Cross Country Skiing: Stability & Efficiency = More Fun, More Speed, & Fewer Injuries

It looks like winter is here to stay in Edmonton and in my household, that means a big cheer goes up!  For many Edmontonians, a good snowfall means it’s time to get out and enjoy it.  Whether cross country skiing is a new sport, your primary sport or you are using it to cross-train for your main sport, it’s a great way to get outdoors in the winter months, and to get and stay fit.

By practicing proper skiing technique, you can maintain and increase your balance and core stability.  Serious injuries in XC skiing are rare and relate mostly to crashes; however, skiers can be prone to shoulder, low back/pelvis, and various muscle strain/overuse types of injuries.   We rarely hear of world cup level skiers missing competition time in the ski season due to orthopedic injuries – this is due to their well-developed sense of balance, core stability and overall strength and flexibility.

Here are photos of Ole Einar Bjorndalen, the most decorated nordic athlete in history, skate-skiing in competition. His skate-skiing form and technique are almost perfect and the first thing you will notice in the photos is how relaxed he looks even though he is skiing at top speed.

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Notice his hip and pelvic stability: his hips are square across from side to side (his hip doesn’t pop out to the side and doesn’t drop down or back).  This comes from his hip/pelvic stabilizers and abdominal muscles in addition to great balance.

Notice that his back is not hunched or bent forward, but is stable and straight and his hips stay aligned with his shoulders (he is not twisting through his trunk).  This again demonstrates his core strength and awareness including his shoulder/scapular stabilizers.

Sadly, we can’t all be Ole Einar (I think he was born to do what he does!), but we can all take steps to ski more efficiently, increase our confidence and fun skiing, and prevent injuries.  Here are some things to work on right away:

1.  Strengthen your prime movement muscles specifically related to skiing:  your quads, gluteals, hamstrings, abdominals, lats, and triceps are all key to strong skiing.  Squats, single leg hamstring curls, triceps extensions and lat pull-downs will help strengthen these areas.

2.  Strengthen your stability muscles/balance muscles.  Ankle inversion/eversion, gluteal/hip exercises (for example: clamshells, rubber tubing exercises), rotator cuff exercises, and scapular stabilizer exercises will all increase your skiing stability and efficiency.

3.  Flexibility work in general, and especially your hip flexors, ankle dorsiflexion and shoulder retraction should all get special attention.

4.  Put it all together with balance work.  To ski in a relaxed and efficient way, even when you are going fast, requires that you are able to balance well on one foot and be stable all the way up your body to your trunk and shoulders.  Try this:  Stand on one foot and hop laterally across onto your other foot (like a skating movement).  Once you land on the other foot, try to balance on that foot for a long as possible (up to 10 seconds) while keeping your pelvis and trunk still and stable, before pushing off and hopping laterally back onto the other foot, where you balance again for up to 10 seconds.  Repeat  this cycle 10x back and forth on each foot at least once daily.

5.  Get out and use it right away – get out for that ski and visualize Ole Einar’s form as you glide along the trails.  The more you ski and reinforce good form, the more it can transfer to your other activities and general strength, stability and flexibility.

I look forward to spending lots of time on the trails this winter and hope to see you out there too.  Keep posted to our website throughout the winter months for some more skiing tips.  Also, check out the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club and Strathcona Wilderness Centre for local trail conditions and expert instruction, programs, lessons etc.

Paul Klann, B.Sc. P.T.