Well into our seasonal grappling with snow and bluster, this may be a belated time for the skier to start tackling the challenges of preparatory cross training. However, the season is threatening to be long this year (cue hoorays from the winter athletes and grumbles from the rest of the population), and so it seems it is not too late to add these simple strategies into an off-slope regimen. Or at the least, to file them away for next season.
Over the years, I have received many testimonials from students of my ballet fitness program, the Extension Method, claiming that the unique strength, balance and flexibility they had honed in these classes proved to make a dramatic difference when they made their annual return to the hill. To what in particular can this be attributed?
As a skier myself, having grown up in Collingwood, I gave this some thought and determined that the applicable ballet benefits lie predominantly in three areas:
1-THE PLIÉ- VMO Development & Knee Tracking
2-TURNOUT- Adductor Strength & Flexibility
3-THE SUPPORTING LEG- Gluteus Medius & Pelvic Support
1. Anyone who has tried to descend a mountain on straight legs will attest that this is a recipe for disaster. A consistent bend of the knees (what we in ballet would call a plié) is required to absorb the shock of each change in terrain and maintain balance. Supporting your weight with bent knees over a long period of time is challenging, and requires sustained strength in the VMO (the muscle group directly above the knee joint).
How to build this strength? Try a series of PLIES on a flat foot and then on releve (heels raised):
-stand with feet wider than hip width, rotated externally 45 degrees outwards
-bend the knees to take a plié, ensuring knees line up over the centre of the feet and tailbone points straight down, hip bones directly forward; repeat x 8
-next bend knees in small pulses x 16
-repeat series x 4, then repeat from beginning with both heels raised
2. Flying down a mountain at high speed means navigating rapid directional and changes and two moving platforms that may separate at anytime, leaving you in a tangled pretzel of limbs. To prevent ending up accidentally in the splits (and possibly a great degree of pain), a certain degree of inner thigh strength is required to maintain proximity between those skis. Build your adductors without gripping your hip flexors by practising this exercise daily:
-sit with legs extended in front, then recline back to place elbows on floor
-rotate legs externally, presenting inner thighs to ceiling
-flex foot, then begin a series of rapid leg movements in the shape of an L, drawing a right angle with the heel, lifting up and then side; repeat x 32
-next, point foot and draw small circles with the leg outwards x 32; repeat circling inwards x 32
-finish pulsing the leg in a straight line outwards x 3, then close it in once x 8 sets; reverse and pulse leg in a straight line inwards x 3, then open once x 8 sets
3. Perfecting the ideal zigzag swish and responding to moguls is a bit of a hip dance. Lateral movement is necessary as you make your way down a hill. Otherwise, that out-of-control straight trajectory downwards (aka the Yeddy) spells a certain end to any skier’s longevity. How to strengthen the hips and prep them for sideways shock absorption? Practice building a dancer’s endurance on one leg. Here’s a great way to ensure the pelvis does not sink into the hip without support:
-stand with one hand on a support (try a counter or back of couch if you do not have access to a ballet barre)
-stand with heels together and legs externally rotated (1st position)
-lift outside foot and attach toe to inside ankle; bend standing knee, then stretch to unfold outer leg to the front, fully stretched; repeat x 8, finishing with 8 small pulses of straight leg
-repeat series with leg unfolding to the side, then again to the back
Ensure pelvis remains level throughout, and weight does not sink into supporting (standing) hip.
Albeit a modest beginning, the exercises above may effect some positive change for you on the slopes. If nothing else, they could add a little finesse to your path, or prevent unnecessary injury. Grace is beneficial everywhere. Even when it’s -20 Celsius. Maybe more so.