Friday, October 24, 2008

The 5 Stations of a Skier and Snowboarder, Continued...

  1. Foot/Ankle - Mobile

  2. Knees - Stable

  3. Hips - Mobile

  4. Lumbar Spine - Stable

  5. Thoracic Spine - Mobile

The stations started at the foot/ankle complex and we are working our way up the chain. The knees are the next stop and they are a popular area when it comes to skiing/riding and even more popular (unfortunately) when it comes to aches and pains.

The knee joint is classified as a hinge joint. By definition, a hinge will swing open and closed...much like a door that only moves along one plane and on it's axis. However, in function, the knee is capable of much more - being involved in motions that require the knee to move in the other two planes (frontal and trasverse), sideways and rotations. These other (and dare I say more important) motions can be illustrated by standing up and rolling the arches of your feet up and down to the floor. "Looking down the barrel" you will note that your shin bones are twisting and this motion is carried further up the leg all the way up to your thigh bones causing your butt muscles to start firing up. This vital motion is referred to as pronation and supination. In the past, these terms have been applied to just the foot/ankle complex. According to Gary Gray, every joint in the body is capable of pronation/supination. In some ways it can be viewed as a more general way to look at how the human body goes through the loading/unloading of groups of muscles together to result in human movement.

All that being said, we are all familiar with the knee flexing and extending (bending and straightening). Sounds simple, but when other joints are not working properly (let's say the foot/ankle becomes restricted which is very common), then the knees will become more of a mobile joint instead of an area of stability. Now all the sudden the knees become less stable (wobbly knees) and over time this gets expressed as various "ouches."

Very often, with "cranky knees" we have found we have matching hips and feet/ankles that are working sub-par. As a result of restrictions in both the hips and feet/ankles, the knees have no choice but to become less stable to perform the tasks at hand by moving more.

On the slopes, your suspension is all thrown off! The inability to flex or absorb the terrain changes with your knees (especially you bump lovers), forces your body to use the next best thing which is usually less than optimal. So, if the knees are becoming more mobile due to a foot/ankle AND/OR hip complex that has become more stable (which is LESS mobile)... now I'm the guy who's knees are not too happy as I look down a field of moguls!

So, the take home message is - if you are the cranky knee guy or girl, you might have to look above and below the joint to see what is going on at your hips and at your feet/ankles.

Next on the list are the hips! We will talk about them a little later....

Until then,


Monday, October 20, 2008

Ski/Snowboard Training: And the myths just keep on coming!

As a society, we are bombarded with tons of information. How do we decide whether the info is good, bad or ugly? All of us have a common denominator when it comes to skiing/snowboarding and exercise, that is, the human body! Obviously, each and every one of us has our own unique and differentiating qualities. However, science and human function unites us all since we all have the same engineering and thus our movement machinery is the same.

Keeping science and human function in mind, we may begin to dispel some of the myths and fallacies that pertain to conditioning for skiing and/or snowboarding. Our philosophy to performance enhancement is we could always do exercises that maximize your adaptations. Think of it like a financial investment. You are always looking to net a return on your investment (the higher the better). Exercise can be thought of like an investment for your body. How much of a return do you expect to get from your training program once the ski/snowboard season kicks off? Below are a few questions that do not always have a black or white answer. We are merely looking at what kind of return you can expect to get from your investment of time and sweat (and money too!)!

Myth #1 - “Wall sits are the BEST exercise when it comes to strengthening your quads for skiing!”

"Snowboard specific wall sit? Think again!" ATTENTION: This is NOT an exercise that we would recommend as it is for dramatization only!

This is the most common answer to preparing for the ski season and the famous leg burn! While the wall sit definitely can help prepare the body to deal with “the burn,” the wall sit may add additional problems while you are trying to solve another. First, there are three types of muscle contractions: Concentric (muscle shortening), Eccentric (muscle lengthening) and Isometric (no muscle movement). Examples of each contraction can be illustrated by ollying off a jump (concentric), absorbing moguls (eccentric) and holding your body position mid-carve (isometric). Skiing and snowboarding is a combination of all three, however the importance of the eccentric portion of a muscle contraction cannot be understated. All human movement as well as all of our on-the-mountain activities starts with the loading phase (which can also be thought of as deceleration or the absorption of force). Without this phase, movement would not take place! Think about the possibility of jumping off the ground without FIRST moving down to “load” your legs like a compressed spring.

The next concern with wall sits is that it limits the role of the ankles. Both, the knees and hips are positioned at a 90-degree bend, while the ankle joints remain unchanged (shin being vertical). This position would not be possible without the wall since your center of gravity is outside your base of support (over the tails of the skis). The ankle joints play a major role as the chain reaction that takes place in the rest your body is a result of what first happens in your boots. In addition, many experts in the ski industry feel that this exercise may promote someone to ski “in the back seat.” So functionally speaking, when we squat, we should bend at all three areas of the body; the ankles, knees and hips (triple flexion).

Lastly, no muscle is an island. The body functions together as a chain with numerous links (or muscles) throughout the chain. To pick on individual muscles would be like only working on part of the equation. Think about selecting exercises that will “train the entire chain!” With so many exercise choices, the wall sit seems to offer a limited overall return on your exercise investment.