It’s an area of performance that can be overlooked and used as a bit of a token gesture by some, but flexibility has a massive effect on how you ski. When an athlete understands how something effects their performance they attach value to it, I’ll try to raise the stock of flexibility a little bit here.
Flexibility or lack of it will effect the ability of a skier to maintain correct knee alignment, the importance of which for injury prevention I’ve talked about. A common issue, is a lack of mobility through the hips. When this is coupled with a lack of strength in certain movements a dominance of hip internal rotation and poor knee alignment can occur. From a technical perspective this means A-framing and difficulty controlling edges, from an injury perspective, this means ACL.
Another common issue is a tightness in the calfs, this will mean an inability to flex forward in the ski boot causing pressure on the calf, a levering of the foot to the front of the boot causing bruised toes and or heel lift in the boot when trying to flex forward.
These 2 issues can also alter the position of your centre of mass on the ski shifting it backwards making it harder to get your weight to the front of the ski. It can be easy to blame the equipment by saying the boots are too stiff or the skis aren’t right but most skiers will benefit massively by incorporating some form of stretching into their training.
The triple extension is a key movement, extending the hip, knee and ankle occurs as a major component of most sports. When one of those movements is severely restricted by say, putting the lower leg in a rigid plastic boot though, it alters the way force is produced and transferred throughout the entire kinetic chain. In skiing, it is the knees that bear the brunt. As a result knee injuries account for around 40% of all ski injuries, a massive amount, and it highlights the importance of strength and proprioception (positional awareness) about the knee.
Strength imbalances and movement inhibitions throughout the whole body can have a devastating effect on what occurs at the knee placing it in some very vulnerable positions, as well as having a negative effect on comfort inside a ski boot. The need for hamstring strength in prevention of knee ligament injury is well documented and activation of the hip abductors (move your knee outwards) is also an important element. Single leg lifts like split squats, single leg squats and lunges have a great impact on both of these. Introducing a lateral component using resistance bands is a great method of increasing the frontal plane (side to side) forces throughout the lifts.
With appropriate coaching, these movements can be mastered with bodyweight fairly quickly, it’s then possible to start adding extra weight to further increase your strength. As you become more competent, it is then possible start to manipulate the timings involved in each rep (e.g. slow on the way down or pauses at the bottom) to increase the crossover to your skiing.
NB. You should always seek supervision from a properly qualified strength and conditioning coach in order to safely get the most from your training.
When analysing any sport, identifying the plane/s of motion that movement occurs in is very important. The majority of movement and force production in skiing occurs in the frontal plane or side to side. Training for the sport should reflect this.
It can be difficult to create that lateral force production in the gym but to maximise frontal plane activity, unilateral lifts and loads really come to the fore. Which is also really handy given the rarity in skiing that force is the same through both legs. Multi directional hops, jumps and drop landings all with clean takeoff and landing mechanics should also form a part of any ski training. These also include a big eccentric component that we already know to be important.
As for the conditioning side, long duration steady state exercise seems to be a popular method of preparation. Circuits and shuttles, however, with changes of direction provide a massive amount of versatility allowing a lot of frontal plane movement to be used and allowing the possibility of training other balance and reactive skills under fatigue. They also have much more crossover biomechanically than a straight line activity like running and cycling.