One surefire way to set yourself up for better performance and durability this ski season is by focusing on your squats. During Chris Fellows’ 30 years as a ski instructor, he has seen many skiers repeat the same patterns of limited movement, asymmetrical strength and balance that failed to advance their proficiency. Other skiers, who were more naturally aligned and proportionality balanced, have progressed faster into the realm of expert skiing. In his expert opinion, it all comes down to squats.
As Fellows said, very few skiers have faultless technique; nearly everyone on the mountain is compensating with something. However, the more efficient your body mechanics are, the more seamless your improvement will be. You can improve your ski technique by addressing these fitness issues in the gym, before your first day on snow.
Try this single-leg squat exercise to see basic asymmetries from left to right. During the exercise, look for disparity between your left and right sides. A muscle imbalance or stiff joint could affect your dynamic skiing balance as you transition between turns, adjust for tough terrain and absorb variable snow conditions. An imbalance could eventually lead to injury and time off the snow.
Here’s how to perform the body weight single-leg squat:
If you notice that you are making heel-lifting compensations, place a 2-inch block under your heel and repeat the movement. This will keep activation in the gluteal muscle and avoid stress in the patella tendon of the bent knee.
This basic body weight single-leg squat can be an awakening and could uncover clues on what your “Achilles heel” might be as far as how you are advancing in your own skiing. You can tell if you are in need of some strength training because your leg will wobble and instability will ensue.
For instance, if your upper body began to list forward as you went low in the squat, then you are experiencing tightness in your hips. This exercise should serve as a test and preparation before the weighted squat.
Once you can maintain symmetrical balance during the single leg squat with both legs, then move into the full weighted squat for the strength-building phase.
Weighted squats are the preferred exercise of all ski athletes because it builds power in the quads, hamstrings and glutes. A good squat will involve a functionally tense core that stabilizes and allows for mobility in the extremities. Squats are beneficial because they open your range of motion and are valuable in developing full spectrum movements needed for dynamic sports like skiing.
To perform a weighted squat:
In skiing, think of the quads, hamstrings and glutes as the primary movers, and the core as the stabilizer and power source for this active muscle group to draw from. If you are weak, unstable or immobile during the squat, there is a good chance you will compensate with your body and stress the weakest link in the chain. A weak link in your squat technique will reemerge when skiing as the demands of the sport increase.
Quality movements in the gym will set you up for effective technique and longevity on the slopes. Increased quad strength you will give you staying power in those long sustained runs through variable snow conditions and challenging terrain. When you are fit, the enjoyment factor in expert terrain always goes up.
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Words by Chris Fellows. Chris Fellows and his wife Jenny are co-directors of the North American Ski Training Center (NASTC). Based in Tahoe, California, NASTC offers world-class ski adventures around the planet. See more at https://www.skinastc.com.