3 Muscle Groups That Are So Important For Skiing !


A message from the Editor (Andrew Elsdon):

We have all heard of a “muscle car“. Just imagine for one moment that you were into muscle cars and you’ve always wanted to rip down the highway. I know, I know… it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but follow me here on this analogy. Picture that muscle car in all its glory, but there was no muscle in it – Huh? How do you think that car would fare if the tires were bald, the suspension was shot, and the engine had no oil? How do you think that car would rip down the highway if there was a 2-cylindar engine under the hood? That muscle car might look good, but making it a mile down the road could be a problem.

Recently through online and virtual contacts, I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow ski instructor by the name of Kristen Heard. She skis out of Silver Star Resort in British Columbia, Canada. The following is her insight when it comes to the ‘muscles‘ of skiing. A very interesting take on why 3 specific muscle groups are important in our skiing.


In this article, Kristen reveals why the “muscle car” needs muscles and why these 3 muscle groups are so important for skiing.

Andrew Elsdon

Kristen Heard- Ski Instructor (SilverStar)

Why Certain Muscle Groups are Important

Refinement of bending all joints

This winter I was training for my Trainer Development Exam. During this process I did a lot of shadowing with my Trainers. They were now training the GAP program I had trained up for their Level 1. It was time now for them to head into preparation for their Level 2.

During this process I was also getting trained as a trainer and became involved with their weekly training. This particular group was filled with 8 people from all over the world. Out of these 8, 5 were young women. During their training for the Level 2 like anything your working towards there is a step up and a standard you have to meet in order to be successful.

The goal was to prepare them for their Level 2 course and assessed training. Two outcomes we worked a lot on was refining bending of all joints; ankles, knees and hips to maintain their balance. The other one was being able to separate the upper and lower body to allow the legs to turn. 

Some of the Difficulties

Three (3) out of these five (5) women had some challenges not only understanding but trying to interpret what was being said. There was some frustration, words and tears in the process of getting there. At different occasions, two of these women would ask me for advice either while I was on snow with them or when they next saw me.

They wondered why it was so difficult for them to achieve something that looked to be so simple. Bending all joints equally to maintain an active balance should be easy, right ? Turning the legs should be simple ? The thing is that both of these are interconnected and without one you cannot achieve the other. 

Why It Didn’t Stick

The drills and tactics we had been using were working, but when it came putting it together in their skiing it wouldn’t really stick. Which we all know it can take hours or even years to drill a new motor skill into our movement patterns. I think we’ve all been there at some or a lot of stages in our own skiing. I was getting to the point where I didn’t understand why they couldn’t do these simple tasks. The explanations my trainer was giving were very simple and clear and made complete sense. I was starting to think maybe they are not very aware of their own body. 

Strength or Muscle

It wasn’t until it was getting closer to their course date that the Technical Director had come out and filled in for the afternoon for my other trainer. I was still taking part in shadowing at this point. He mentioned to me that one particular women didn’t have the strength in their legs to be able to achieve what we had been asking for the past so many weeks.

This was using all the joints to maintain an active balance. Which at that point I was thinking in my head ok that makes sense because he’d told me to hit the gym after I passed my Level 2 to get stronger. During this particular session the young woman was complaining yet again about the dreaded lower back pain. 

Hamstrings Are the Elevator to the Glutes

If you have followed my previous article on SkiChatter, I was talking about women having curvature of the lower spine. The result is having lower back pain due to the position of their pelvis while skiing. There is also some other factors that come into play.

Yet again it wasn’t until I started doing pilates I had another Aha moment !! This particular video was working on the strengthening the glutes. To which the pilates instructor kept repeating your hamstrings are the elevator to you glutes, which supports your lower abdominals. If you don’t have strong hamstrings you cannot support your glutes.

Therefore you can’t support your lower abdominals or even hold yourself up. These 3 particular muscles are literally what holds up your upper body. I was making a cup of tea when remembered the comment about the legs needing to be stronger in order for this woman to achieve maintaining her active balance. To which I said out loud I GET IT !!! It makes complete sense. So I started looking into it more and playing around. 

