Whether you’re an elite athlete or a master blaster, you want to be strong enough to ski at your fastest in your target event. If strength training isn’t part of your training plan, you’re missing an important fitness component.
“Functional training is considered to be training that attempts to mimic the specific physiological demands of real-life activities.” — Ives et al., Psychophysics in Functional Strength and Power Training (February 2003)
There are many great fundamental movements you can do in the gym. They translate not only to skiing, but also to the functions of daily living.
In addition to traditional moves like deadlifts and squats, single-leg exercises can enhance your fitness in a couple of ways. When you’re classic skiing, you kick and then glide on one leg. All the skating moves are done on one leg. Unless you’re hammering a double-pole sprint or tucking a downhill, you’re on one leg.
“Resistance exercises performed on machines can contribute to [muscle] imbalances unless proper precautions are observed.” – Shirley Sahrmann, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes
Single-leg exercises will stress the neutralizer and stabilizer muscles in your legs, as well as training the prime movers. And in a single-leg move, bodyweight becomes part of the load. What does this mean? You can get a good training effect with a lower amount of outside weight, reducing the risk of injury.
“In a conventional squat, we strengthen the prime movers and neglect the stabilizers.” – Michael Boyle, Advances in Functional Training
Here are some moves that can enhance your strength and may reduce your risk of injury.
All of these moves have some commonalities: Keep your weight over your stance leg; get those core muscles firing and keep a neutral spine.
The rear-foot elevated split squat (RFESS) primarily trains the quadriceps and gluteus maximus. The hamstrings, gluteus medius and glute minimus are stabilizers. Dig your toe into the box. As with a traditional squat, you want to get your femur parallel with the floor or below parallel. Drive up through your heel.
The single-leg squat is the progression from RFESS. It works the same muscles as the RFESS. Without the support of a bench, all of the load will be on your stance leg. With this movement, you may not be able to move as much outside weight as with the RFESS. Don’t be surprised if it’s more difficult getting your femurs to parallel.
When working with severely deconditioned individuals, I often program a two-legged sit-to-stand. After watching an arena football player doing single leg sit-to-stand with a 20-kilogram kettlebell, I wanted to try them out. This move will train glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and anterior tibialis – an important muscle for dorsiflexion and thus ankle mobility.
You can progress a sit-to-stand by choosing a lower height box in addition to adding weight. The lower the box, the tougher it will be.
Originally, I learned the single-leg deadlift during physical therapy. This move trains the glutes, hamstrings and adductor magnus. Brace your core, and maintain a neutral spine. Use the “up” leg as a counterbalance. Drive up by contracting your glute.
In addition to the latissimus dorsi middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids and posterior deltoids, the single-leg, single-arm row trains the glutes, hips, and the neutralizer and stabilizer muscles that help us balance. To do these, hold the grip in the hand opposite your stance leg. (If standing on your left leg, hold the grip in your right hand) Brace your core and pull, retracting your shoulder blade. Keep your spine neutral. Don’t twist or rotate.
A progression from this would be a single-arm, single-leg squat to row. This move transfers force from the leg through the hip, sacroiliac joint and thoracolumbar fascia to the opposite side latissimus dorsi. This is how force is transferred when we’re running or skiing.
These are just some of the moves I like in the gym. We haven’t delved into movements in the frontal plane (think lateral stepups or lateral lunges) or compound movements. By no means am I suggesting that you ditch traditional squats or deadlifts. But you may find that programming single-leg movements can enhance your overall strength and fitness.
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Peter Minde is a FasterSkier contributor and personal trainer specializing in functional strength and corrective exercise. Whether skiing, trail running, or cycling, he’s always looking to see what’s at the top of the next hill. From the wilds of north N.J., he skis for Peru Nordic. On Twitter @PeteMinde or at www.oxygenfedsport.com.