- Pistol squats
- Banded Lateral Walks
- Russian Twists
There you go. I gave you the take home message right away. If you wanted to stop reading this article you can. I just answered the only question you asked yourself upon reading the title, “what does he think are the most overrated exercises in skiing”? It’s a new writing strategy I am trying out called give me the damn answer right away.
This new strategy comes from a place of empathy. I’ll watch the first couple minutes of a Youtube video before skipping to the end to get my questions answered. Possibly the worst are reading online cooking recipes. I have to scroll through sections of personal commentary and pop up ads to get what I came for: the ingredients and the instructions. Why couldn’t the author just provide that at the beginning of their blog post?
I get the sense that NS members feel the same way about reading my previous articles. Some of you were even so kind as to give me feedback in the comments such as “tl;dr”. That was an acronym I had never heard of, and it felt like I was adding to my criminal rap sheet of fluffy writing. The irony is I am committing this crime right now. It’s a hard writing habit to reprogram, and at the same time it’s the style I like so I am not too apologetic.
Instead of forcing you to read my stream of consciousness for 3-5 paragraphs I thought I would instead just give you the Cliffnotes book to write that book report without actually having read the book. However, if you like to engage in first principles reasoning and are interested in why I think those are the three most overrated exercises then please continue to read below.
Let’s start with pistol squats. The number one most overrated exercise for skiers. Here me out before you start flooding the comments with “I see all pro skiers doing pistol squats but you’re saying they’re overrated, do you even know what you’re talking about”? Pistol squats do not have a starring role in my client’s regular exercise routine for three reasons: it serves as a better screening tool, the exercise has been handcuffed, and there are a million other exercises I would rather prioritize.
First, the true value of the pistol squats lies in its role as being a great screening tool to assess asymmetrical differences during a 1-legged task. It gives me a lot of insight into a skier’s quality of movement by evaluating control, coordination, balance, stability, and mobility of the trunk, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Asymmetrical differences are red flags that, if left unresolved, can lead to continual or future ski injuries. For me, it comes down to the pistol squat being a quality movement before it becomes an exercise. Once it becomes a quality movement for you then by all means go ahead and do it as an exercise by loading it up. I find that too many people are putting the cart before the horse with this movement so I encourage you to perform it cleanly before making it an exercise.
Second, If you’re performing pistol squats because it has functional carry over to real world skiing then let’s not handcuff the exercise. Skiers who have copied this exercise from other athletes fail to take it an additional step further. You find yourself in a pistol squat position when skiing as you are going into and/or out of a “back slap”. At the bottom of the pistol squat mimic the movement of the back slapy by attempting to take your back to the ground and then return (using a light free weight can help to keep you counterbalanced just like your skis would). And it’s the priority of this exercise that leads me to my third point.
Lastly, the pistol squat is overweighted within a workout routine. It’s like my stock portfolio-it’s incredibly reliant on one stock for my future success. What I really need is a portfolio that includes other exercises that are more heavily weighted. Examples include barbell squats, barbell deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, barbell hip thrusts, alternating weighted step ups, alternating weighted reverse lunges, Turkish get ups, Russian hamstring curls, 1-legged deadlifts etc. Sure pistol squats can have a recurring guest role in my exercise routine by being a part of my warmup before lifting or in the lodge before skiing for the day. But that’s about it. It’s definitely not going to have a starring role.
The next most overrated exercise for skiers are lateral band walks. This might be the most commonly performed rehabilitative strengthening exercise that athletes across all sports perform. I get why people like the exercise: it’s dynamic, they can feel their outside hips getting a burn, and they are moving in a direction they are not used to. But I have several gripes with this exercise: 99% of the time it’s performed incorrectly, it’s a crowd-pleaser that creates a confirmation bias, and it needs to be regressed in order to be progressed.
First, it’s commonly performed incorrectly because of the verbal cues given by professionals. Most athletes are told to “step to the side with the lead leg” when really the exercise should be generated by “pushing off the trailing leg”. It sounds counterintuitive, but this exercise is meant for the trailing leg and not the lead leg. Weird to think about but makes a huge difference. The verbal cue instead should be to “push off the trailing leg”. The other common mistake is allowing the trunk to move from side to side like a toy soldier. The upper body should be like a statue as the legs move beneath it.
Second, the exercise has been given so much attention by healthcare professionals in the media and performed by professional athletes. Its popularity convinces the public it must be a really good exercise. When a healthcare professional recommends this exercise to you it confirms the bias you already have that it’s a good exercise. Really it’s a lazy way for healthcare professionals, regardless of being a new or old clinician, to appease their clients by giving them a crowd pleasing exercise. But this exercise needs to have a facelift to meet the newschoolers who are interested in having this exercise carry over to skiing.
Lastly, the exercise needs to be modified to better serve skiers. And when I say modified I really mean regressed. But don’t get upset about having to go backwards in order to move forwards. This variation of the lateral band walks should be more fruitful to skiers. Instead of moving sideways you should start by standing in one place, lower to a ¼-½ squat, kick one leg out, and then return to standing position. Repeat this sequence 15-30 times on the same leg before moving to the other side.
The third most overrated exercise is Russian twists. Skiers, like other athletes, know they need to incorporate core strength because that has been the rallying cry to help athletes improve their performance and reduce risk of injury. And the core strengthening exercise that I see most commonly performed is the Russian twist. When people feel the burn in their stomach while performing this exercise it reinforces to them that they must be getting a stronger core. Russian twists is probably the very last core strengthening exercise I would do because: it forgets the other core muscles, could possibly increase the onset or persistence of low back pain, and has minimal carryover to skiing.
First, Russian twists do activate the rectus abdominus, obliques, and hip flexors but those muscles only compose a portion of all the core muscles (let’s not forget about the multifdus, transverse abdominus, erector spinae, latissimus dorsii). That is not to say we should be finding an exercise that gets all of the muscles equally because I don’t know if that exists. But Russian twists don’t even do the best job of activating those muscles. Other core strengthening exercises such as pikes, ab rollouts, and knee-ups do a better job of highly activating the core muscles. In fact, an exercise like the Russian twist can have a deleterious effect on the structures of the low back.
Second, the most frequently injured levels of the lumbar spine are especially vulnerable when performing sit-up or crunch variation exercises like the Russian twists. I would contend most athletes, and fitness junkies, don’t have the prerequisite strength to properly perform a crunch or sit-up. As a result an unsafe amount of excessive shearing forces act on the lumbar spine to increase risk of onset of or worsening of low back pain. I plea with skiers with low back pain to indulge me by stopping crunches or sit-ups and instead replace them with reverse crunches (i.e. dead bugs-with a million variations to make them very challenging). Usually there is immediate relief in low back pain. However, floor core exercises still don’t mirror any skiing position. More priority should be on performing functional core exercises.
Lastly, I prioritize core exercises that are functional, weight bearing, and specific to skiing. Russian twists check off none of those boxes. What’s one example of a core exercise that does? Get ready, because it’s not a sexy one, and it wont give you six pack abs. Surprise, it could be double kettlebell Bulgarian split squats. It’s functional because holding the kettlebells in front of the body requires activation of the core to stabilize the trunk, is definitely weight bearing, and is skiing specific because it places more focus on one leg compared to the other, requires balance, and highly activates the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Checks off all of the boxes. There are other “core” strengthening exercises that also check off all the boxes. As a general rule of thumb, completely made up by me with no scientific backing, the more it doesn’t look like a traditional sit up or crunch then the better the better of a core exercise it is.
Let me know in the comments section what you’re favorite exercises are for skiing?