance, cue them to fight for the landing rather than just stepping off. This will teach the “survival skills” needed on the hill.
  • Perform three to four sets of five to 10 repetitions.
Figure 7 Figure 8

Again, keep in mind the age, experience, goals and past injuries of your skier. For example, the exercises and evaluations outlined above may not be suitable for a skier with osteoarthritis in the knees. This does not mean the athlete cannot still ski proficiently and continue to enjoy this great sport. You may have to modify the range of motion used for some exercises and complete more bilateral training.

If you train a skier who excels in these exercises and performs or competes at an advanced level, then you will add even more neuromuscular challenge. For example, progress to single leg squatting on an unstable surface such as the BOSU and incorporate plyometric training to improve power production. As you increase the challenge, be sure to maintain your attention to detail. A common error is increasing the demand on an athlete for the sake of advancing the program. If, for example, your client is able to perform a single leg squat with neutral alignment at the knee and spine, you would be correct to look toward a more advanced exercise. If single leg squatting on the BOSU (see Figure 9) leads to a loss of the functional neutral alignment at the knee or spine and the athlete cannot correct it, then look for a less challenging progression. Single leg squatting on the half foam roll (see Figure 10) may be a good option in this case as it allows fewer degrees of freedom.

Figure 9 Figure 10

I hope you will be able to use these evaluations and exercises to help your clients perform better while alpine skiing. Think snow, people!

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