ResourcesStrengthTrainingWorkoutsDeveloping Single-Leg Stability for Improved Glide

Rachel Perkins Rachel PerkinsDecember 11, 2020

 

If you’ve found your way here, you are likely familiar with the three tenets of cross country skiing: push off, weight transfer, and glide. Whether it’s diagonal stride in the track or V2 on the corduroy, your ability to experience a complete weight transfer, ride a flat ski, and carry momentum is heavily dependent on the stability of your standing leg. 

Why is developing that balance and stability a challenge? For those who choose modalities other than roller skiing to enjoy the outdoors in the offseason, consider what types of motion those activities entail. Cycling, running, hiking, and walking are all very linear movements with fairly rapid tempo, meaning there is little emphasis on the lateral push off or extended single leg balance that are the cornerstones of cross country ski technique. 

Simi Hamilton skiing to a World Cup career best 34th in a distance classic event. He popped the result in Ruka, Finland’s 2019 15 k classic. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Be it your first season on skinny skis or your 50th, strengthening the lateral musculature of the hip and the tiny stabilizer muscles throughout the leg will help you develop confidence in your weight transfer and glide to help you hone your technique and enjoy sliding on snow this season. 

There are lots of ways to improve single-leg stability; yoga, Pilates, even simply standing on one leg while brushing your teeth or doing the dishes is helpful. But if you want a few simple and targeted exercises, we have a few beneficial suggestions. Here we use mini resistance bands, which can be found for less than $20, to combine dynamic and isometric (holding in place against resistance) moves that target the musculature of the hip, improving strength and stability down the chain.

The progression is endorsed by Doctor of Physical Therapy candidate, Australian National Team and APU Elite Team skier, 2018 Olympian, and 2020 Birkie Champion Jessica Yeaton. 

Clamshells 

Lie on your side with the band just above your knees. Hips and ankles should be in line with the knees bent roughly 90 degrees in front of the body. Then, rotating from the hip like a hing, open the top leg, holding at the top for two seconds, then slowly rotating back to the starting position. You should feel this in the outer part of your hip, specifically in the gluteus medius muscle which is responsible for abduction and external rotation of the leg from the hip. In layman’s terms, this means it helps keep your knee from caving inward in compensation for poor hip stability when you’re gliding on your ski and helps power your skate push off.  

Try 2-3 sets of 10 to start, adding a longer hold or additional repetitions as you build strength.

Some essential reminders from Yeaton: “Keep your top hip rolled forward, avoid flaring your ribs, keep your ankles together, and think about rotating at the hip rather than just lifting your knee. Again, the key is to keep your hip rolled forward and don’t let it roll back, or else you are working the wrong muscles.”

Fire Hydrants

Starting on hands and knees with the core engaged and the band above the knees, rotate from the hip to lift one knee off the ground. Hold at the top for two seconds, then slowly release. Keep a flat back and make sure you are not compensating by shifting your hips to the side or rotating from the spine. Keeping a ball or a light book on your low back can be a helpful cue — if it slides off, you are probably rotating your hips rather than just rotating the leg outward.  

Try 2-3 sets of 10 to start, adding a longer hold or additional repetitions as you build strength.

Glute Bridge With External Rotation

For both of the exercises below, the band should again be placed just above the knees. 

Level 1:

Lying on your back with knees bent, feet hips width apart, and heels close to your butt, push your hips up into a bend. This should put your knees at a roughly 90 degree angle. Keeping the hips high, rotate the knees outward from the hips, further stretching the band.

Try 2-3 sets of 30 second holds, increasing the time or repetitions as you progress.

Level 2:

Beginning again from the bridge position, extend one leg while focusing on keeping the hips level and not shifting side to side. You should maintain some tension in the band to keep the outer hip muscles firing, but do not need to try to add additional tension to the band.

Again, try 2-3 sets of 30 second holds, increasing the time or reps to add challenge. 

Yeaton reminds, “Really focusing on keeping your hips level. Don’t let the hip of the leg you are lifting off the ground drop — that’s the most important part.” 

Skate Pushes

With the band just above the ankles, stand on one leg with a skate ski body position. There should be a bend at the ankle, the angle of the shin and back should be parallel, and hips should be stacked over the heel. Slowly extend the free leg outward as if you were pushing off perpendicular to the trail. Hold at the top for two seconds and release slowly to the start position.

It’s important to keep the motions slow and controlled. Just like in skate skiing, you do not want to compensate by tipping your torso to the side or letting the standing hip pop outward. A mirror can be helpful to help you maintain good form. If you’re finding it hard to maintain balance and form, try decreasing the resistance level of the band, or simply try it without the band until it becomes easier.

Try 2-3 sets of 10 to start, adding a longer hold or additional repetitions as you build strength.

Single-Leg Squat With Band

If you found yourself wobbling and struggling to maintain good form with the skate pushes, it might be best to focus on the first three exercises for the time being. For those looking for a more advanced challenge, here is what Yeaton called her “favorite” exercise for single-leg stability. 

This exercise uses a full sized resistance band wrapped just below the knee of the standing leg. Fix the other end to something stable, like a table or the vertical rung of a railing. The band should be providing resistance that tries to rotate your knee inward, and you’ll be focusing on keeping the knee in line with the toe to resist the band. 

With the free leg extended behind, focus on maintaining pressure through the outside of the foot and keeping the hips squared forward as you drop into a single-leg half squat. You should have flexion at your ankle, knee, and hip, so the hip is stacked over the knee, just like when you’re out for a ski.  

“Don’t let your hips rotate towards the resistance, or again, you aren’t working the right muscles!” Yeaton warns. 

Yeaton adds, “Another option is to tie the band around the opposite leg (leg in the air), which can actually make it even harder to stabilize and keep your hips in line and not rotating.

Note: These exercises can all be made more challenging by incorporating a Bosu half ball or inflated disk to decrease the ground stability. 

Wishing you improved balance and glide, and snowy trails to practice on! Give these exercises a try and you’ll be gliding like Sophie Caldwell in no time!

Picture perfect. Sophie Caldwell on her way to qualifying in first in the 2019 Davos, Switzerland skate sprint. (Photo: NordicFocus)

 

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Rachel Perkins

Rachel Perkins

Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646

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