Improving Hip Mobility for Ultimate Skiing!

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As Niseko Black’s Head Ski Trainer and an Action Sports Conditioning Pro, I’ve been hard at it recently, developing an equipment-free, off-season ski fitness program for snow-pro’s and clients to follow at home, so watch out for the release in October…with MASSIVE pro’ discounts!

Taking a slightly different approach to ski fitness, the program and series of support articles focuses on the bio-mechanics of skiing, rather than the just the muscles themselves.

Continuing on the theme of Hip Fitness, my next article delves deeper into how you can prepare yourself for the white stuff by maximizing your hip mobility and describes some really cool ways of doing this…

X = Ski-Fit – The Hip Joint

A Quick Recap on Hip Mobility Versus Flexibility

In my last article about strengthening the hips, I hinted that we simply couldn’t gain full mobility of our joints without good flexibility. Mobility refers to the range of motion (ROM) of a particular joint, whereas flexibility refers to how elastic the muscles, tendons and other connective tissues around that joint are and whether or not they restrict the joint’s ROM, or allow it to move freely. Of course, in a skiing sense, in addition to strong muscles, good mobility is extremely important, as it will allow us to move freely – with ‘unblocked’ ability. That being said, if the muscles around our joints are weak and the joints are allowed to move too much,’ injuries can ensue, such as the very common ACL rupture, which is often a result of a hyper-extension of the knee (not necessarily caused by, but definitely encouraged by a condition known as ‘hyper-mobility’).

GOOD (not hyper) mobility therefore is encouraged by good flexibility and if we want to move safely in that ‘unblocked’ sense I like to refer to in my staff training sessions, we need to work on our flexibility as well as our strength.

But What Does This Mean in A Skiing Sense?

Has your instructor or trainer ever advised you to find more grip(1) with your skis? Have they ever asked you to ‘finish your turns,’ perhaps by steering(2) the feet more? Maybe you’ve been told that you’re too ‘back seat,’ or that you’re not flexing(3) enough…

In the Canadian (CSIA) system of ski teaching, these common issues relate to different skiing skills:

  1. Edging– the angle between the ski and the snow’s surface, enabling the skis to grip
  2. Pivoting– the degree of rotation of the femurs in the hip joint, allowing the feet to steer
  3. Pressure Control– the use of all three joints (hips, knees & ankles) to minimize the forces acting upon the skis and skier

Steering is a progressive blend of edging and pivoting. Now, consider the two images below:

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Moving from left to right, I’ve gone 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 gradually flexed – Pressure Control– whilst my outside femur has externally rotated and the inside femur has internally rotated towards the transition – Edging & Pivoting – continuing to do so along with the hips’ and legs’ gradual extension from the transition towards the opposite arc.

In other words, my hip joints (and femurs) have moved in all three planes of movement – Sagittal, Horizontal (or Rotational) and Frontal – whilst my muscles have been flexible and controlled enough to allow the joints to move at their maximum ROM. Follow this link to recap on planes of hip movement and this link for a reminder of the muscles involved…

So How Can I Use all this to Improve My Skiing?

If we go back to those three skiing skills – edging, pivoting & pressure control – and think about the movement of the hips in order to maximize each of those skills, it’s clear to see that strong, flexible and mobile hips are needed to improve upon each, even if it’s by only a tiny margin!

In the Sagittal plane, the hips simply flex and extend. This is the primary movement in pressure control and – much like a car’s suspension – allows the skier to manage the increased forces toward the end of the turn. Flexion and extension of the hips also moves the skier’s centre of mass and under or over-bending at this point can be responsible for being ‘back seat’ or unequally flexed at the other two main joints – more on that in a subsequent article!

In the Horizontal (rotational) plane, the femurs move within the hip socket, allowing the skier to increase or decrease the steering angle of the feet through pivoting. 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 Frontal (lateral) plane, besides adduction and abduction (feet moving together or apart, say, in terrain adaptation, or moving from wedge to parallel or vice versa) the hips move from side to side, edging the skis – if you stand tall on your skis and simply lean to one side (inclination), without engaging the hip joint, your skis will edge, BUT, if you stop your hips from moving inside so much, you’ll be able to increase the edge angle of your skis on the snow – refer back to those images above and you’ll see a difference between the general angle of my legs compared to that of my body, so much that when I ski, I search for a pinching sensation between the top of my hip bone and lower rib (similar to a side crunch). This is called angulation and is allowed by good lateral hip mobility.

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.

