The Secret to Big Angles in Ski Racing? Unilateral Balance
Ski racing requires not only endurance, but also strength, stability, mobility and the often discussed aspect of balance. One great way to determine if you will be able to lay it over like Ligety will depend on your ability to balance on one leg in a variety of positions. This is called unilateral balance, and it can make or break your skiing.
The first position is a simple test: can you stand on one leg without holding on to anything? This may be difficult for kids who are growing quickly or people who haven’t tried it in a while, but it is still important to practice in order to ski well. If you can do this on both legs without wobbling too much, then great! Yogis who can do the dancer’s pose, congrats—you probably have the requisite balance to dig a bit deeper because there there is always room for improvement.
If standing on one leg is easy, then exercises can be introduced to concurrently build strength while developing stabilizers in the body that aid in balance. The first thing to try is stationary lunges. Instead of having both feet under you like a regular squat, split your feet (one in front, one behind) and lower your hips slowly, keeping your knee over your ankle. Here is a video that demonstrates the movement:
The best way to know if you are doing it right is to have a partner (or better yet, a qualified personal trainer) to see if your upper body stays straight up while you lower yourself. Being able to put your legs in this position uses a similar muscle group that you will be using through a turn (where some points can have all of the weight on one leg). If this is easy, then elevating the back foot on a bench can intensify the movement.
Once this skill is mastered, the single leg squat AKA pistol progression should be attempted. This action requires balance and strength that you may have never used, so be careful of your surroundings. Check out a detailed explanation of the progression here, or just watch the video:
Being able to do multiple, unassisted, full range pistols will work wonders for your strength and balance. I use this as a test on most athletes I encounter, and can almost picture their ski style based on their pistol. The ones that work on this can almost always get their hip closer to the snow at the apex of the turn and ultimately push out of that position. This ability allows them to create greater edge angle at the gate, intensifying the bend of the ski (making the turn easier to accomplish) and thus assisting in the optimum reaction of the ski.
Athletes who struggle with their balance often are afraid (due to lack of experience) or are simply unable to get into these positions, and tend to ski upright with little separation between the upper and lower body.
If this is something you struggle with, then let the off season be the time to improve your balance without the distraction of speed and gates. Until then, happy single squatting everyone! Tune in next week for more fitness tips from TSC!