Staying injury free and skiing to the best of your ability requires a strong, stable and flexible body. With a minimal amount of advance preparation, your body can perform at a higher level, and contribute to more enjoyable days on the ski hill.
In this second part of my pre-season ski conditioning series, I want to discuss core function and how important it is to athletic movement. Improving your core strength and control will give you a solid foundation for explosive athletic movements while on your skis, and help to keep you more stable and balanced.
Skiers must assume an athletic body position to be able to ski efficiently, and to react to irregularities on the hill. Once in this position, it’s critical to engage the appropriate musculature, at times contracting and holding a fixed position, sometimes generating dynamic force and power, or perhaps relaxing and allowing smooth adaptation to movement needs without losing balance or control.
Because skiers use their upper body and their poles during turns, there is a need for integration of the upper body and lower body during conditioning activities. This doesn’t have to be the case for all exercises, but it can’t be ignored. By choosing your training activities carefully you can target the right body parts and systems, offering the greatest return on your training investment.
As always, consult your doctor before beginning or modifying your training plan, and always perform a progressive warm-up before exercising.
Doing an athletic plank on the ball is a great way to train your core, in a body position that totally relates to skiing and many other sports. Start with your forearms on a ball and your hips, knees and ankles flexed. Your spine should be parallel to the floor with neutral curves. Good core activation will hold you strong in this starting position, which is more than challenging enough for beginning exercisers. To increase the leverage, slowly push the ball 2” forward and back, moving only the arms, without losing any quality in your spinal position or core engagement. As you get stronger, increase the movement of the ball, and incorporate opening at the shoulders and hips at the same time. Perform 3 sets of 30-60 seconds in a smooth, controlled fashion. For increased instability and greater difficulty, try putting your hands on the ball instead of your forearms. As you get more comfortable, you can also increase the speed of the movements, or add side-to-side action to the ball. Always use your core engagement and neutral spinal alignment as your measure of quality, and stop performing the exercise before you lose control in these areas.
Ball bridging uses much of your core and hip musculature. Start in a sitting position on a ball, then roll out until the back of your head and shoulders are resting on the ball and your knees are at 90˚ angles, with your feet hip-width apart. Extend your arms upward, with your palms together and maintain good core activation and spinal alignment. This is the basic starting position, from which there are numerous progressions. Try turning your ribcage, shoulders, arms and head as one stable unit, while keeping your hips as still and level as possible. The ball should roll sideways, underneath your bottom shoulder as you turn. Pause and twist to the other side. Keep your alignment as neutral as possible. Perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions. Another variation is to keep your upper body neutral, and your hips elevated and level as you raise one foot slightly off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds on each side. Starting with your feet close together will make this easier.
Try this great exercise to target the sides of the torso, which include the lower back and abdominal muscles. Start by laying on your right side over the top of an exercise ball, with your feet braced against the base of a wall and your top leg behind the bottom leg. The ball should be positioned so that it supports your pelvis and lower torso, just below your rib cage. Place your arms across your chest, or for greater difficulty, place your hands at the side of your head as shown in the picture. Maintain good alignment of the body as you lower your body down, stretching over the ball, then raise back up, lifting your left elbow toward the ceiling as you shift your ribcage upward. Try 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each side, maintaining strong core stability and controlled movement speeds. Be careful to maintain good balance and control of the ball while preventing your body from twisting.
–Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 16 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition, and can be contacted at Williams Health Group.