Dr Declan Hofbauer
Skis, boots, poles… Check! What next…?
“The important thing to realise about this, however, is that it is not just applicable to time spent on snow…”
Stability, balance and “the core” - fact or fiction?
Ever since manual therapists popularised the term ‘core strength’ in the 90’s - riders of all kinds have sought the elusive core strength. But what actually is it? *Your 6 pack* I hear you unanimously echo, and you’re partway there. But much like cold temperatures are to snow, it’s only part of the picture.
Your ‘core’ is actually all of the muscular and connective tissue structures extending from your pelvic floor (between your legs), through your trunk and up to your shoulders and trapezius muscles. The connections between your pelvis, abdomen, trunk and shoulders are what forms your core. Aside from housing our many vital organs, this is what our legs, arms and neck connect to. So what does this mean for you for when making those Instagram worthy turns?
For starters, this forms the basis of our stability when engaging without environment. Falling short of delving into the technical aspect of skiing and boarding, without a stable upper body and trunk you will struggle to make independent movements of your upper and lower body - the basis of safe effective riding. A lack of stability sacrifices endurance, power and efficiency as we over recruit other muscle groups (abs/shoulders/legs) to compensate. The important thing to realise about this, however, is that it is not just applicable to our time on snow. This is applicable to the way we move through our world on a day to day basis - be that seated at a desk or on the tools. I’m going to attempt to break this down into easily digestible and applicable components and areas.
Pelvic Floor is the term given to the group of muscles that make up the underside (floor) of our pelvis. In basic terms, a weak pelvic floor will affect the stability of our pelvis and the isolated movement of our legs and low back - it is not a gender-specific requirement! Having a strong pelvic floor reduces the over-recruitment of our abdominals and improves our balance! Simple exercises such a kegals and pelvic tilts are a good place to start. Abdominal and lower back muscles are the most popularised core muscles. A key point to remember here is that these muscles should be assisting in the stabilisation of our trunk and pelvis, not playing the role of the main pelvic stabilisers. A weak pelvic floor and overdominant abdominals (especially the diaphragm, your breathing muscle) puts extra pressure on our lumbar spine, leading to earlier wear/tear and aggravation of underlying conditions such as facet arthritis and disc injuries. Putting together a program with your health professional to make sure that the abdominals are recruiting appropriately is a good place to start.
Shoulders and upper back need both flexibility and power in order to support your flailing arms when you hit that hidden mogul or overshoot the jump! But all the upper body strength you’ve been working hard on over the summer months will be diminished without a mobile rib cage (one that breaths freely and equally), allowing your chest and upper body to remain ‘quiet’ whilst skiing. With a well-balanced rib cage, our shoulders are able to move independently and our low back remains balanced and independent. This reduces the load placed on the lower body in addition to the obvious benefit of improving the efficiency of your breathing as you push for that last run.
The key message here is to start with the development of stability before you start lifting the heavyweights. This ensures a proper, coordinated movement pattern that is as efficient and pain-free as possible. It can seem like a big and complex system, so where to start? Your health professional at Without Limits Health can point you in the right direction with individual assessment.
The use of tools such as a foam roller and spiky ball are useful in aiding in your recovery, improving muscle tension and blood flow. Generally speaking, heat will be your friend when attempting to stretch and recover (unless an acute injury is present, in which case follow the advice of your acute care practitioner).
The C Word
Cardio. Without it, your Sunday might be limited to the 2 runs before you begin to collapse and are left behind to sip on $8 flat whites. Whilst our vertical length is limited in Australia, your cardiovascular (CV) capacity helps your recovery on the lift up and during the night. And for our Nordic cousins and backcountry skinners, aerobic capacity is a must. Check out Tom’s last blog post about getting into running, it's a great place to start. Adding a bit of variety (trail, track, walking path) will help you stay stoked and engaged. You can also improve your CV and anaerobic (without oxygen, for the short sharp bursts) with ski and board specific exercises by constructing mini agility courses made of hurdles, jumps, balance and shuttle run components. Get creative!
What about the other 3 seasons of the year?
Whilst the snow season is limited in Aus, this seemingly specific prep is applicable to everyday life. By assessing your movement and developing a strengthening program based on stability, your midweek work posture will benefit tremendously. Whether you’re a weekend warrior, just starting out or a long-term fitness freak - this is applicable to you. And even better, is that it doesn’t take much. Lululemon and North Face exercise gear aren’t needed here, most of these exercises require a Theraband and runners at most (saving those hard-earned dollars for resort entry and early bird season passes!).
Armed with all of this information, you can begin to appreciate all the different aspects that can affect your long weekend in August. Strength and endurance for on and off the snow will be improved with a little self-investment. This isn’t even factoring in the injury prevention aspect of being physically capable for the long days and improving your recovery capacity. So before you ‘chuck a snowy’, start the process of improving your physical health and fitness now and maximise the vertical this coming season!