In the next few weeks we’ll be posting some simple exercises to help you prepare and get the most out of your skiing trip.
Although the holidays are still a few months away, the time to start preparing for your skiing trip is now!
The Hip Hinge
Hopefully by now you’ve been getting your leg muscles prepared by using the exercises in part 1 of this series. If not, we’d recommend starting there. In part 2 we’re going to go through a simple exercise to teach you how to avoid placing undue stress on your back.
Skiing requires you to bend forwards to keep your balance and reduce air drag. You can accomplish this in two ways – bending from the hips (good) or bending from the spine (bad!). Bending from the hips is often referred to as a “hip hinge” – creating a hinge joint at the hips whilst keeping the legs and torso stiff.
By bending this way, you are making the larger hip joint take more load, and using the strongest muscle in the body (the gluteus maximus) to help hold the position. It also keeps the spine in a nice neutral position, which gives the spinal muscles an advantage and requires less work from them.
Here’s what a good hip hinge looks like:
Looks simple, doesn’t it? But it’s actually quite a technical movement.
Notice how the bend occurs only at the hip – the spine is straight right from pelvis to head. Another important but more subtle point is that the hips have moved backwards slightly – this keeps the upper body balanced on the feet. If you don’t allow the hips to come backwards, your hamstrings will lock up early to stop you falling over.
Once this happens, you can’t bend further without rounding your back, so that backward shift makes a big difference to your spine.
The problem for a lot of people when trying to perform a hip hinge is knowing whether it’s your hip or low back that’s moving – you can’t use a mirror to see without twisting the spine, which will mask what’s happening in your low back. In order to get a good feel for the movement, it’s helpful to use some sort of stick to place along the spine – a broomstick or mop handle work well here.
You want something that’s not too heavy and long enough, and that doesn’t easily bend.
Place this stick along the back of your spine, making sure it touches 3 places – your tailbone, in between your shoulder blades, and the back of your head.
These three points must stay in contact during the whole exercise – if they come away you’re rounding your spine. From here soften your knees, and rather than thinking “bend forwards” think “push your hips backwards”. Go slowly, and keep monitoring where the stick is touching the spine. Once you feel a stretch in the back of your legs, stop and slowly return to standing.
The most common mistakes during a hip hinge are:
- Allowing the stick to slide up the tailbone onto the low back – this means you’ve bent your spine.
- Compensating too far and over-arching the low back. This compresses the spine and overworks the small joints and muscles. As a rough guide, you should be able to fit your fingers snugly between the sick and your low back. If there’s room enough that you can’t touch the stick and the back with all 4 fingers, you should reduce the arch a little (think about tightening your stomach muscles a little to achieve this).
- Turning it into a squat by bending the knees further. The aim is to move your hips backwards, not down.
- Keeping your head level – this leads to overextension in your neck. Keep the head in line with the spine as you bend down. It often helps to avoid fixing your eyes on an object, or even closing them if you are confident in your balance.
Left: Poor technique – rounding the low back
Right: Poor technique – overarching the neck and low back
Again, it looks simple but most people find this pretty challenging to begin with. If you’re struggling, here’s a couple of alternatives to help you feel the movement.
- Stand with about 30cm away from a wall, with your back to it. Try to touch your backside to the wall whilst keeping your chest up
- Using some sort of ball (football size or a little smaller is perfect), place it between your hips and the wall. Try to roll the ball up the wall using your tailbone
- Perform a full forward bend, as if you were trying to touch your toes. You will feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Slowly lift your chest upwards, but without losing this stretching sensation.
Initially you should try to practice this as often as possible. Ten repetitions is usually enough, but if you can perform that a few times a day it will rapidly get easier.
Once you feel like you’re getting the hang of it, try incorporating it into daily activities. Brushing your teeth, washing your hands, picking items up from a table – these all involve some bending, and are a good time to practice it. When you become more confident, try performing it without the stick. However, it’s a good idea to use the stick every few days to make sure you are keeping good form – if suddenly feels unusual, go back to using it for a few days again.
Once ten repetitions without the stick feels relatively easy, we can start building some muscle stamina.
Longer holds will train muscles along the backs of the legs and spine (what’s known as the “posterior chain”). Given how long you will spend in this position whilst on the slopes, having sufficient muscle endurance is vital. Drop down to 5 repetitions, but begin holding the position for longer. Keep the same time for each repetition, and start with less than you think you can – 10 seconds may feel easy at first, but 5 repetitions to 10 seconds is another story. If it feels easy, increase it a little the next day – but not by more than 10% at a time.
Over time this will increase the endurance of your posterior chain muscles, which will help you keep good position whilst on the slopes. However, the most important thing is that you are able to find this position – you don’t need to hold it still for long periods.
As an added benefit, hip hinging is a vital skill to preventing low back injuries when lifting. If you take the time to learn this, the benefits will keep paying off long after you’re back from the holiday!
Important – you should discuss any new exercise plan with your chiropractor or a fitness professional before beginning. This does not comprise of specific exercise advice, it simply aims to give you an overview of what you can do and how to best use them. Not all the exercises mentioned will be suitable for everyone.