So How Do I Improve My Hip Mobility?

Our hip joints move in 3 ways, in all 3 planes – 1. Bone A moves in relation to bone B, 2. Bone B moves in relation to bone A, 3. Bones A and B move simultaneously, which is the fastest and most efficient way to move. However, with good proprioception or awareness of what our extremities are doing in relation to our bodies, an expert skier will employ all three movements in order to adjust to the continually changing environment and forces acting upon the skis and body.

So, besides strengthening work, which will certainly help safeguard against hyper-mobility, any skier who wants to be at the top of their game needs to be able to move freely (and unblocked!) in all these ways…

Mobility / Progression 1

Split Lunge to Twist to Spider Lunge to Dragon* – Hip extension (with lateral & rotational stretching on progression)

Basis: In a standing position, step one foot backwards and balance on the ball of that foot whilst allowing both knees to flex and keeping the chest up, shoulders and head still. You’ll feel a pull at the front of the hip on the back leg. Go deeper with this stretch by flexing the front knee more or by dropping onto the back knee and gently pushing the hips forward. Introduce a lateral stretch by raising the arm on the same side as the back foot and crossing it overhead to the opposite side – hold for 30-45 seconds then swap legs:

Progression: Starting in a high plank with head in neutral spine, step one foot forward so it’s in line with the hands whilst trying to keep the back leg straight (Spider Lunge). Bend the front knee gently to deepen. Drop into a low plank, with forearms on the floor (Dragon Pose) to further deepen the stretch OR raise the hand and arm not next to the front foot in Spider Lunge to introduce a rotational stretch (Spider Twist), being careful to balance on the remaining hand and both feet, keeping the rear leg as straight as possible – hold each pose for 30-45 seconds then swap legs:

Mobility / Progression 2

Supine Hip Rotation to Fig. 4 to Pigeon – Glute extension / hip rotation

Basis: Lying on your back, raise both knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Cross one leg across the other knee and use both hands to hold behind the other thigh. Pull the leg gently towards your chest and hold. Another variation of this is in a standing position. Balance on one foot and repeat a similar pose for 30-45 seconds each side:

Progression: Starting in high plank, move one leg across and under yourself so that your knee is pointing forwards. Gently lower your weight onto the crossed leg, feeling a stretch in the hip and glute – hold for 30-45 seconds. Lower yourself closer to the floor by going from your hands, onto your forearms and then even lower, so that your whole arms are laid out in front of you. At first, you won’t be able to go so deep, so ease yourself in! Hold each position on each side for 30-45 seconds:

Mobility / Progression 3

Lateral Lunge to Raised Lateral Lunge with varied foot positioning – Glute extension / lateral & rotational hip stretching with balance

Basis: Stand with feet apart and lower yourself to one side, trying to keep your hips horizontal and making sure to push your butt further to the side than your supporting knee. Feel the stretch in your hip and glute whilst holding for 30-45 seconds. Challenge yourself to go further into the stretch each day:

Progression: Standing with feet apart; one slightly raised on a step, box or bottom stair, lower yourself sideways, towards the raised foot, again, making sure to keep the hips horizontal with your butt further, laterally, than your supporting knee. Hold for 30-45 seconds then repeat after varying the lower foot’s position, relative to the raised foot, forwards then backwards, whilst keeping the raised foot planted in the original position. Repeat on each side and hold each position for 30-45 seconds:

All of the mobility stretches above involve part or all of the movements described earlier and over time, will serve to improve your range of motion and flexibility. It will help immensely to make sure that you’re well hydrated and that your muscles are warmed up before performing any of these drills, as well as breathing deeply throughout each sequence. A few of the exercises clearly involve a proprioceptive element, helping to develop balance and muscle memory, but if you’re going to try just one or two, the Split Lunge in progression 1 is probably THE most important stretch a skier could ever do and progression 3 will really help develop singular leg control for coping in those sticky, unbalanced situations we skiers often find ourselves in!

If you’d like these progressions sending to you with larger, clearer images, please don’t hesitate to give me a shout and, as always, please do feel free to contact me at X-Life for any other help or advice on anything else covered in this series.

*Special thanks go to my good friend and awesome ski teacher, Ski-Yogi, Kat Moffat, who kindly showed me the Dragon pose (that I can’t quite do!!!). Look her up on Instagram as QiandChakras.

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 or following this link to sign up for your complimentary 14 day trial!

X = Ski-Fit will be launched in October 2018, with massive discounts for snow-pro’s!

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