Effective Off-Snow Functional Stability, Mobility and Movement Strategies for Improved On-Snow Ski Performance


On Tuesday April 9, from 6-7:30 at Tahoe Donner Cross-Country Center, Ryan Solberg, Clinical Director at Tahoe Forest Physical Therapy, and I will be present, demo and lead participants in off-snow strategies to improve on-snow technique efficiency and performance. The presentation will start with a discussion on the importance of biomechanics, followed by an abbreviated participant strength, flexibility and movement assessment utilizing Dartfish video analysis. Finally we will jump in to action with a sampling of the exercise progression to address and improve weak links in movement patterns.

We all know that precise technique is money for effortless efficient cross-country skiing. The key to developing and honing on-snow technique is our off-snow ability to effectively activate and strengthen muscles and then train them to move properly. By improving hip, pelvis, single limb and trunk stability and mobility – we train the essential ingredients for effective movement, which in terms of skiing equates to effortless balance on a flat gliding ski.

This upcoming presentation, held in conjunction with the Super Tour Cross-Country Ski National Championships, is based on an exercise protocol developed by renowned researcher, physical therapist and USC professor, Dr. Chris Powers. Ryan and I both had the privilege to recently attend the six month Advanced Biomechanics of the Lower Extremities fellowship with Dr. Powers at his USC-based Movement Performance Institute (MPI). As a result of 10 years of research at USC and more recent testing at MPI, Powers has developed an eight-tiered program that begins with muscle activation, then transitions to strength and concludes by training movement. Not all strength programs are created equal – this effective and proven system first institutes brain and isolated muscle communication. Athletic performance is more than pure strength – it is ultimately our ability to generate, control and direct powerful movements.

Tuesday’s presentation will emphasize the importance of developing off-snow functional strength and movement as the foundation for on-snow technique and improved performance. Our chronically sedentary life-styles, have resulted in a perpetual state of flexion, contributing to tight hip flexors, and over-active internal rotators and adductors. Due to this tightness we default to the path of least resistance, and adopt quad dominant movement strategies. As a consequence, we lose the ability to feel, activate and utilize the powerful hips – gluteus medius and gluteus maximus.  

The lack of hip activation and stability on skis results in poor hip, knee and toe alignment and the inability to effectively set and maintain a flat ski. Hip strength is the greatest contributor to pelvis, trunk and single leg stability. Our ability to tap in to this strength provides hip, knee and toe alignment affording more precise on-ski movements/technique well as improved balance and power – all the ingredients for efficient, effortless skiing.

While the exercise progression presented will result in more controlled and effortless hip and knee alignment over the flat gliding ski, it will be equally beneficial during the off-season pursuits of cycling and running. Improved hip strength resulting in more sound biomechanics will facilitate greater efficiency to produce linear force in to the pedal while cycling and in to the ground while running. While hip strength is central to improving performance, it is of equal value to ensure injury prevention and the knee is utilized as it was designed.

Click List of Excercises for a sampling of the exercise progression

Hope to see you Tuesday