For the bulk of my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with winter sport athletes who train and compete at the highest level. Upon being employed to do so, the first discipline that I was assigned to work with was alpine skiing. Although I was extremely excited, I quickly realized that at that time I had no prior experience working with athletes of this nature. I grew up skiing in Colorado but was hesitant to even acknowledge my experience as relevant after witnessing the level at which these athletes perform. That being said, I did my homework and dug through every research article I could find regarding strength and conditioning for competitive alpine skiing. To my dismay, the results were few and far between, and while there has been a significant increase in literature since then it still remains sparse. What ultimately assisted in my greater understanding of the sport was getting out on the hill to observe the athletes train, slip the courses, and even assist coaches with filming training sessions. I gained an enormous amount of respect for the difficulty of the sport as athletes would fly by me and bend around gaits in the steepest of conditions. My understanding of the biomechanics and physiological demands steadily increased with the more time I spent on the hill tracking performance metrics.
What stood out to me was that a typical carved turn (broken down into four phases: initiation, turning, completion, transition) necessitates athletes to move through every plane of motion with high levels of eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions (1,2). I took an honest look at my own programming and questioned whether or not I was addressing the multi-faceted needs of my athletes. After some critical analysis, I came to the conclusion that the bulk of my programming was only addressing the sagittal plane. As a young coach, I immediately did a face palm and couldn’t believe I was so short sided in my planning. We were doing variations of squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, lunges, presses, and pulls but I failed to include much else beyond lateral lunges and rotational box jumps through the frontal and transverse planes. While a great deal of my programming today still includes multi-joint compound movements through the sagittal plane and I can’t stress their importance enough, I consciously program exercises that build strength and power through every plane. As Loren Landow once said, “the best athletes do all the right things from the wrong places”, therefore we must give them the tools do so.
Alpine skiing requires racers to effectively load their weight though the downhill skill while turning, therefore I include movements that train lower limb unilateral strength and stability through the frontal plane (1,2). Two of my favorites are the lateral sled push and single leg landmine skater squat, both detailed below. To address the pivoting, steering and counterrotation necessary for athletes through the transverse plane, I program the landmine rotational press and single leg rotational medicine ball toss. I preface these exercises by saying that they are great for any athlete who needs to train strength in other planes besides just the sagittal, not just skiers. It’s easy to get fooled into believing exercises are “sports specific” when in reality they are needs based. These selections just so happen to emulate postures seen in alpine skiing but are by no means the magic bullet to an athlete’s success, more so just the cherry on top.
The single leg landmine skater squat requires athlete to load their weight on the outside edge of their foot while maintaining an upright posture and driving upward in an almost diagonal like fashion. I love squats, lunges, and even step ups but they only require an athlete to move through the sagittal plane. Athletes may struggle with this movement at first, but it is important to emphasize ground contact foot pressure through the stance leg with them as well as maintaining a neutral spine.
This exercise is fantastic in that it can be use as either a strength training or conditioning tool depending on how you load and prescribe it. It’s important that athletes keep their chest square with the wall in front of them and to not let their outside shoulder dip inward towards the sled. Furthermore, I always ensure that the athletes are driving the hips forward and taking complete forceful crossover steps instead of shuffling.
The single leg medicine ball rotational toss is an exercise I really like because it trains single legs stability at the same time as rotational power. It’s important for athletes to forcefully drive through their hips to generate power during the toss and maintain a soft knee bend in the stance leg here.
The landmine rotational press is a fantastic exercise selection because it trains rotational power in a manner that use substantial weight. I always ensure that athletes have mastered landmine presses from a bilateral and split stance before introducing them to this movement, but it certainly adds a lot to our rotational power training.
It’s important to remember that athletics often require an array of strength, power, mobility and stability across multiple planes of motion. Often times we can get carried away with the weight on the bar or the speed at which we are training but neglect which direction we are going. I encourage you to take a deep dive into your own sports you are either partake in or coach for and address whether or not your programs are addressing their needs.
1) Hintermeister, R. A., O’Connor, D. D., Dillman, C. J., Suplizio, C. L., Lange, G. W., & Steadman, J. R. (1995). Muscle activity in slalom and giant slalom skiing. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 27(3), 315-322.
2) Hydren, J. R., Volek, J. S., Maresh, C. M., Comstock, B. A., & Kraemer, W. J. (2013). Review of strength and conditioning for alpine ski racing. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 35(1), 10-28.