Downhiller's Tuck

Everyone who has ever see a downhill race knows what the ski tuck is, but typically implementation is poor when people try it on their own. Position is everything, both for effectiveness and for not looking like, well, a fool.

Ski racing coach Gary Dranow once commented that the concept of the racer's tuck is as misunderstood as the word "irregardless." In the gym, the training methods used to gain strength for the tuck are equally misunderstood. Here's the problem. While the ski racer's tuck may resemble a squat, there are some distinct differences, and although practicing the squat may indeed strengthen the muscles required for tuck strength and endurance, if you memorize the squat movement pattern and use it on the slopes, you will be in the wrong position.  Here's why.

According to the dynamic pattern theory of motor learning, our brains do a better job at memorizing movement patterns than they do at muscular isolation. Therefore, if the squat is the only movement pattern you use to train for the tuck position, it will be the only pattern you use on the slopes. This is a problem, because the squat is not aerodynamic, and therefore defeats the purpose of the tuck.

What is the Tuck and Why Do We Use It?

The tuck is an aerodynamic position that is used in ski racing. When we say something is aerodynamic, we mean that it was designed to minimize the drag caused by wind. The wings of an airplane can be described as aerodynamic. In fact, in her book Ski Faster, Lisa Feinberg Densmore claims that in a perfect tuck, you will resemble the wing of an airplane.  She advises that in a perfect tuck, "your back will curve towards the sky," and your shoulders should be lower than your mid-back. Feinberg-Densmore claims that many people erroneously drop their hips and lift their chest, which creates a "wind sock" as opposed to an airplane wing. It's interesting to note that this incorrect position, which flattens the upper back is actually similar to what is used in the squat, which may explain why people have a tendency to use this alignment.

Tuck Dynamics

So while the squat can be used to strengthen the muscles required for tuck endurance, you will need to practice the actual tuck position, such that it becomes ingrained in your motor memory. Performing exercises that allow you see and feel the difference between the two positions can be helpful.

  1. Grab a pair of ski poles, and stand in front of a mirror.
  2. Separate your feet so that they are hip width apart
  3. Bend your knees and assume a squat position. Allow your hands to reach forward, as your would in a traditional squat.
  4. Staying in the flexed position, draw your belly in and allow your upper back to round.
  5. Turn your palms upwards, flex your elbows and bring your hands towards your body. This will bring your ski poles behind your body. Your hands should be in front of your face. Do not allow them to drop below your knees.
  6. Straighten your arms and flatten your back, so that you return to the squat position.
  7. Straighten your legs and return to the starting position
  8. Perform eight repetitions of the movement pattern
  9. On the last rep, stay in the skier's tuck position.  Straighten your legs for no more than a fraction of an inch, and then bring them back to the flexed position. Try to stay in the tuck for at least one minute, so that you begin to memorize the movement pattern.

When you become proficient, try practicing this sequence on a balance board or bosu.

Remember: speed kills and high-speed tucking can get your lift ticket confiscated at most ski areas. But if you need to get some speed and get across the flats (or if you're in a sanctioned race), it's another useful tool to have in your bag.