Health Insights: Hip-strengthening exercises to prepare for ski season
It’s fall, and the winter season will soon force change in our active lives. The shoulder season is a great time to train for the different activities ahead — such as skiing and snowboarding.
The demands on our bodies change as we transition to snow sports. So put the time in now and prepare your body for a safe and fun winter season.
Back on the snow
When considering snow sports, it’s obvious that downhill skiing and snowboarding can involve the biggest risks. These activities cause the majority of injuries I treat during the winter season. Compared to hiking and cycling, these activities involve more rotation and angulation. Muscle memory makes it easy for us to clip back into our bindings and ski or ride a foot of powder on opening day, but is it safe to do without any preparation?
To prepare, let’s look at the hip joint specifically. In my opinion, hip-joint strength is crucial to skiing and snowboarding. It is a primary joint that’s responsible for controlling the rotation and angulation components of these sports.
The hip is a ball-and-socket joint, similar to our shoulder but far more stable. It has some really impressive layers of muscles: the gluteus maximus (the strongest muscle in our body) and the gluteus medius and minimus, as well as a collaboration of adductors, deep hip external and internal rotators. Together, these muscles control the alignment of the pelvis, knee and, subsequently, the entire lower leg.
That’s a big job! It takes a lot of muscle control to engage your edges on your skis or snowboard, and it’s all coming from the hips. These sports become extremely dangerous when you lose your balance or form — usually caused by having weak hips.
Working the hips
It’s all in the hips, so they say. So, let’s work ’em! Here are some key exercises I prescribe to my patients with hip weakness that affects their lower-body alignment.
When you do these exercises, feeling activation and fatigue in the hip muscles is important, just like making sure you’re ready for this kind of exercise. Be sure to consult with your doctor or therapist before trying any specific exercise.
1. Crabwalks: Place a light to medium-strength resistance band around your ankles. Assume the athletic stance and side step from left to right for 25 feet. Reverse. Make it a goal to go for five minutes.
2. Clamshells: Lay on your side with your knees flexed to 90 degrees and your ankles in line with your stacked (perpendicular to the ground) hips and shoulders. Separate the knees while hinging on the ankles. Placing your hand behind your hips can prevent your pelvis from rolling backward. These are tough, but shoot for 50 reps on each side.
3. Single-leg glute bridge: Lay on your back with your knees flexed at 90 degrees and one foot on the ground. Perform a bridge motion using one leg, keeping your core tight. The other leg can stay in the air during the motion. This is another burner — go for two sets of 25 reps each side.
Hip strengthening doesn’t have to be complicated. I often use variations of these exercises with patients of all ages and abilities because they are so effective.
The real key to the puzzle is putting this strength into action by making sure you can maintain optimal alignment when challenged, like taking a mogul run (or even a groomer) on the ski kill. Single-leg bridges and squats are incredibly challenging, and it is easy to see when more work is needed to strengthen those hip muscles.
As the leaves continue to change, so should you in preparation for the fun winter activities that lay ahead. I’m not saying to pack the bikes away (I still like biking in the snow), but give thought to the time you spend on training now, as it is an investment in your good health for all four seasons.
Eric Dube has been part of the Howard Head Sports Medicine team since 2011, working with the U.S. Snowboardcross Team and covering World Cup and World Championship events internationally. He is board certified as an orthopedic clinical specialist through the American Physical Therapy Association. Howard Head Sports Medicine is an outpatient department of Vail Valley Medical Center. Learn more at http://www.vailortho.com.
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