Put Your Best Foot Forward: Preseason foot and ankle exercises for skiers
Most people focus their ski training on building powerful legs. That's all well and good, as long as you don't forget the feet. Without a strong platform to stand on, those strong legs will only do so much good.
As the owner of Mountain Sport Fitness, a sport-conditioning studio in Frisco, CO, I am often asked advice about exercises that will improve ski technique. Most people assume that I will suggest a variety of leg and core exercises. They are correct. However, the feet and ankles, which are essential to good skiing, are often overlooked. In fact, the muscles that support the feet and ankles are so important, that I included them in my upcoming book, Open Your Heart With Winter Fitness. Here is an excerpt:
The four most fundamental skills of skiing are Edging, Pressure, Balance, and Rotary. In skiing, the kinetic chain starts in the feet and ankles. If they do not function properly, either due to faulty equipment or poor motor control, the movement continuum that follows up the chain will probably be forced and unstable. The quadriceps will initiate moves that were supposed to start in the feet. Turns will be abrupt, lacking in fluidity. We sometimes call this "muscling" the turn. Many people tend to clench their toes when they feel that they are losing their balance. This merely exacerbates the problem. Clenching the toes narrows your base of support, which in turn will make you less stable. The feet have an enormous supply of proprioceptors in them. Clenching the toes compresses the nerves. When a nerve is compressed, it cannot provide proprioceptive information to the central nervous system. This can wreack havoc on ski technique.
Did you ever notice that if you sprain an ankle, you will repeatedly sprain the same one, every so often? Studies have shown that ankle sprains cause a loss of proprioception. So that ankle you sprained last year has no awareness of the fact that you just stepped into a pothole!
In order for ankle strength and stability to occur, the nerve cells within the joint need to be healthy. The nerve cells, or proprioceptors in the ankle, allow the nervous system to assist in the balance needed for skiing. Injured nerve cells, such as those that occur in a sprain must have their neural pathways retrained, in order to recognize the position of the joint in space.