Frisco, CO – All movements require a structural base in order to generate and absorb force. This is what we call posture. Since posture is the point at which movement begins and ends, movements that begin in less-than-optimal posture may have a less-than-optimal ending. On the ski slopes, this may translate into injury.
Although you may be tempted to view posture as being static, it is actually dynamic, constantly adapting to meet the demands placed on it by internal and external forces. Deviation from correct alignment can cause a change in your center of gravity. This will affect both your structural and functional efficiency. Maintaining balance through all the segments of the body is defined as postural equilibrium. Optimal alignment is essential to our athletic skill and neuromuscular efficiency. When proper length/tension relationships exist in the muscles, the kinetic chain can produce high levels of functional strength, agility and coordination. On the other hand, gravity is a bit unfriendly to the misaligned body. Being out of alignment can put us at war with the forces of nature.
When we sense our lack of control, our legs become rigid and insensitive to the feedback that the terrain provides for us. Our shoulders and neck tighten, our jaws clench and our heads jut forward. We think that rigidity gives us stability. In this, however, we are misinformed. In the battle of man or woman against mountain, the mountain will win again and again and again.
Unfortunately, the ergonomics of our daily lives set us up for postural disaster. The way we sit, stand, and walk can cause some muscles to become shortened while others are lengthened. Muscular imbalance will affect the ability of the nervous system to communicate with the muscles. As a result, recruitment patterns, and therefore movement patterns, become altered. Muscles respond by becoming either over- or under-active. Posture and balance are intrinsically related. Efficient athletic posture allows the knees and ankles to be parallel and slightly flexed. Core muscles are active. Ears are over the shoulders, and the eyes are focused straight ahead. This alignment allows us to
be receptive to the forces of gravity.
The war is over. Skiing becomes a dance.
Here are some basic postural alignment exercises:
The Four-Point Drawing-in Maneuver
- Kneel on all fours.
- Hips are lined up with your knees, as opposed to your heels.
- Keep your spine in a neutral position. The back should not sag, nor should it hyperextend.
- Allow the shoulders to soften away from your ears. Inhale, and imagine that the space between your vertebrae increases. Exhale; draw the abdominal muscle upward and inward, without moving your spine. Don’t confuse this with the traditional “cat” exercise, where your back actually rounds.
Remaining on all fours, you are now ready for the tripod balance:
Tripod Balance – As you inhale in preparation, feel your spine elongate, and once again, allow your shoulders to slide away from the ears. As you exhale, draw the navel to your spine, as if your belly button was the ignition button that powers up the movement. Simultaneously extend your right leg and your left arm, keeping your left thumb facing upward. Try to remain centered rather than leaning into the opposite hip. Repeat on the opposite side. Make a mental note as to whether your balance is better on one side than the other. This will probably show up in your skiing. The tripod helps integrate the multifidus, the muscle close to your spinal column, with your deep core musculature. This is an excellent exercise to promote segmental spinal stability.
Although my book, Open Your Heart With Winter Fitness: Mastering Life Through Love of Slopes, features a number of hard core advanced balance exercises, the posture exercises featured in this chapter excerpt are the prerequisites for mastering the more challenging exercises
Lisa Marie Mercer is the author of Open Your Heart With Winter Fitness: Mastering Life Through Love of Slopes, now available at Amazon.com. Her studio, Mountain Sport Pilates and Fitness, is located in the Summit County, Colorado town of Frisco.