William Glaser – 29/6/11
Rotational Separation is a critical component of “good“ skiing. Often the subtleties of coordinating rotational movements through the whole body are lost not only on our students, but ourselves. As instructors we rely on effective use of drills, timely feedback, and lots of mileage to develop rotational separation. But is this enough? Of the four movements involved in skiing, Rotational movements are those that are least relied upon in daily life. This means we don’t always have the flexibility or strength in the muscles needed to control this. Yoga is a fantastic way to improve both.
Just to clarify, most rotational separation occurs in the hip joint. This article is going to focus on developing and coordinating separation through the free spine.
The easiest stretch to begin increasing range of movement would be the lying down spinal twist. To perform this, lie on the floor. Bring your thighs towards your chest (so they are vertical) and bend your knees (lower legs are horizontal). Bring your left hand to the outside of your right knee, and guide your legs down to the floor on your left side. Keep your left hand where it is and extend your right arm to the right, while you also look to your right. You should now have a twist in your spine, going all the way from your sacrum (base of your spine) to the crown of your head.
You should feel most of the “stretch” happening in your mid section, with your Rectus Abdominis (6 pack), Obliques and lower back most involved. Unless you are very flexible, you’ll also feel a stretch across the outside of your right hip, in your Gluteal (bum) muscles.
To make this stretch more difficult, you can perform it with only one leg at a time rather than two. For instance, leave your left leg lying on the floor while you bring your right knee up. Place your left hand on the outside of the right knee and pull it over. Your knee has further to go to reach the floor thus you get a deeper stretch. Because of this each individual vertebrae will need to “twist“ farther, meaning you may feel more of a stretch in your upper back/sternum (midline of chest) than you did with both legs involved.
While increased range of motion will make accessing rotational movements while skiing easier, building our strength through this range will allow us to use these movements through a broad range of performance situations. We can do a torso twist and hold to strengthen our obliques. While lying down lift both legs straight to the ceiling. Try and keep your legs as straight as possible and try as hard as you can to maintain a 90 degree angle between belly and thigh. With both arms extended out to your sides (think T), slowly rotate your hip and legs to the left till you reach a 45 degree angle. Hold there for 30 seconds. If this is too much, bending your knees will reduce some of the work load. You may have to press against the floor with your arms to keep from rolling over.
With both versions described here, your obliques will be working overtime to hold the twist in your torso. Your 6 pack muscles should be working pretty hard as well, to maintain the 90 degree angle between thighs and belly. Because you are using your obliques to hold your torso stable this is a fantastic exercise for skiing, where we use the muscles of our core to stabilize rather than create movements.
These exercises are great to do at home as part of a fitness program. However when working with students in a class situation, it’s not always convenient to do yoga due to ski clothing/equipment, space on the hill and weather. You can still introduce your students to the sensations of working your spine through a fuller range of motion as well as firing your obliques to control this.
First of all, explain to your students the goal of using a greater range of motion through the whole body. While standing on the side of the hill, have your students place their right pole tip by the tail of their right ski, and their left pole tip by the tip of their right ski. They can place their palms on top of their poles if this is uncomfortable for their wrists. Have them use their poles to deepen the stretch. Obviously they should only have them go as far as they are comfortable with. They should feel a stretch on both sides of their stomach (obliques) as well as lower back, as their spine “twists.” Provide some skiing mileage, allowing them to integrate these sensations in their skiing.
When your students have had ample opportunity to practice you can show them how to engage their obliques to help stabilize their upper body and control rotation through the turn. While stopped on the side of the hill, have your students take their pole straps off and hold their poles horizontal to the snow. Leaving their skis facing the same direction have them create a twist in their spine, as if they are finishing a turn. Then you can pull their poles back towards their ski tips, as if your are trying to untwist their spine. Have them resist. They should feel their obliques fire to hold them in position. Have them play with this tension while they ski.
Short turns are a ski task that show both the need for increased flexibility and increased strength in the core. Since we are trying to shape a turn that is significantly smaller than the skis sidecut we need to increase the rate at which we “twist” them. For us to achieve this, our obliques have to be engaged first. That way the weight of our upper body is “stabilized” and we are able to twist our legs against this. Through the second half of our turn however, we need to use a greater range of rotational movement from our hip joint all the way up through our spine. This will allow our skis to finish shaping the turn while at the same time setting our body up to move down the hill, across our skis and begin the next turn.
In the sport of skiing, whether you are beginner or advanced, rotational movements play an integral role. To improve our ability to ski in and out of rotational separation, we need to expand our on hill exercises with off hill work. Yoga poses such as the lying down spinal twist, and the torso twist and hold are fantastic at developing the strength and flexibility needed for skiing.
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