3 Muscles Holding Up Our Upper Body

Hamstrings / Gluteus / Lower Abdominals

A woman may appear collapsed in her skiing or stance on her base of support due to the fact they have weak muscles in these 3 particular areas; Hamstrings, Glutes and Lower Abdominals. They might start off “taller” initially in their skiing but as they continue down the slope their stance starts to fold forward at the hips appearing “collapsed”. This puts pressure on their lower back. It is also is restricting their range of movement completely by becoming static in their movement patterns. Which results in not being able to turn their legs efficiently. 

This seems to be a common theme not only in women but also young female teenagers. When a young women starts through puberty their muscles and bones are still growing and there is a lot of physical changes happening. This will affect the way they perform in skiing especially their balance. Men have narrower hips and their legs run more in a straight line compare to women whose hips are wider and legs run more on an angle (The Q-Angle). This may be a reason why men don’t appear collapsed that often in skiing and won’t necessarily have to spend as much time strengthening these 3 areas compared to women. 

Q-Angle

Glutes

Which got me thinking- “Do women really know their bodies at all after going through physical changes?” “Do they know where their balance point is? Their range of movement ? Which side of their body is more flexible ? What are my limitations ?” Looking back on myself, I don’t think I started to understand my own body until I started focusing on my exercise specifically for skiing.

Lower Abdominals

Another thing I learned was that your lower abdominals are not just at the front of your body. It is the whole circumference of your body which totally makes sense to the lower back pain. I get lower back pain not while skiing but once we are standing in one spot for too long due to the curvature of the spine. I’ve now started to focus on strengthening my lower back which will be interesting to see how it measures up once I’m back on snow. 


I Started Going to the Gym

It then became obvious that no matter how much time and effort you put into a drill or tactic if you are not physically strong enough to hold yourself up then how are you going to expect change to happen in your skiing? It’s really a combination of it all, strength training off snow and training on snow.

Since starting my journey in Ski Instructing and heading to the gym, I noticed straight away, as the next winter rolled around how much stronger I felt on snow. I was amazed at how little effort I had to put into moves that I once struggled with. The reactions I was getting from everyone that I had been training with was “What did you do over summer”? The answer was simple, I starting going to the gym

Trainers

I Googled skiing exercises to do in the gym and came across Frédérik Lépine‘s YouTube channel. I became interested in this particularly as he is a Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance- Level 4 which is the same alliance I am apart of. I did some looking around on the page and quickly got to learn he was a kinesiologist and personal trainer as well. I couldn’t understand one word of the videos as they are in French.

Fred Lepin (Front) @ Mont Ste Anne, Quebec

I just copied some of the exercises that looked fun without realizing I was focusing on these particular muscles groups until recently. That was 4 years ago and now have made habit and commitment of going to the gym 4-6 times a week.

Having found a new outlook on fitness with pilates and strength training I will incorporate this in with lifting weights and playing around with my balance. 

Worth the Effort

It may seem like a lot of effort to get to the goals you are after in skiing. I cannot stress enough that you have to put in a lot of time, effort and dedication in all areas to gain an understanding. Not only on snow but also off the snow. This is what makes the difference in your skiing whether it’s for recreation or wanting to go the next level in your certifications. The main thing is no matter how you achieve getting these muscles stronger make sure it’s fun for you!! 


I’m no expert at any of this. These are just observations and some research I have made with experiences, I have had over time.  

Kristen Heard

Summary

Building an awareness and a physical ‘muscle car’ are key to improving your skiing on the slopes.


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3 comments

  1. Andrew

    I think as ski instructors, the more we know about our own ski development, it’s likely to be more beneficial to the students we teach…
    Good work Kristen.

  2. Peter Harrison

    Hi Kristen,
    I always thought that women had a different centre of balance and stance on skis, compared to men. Well done taking this to the next step

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