Most skiers flex their knees more than their ankles. This unfortunately causes body weight to rest consistently over the middle and back of the skis. Also fatigues the thighs and puts strain on the knee joint. Reasons for this are:
a. Ski Boots perhaps too stiff
b. Calf muscles perhaps too tight
c. Over use of knee flex and knee flex as a habit (due to both of the above)
a. Ski Boot flex check
Many skiers ski for years in ski boots that they don’t have the ability to actually flex. It’s important to check your boots and make sure you can flex them. The way to do it is stand up straight in them then try to make a forwards flex movement by pushing the shin against the tongue of the boot. You will feel a little resistance from the boot but it should be a resistance you can cope with and be able to dominate.
If you don’t manage to flex your ski boots very well, or not at all, your ski boots maybe too stiff for your body weight or skiing ability. At this point it is worth getting a ski professional or expert fitter in a shop to check them out. If you find that your boots do have the correct resistance for your body weight and skiing ability then it could be an issue with range of movement in your ankle joint. You can easily test this range with the Ankle Flex Drop Test.
b. Leg flex pattern test
By taking a measurement of how far each person’s ankle allows them to flex, we can tell early on if the simple mechanics of the sport will work or not. The ideal range for safe skiing on the drop test is between 15cm and 20cm with the same flex range on the right and left ankle. Our previous findings showed the national average was 11cm, with the lowest score being 4cm. Most importantly over 95% of people showed a clear difference between left and right ankle flex.
You can easily help improve and manage this range by stretching your calves using a wall and standing with one foot in front of the other. Flex the leg in front keeping the back leg straight and you will feel the calf muscle of the straight leg stretch. Stretching is best done after exercise.
In the process of working through your drop test, you may find that one heel lifts off the ground before the other. This is common when testing your ankle flex abilities. Most people have muscle imbalances that affect their skiing. Many people have a tighter calf and tighter hamstring on one side that will affect their skiing. If you find this on the ankle flex drop test, try to give the tighter calf an extra repetition of stretching each time you do it.
c. Ankle flex exercises on skis
A way to improve your ability to mechanically get the ankle joint firing better is to flex your ski boots in the Ankle Flex Development Test. The test is to hop 180 degrees across from one direction across the fall line to the other. Most people when trying this for the first time end up over flexing the knee joint and do very little ankle joint flexing. You need to really concentrate to dominate with ankle flex to stay in balance. When the knee joint flexes without the ankle flex the body weight goes back on the skis and the skis jet away from you. A common thing for many skiers on steeps, moguls and higher speed turns. By repeatedly working this exercise you will develop your ability to flex correctly from the ankle, knee and hips, not just the knees as it is with most recreational skiers and first level ski instructors. Once you are dominating your ski boots you can get on with your ski technique development, but remember, if you build your technique on a foundation that is imbalanced or lacking in mechanical movements, the future of your skiing will become vulnerable the more you test yourself against challenging terrains and speeds.
Result of all the above is mechanical ankle flex improvement and equal flex between the ankles and knees creating better balance and an ability to use muscles to steer instead of using them to simply support your out of balance body weight.
Click here to watch the video explanation of leg flex pattern.