It’s no secret you need strong legs for skiing. However, leg strength alone isn’t enough. They key is to have strong muscles and joints functioning together in coordination with each other all the way up the chain from the ankles to the hips. You need to have the ability to bend and stretch at your hips, knees and ankles and to rotate the legs in the hip joint itself (think moguls), all in control.
The basis of this control lies in a strong core. By having a strong core, you have a center from which to push your legs away from your body or pull them in towards you. By keeping yourself stable in the core you can turn your legs in or out or put pressure on the inside edge of the foot. From your core you can direct the force in your legs all the way down to your feet. In pilates we work on integrating the movement of the joints in control with the core. This controlled movement allows us not only to be stronger but to have some fluidity and endurance in our movements when we turn back and forth across a downhill trail or glide along on our cross-country skis.
There are many pilates exercises to choose from for conditioning the legs for skiing. One set of exercises from the reformer repertoire is the “feet in straps” series “bend and stretch”. Bend and stretch builds strength, flexibility, endurance and control while both straightening and bending the legs against resistance and maintaining core stability. Not only are the legs moving in a parallel position, but also moving while rotated in or out at the hip joint to build strength and endurance in those positions. In addition to working the hip and knee joints, we are also working the foot and ankle joints by pointing the toes away (plantar flexion) and pulling the toes back in towards the shin flexing the ankle (dorsiflexion). All the while the core is working to maintain stability of the pelvis so that we have that base point from which to turn the legs or stretch them away and pull them back. In this way we are strengthening and stretching all the muscles and joints to function together smoothly, a skill which can then be translated into our winter activities!