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The Importance of Ankle Mobility & Strength in Skiing

Most of us, maybe more the beginner skier, may think that since our foot/ankle is in a ski boot our ankles do not play a role in how we ski. Well that isn’t 100% true.

When we ski we want good “ankle flex”. What?

Ankle flex refers to how the joint flexes and extends to transfer power and leverage to the skis. This becomes extremely important when we begin to work in bumps, rougher terrain and weather-related conditions like strong winds. First, let’s review the anatomy of the lower leg to have a better understanding of these muscles and their importance in skiing. There are four muscles that are responsible for ankle flexion, or dorsiflexion of the foot – the action of pointing the foot and toes to the sky, whilst standing. The muscles of the posterior of the lower leg and the calf control the opposite action, known as plantar flexion.

Dorsiflexion is mainly done by the tibialis anterior. There are three other muscles that flex the toes which are the extensor hallucis longus, extensor digitorum longus and fibularis tertius.

Plantarflexion is mainly done by the gastrocnemius and these other muscles also aid in the action too - soleus, fibularis longus, flexor hallucis longus and fibularis brevis
Now let’s go back to this concept of Ankle Flex. This has to do with our stance. By having a stance where my body is “stacked”, “centred” or perpendicular to the centre of my skis, this allows you to have a good base of support. This is where the proper boots and skis play a huge role. With the proper equipment, you can actually create some nice “flex” within the boot which will transition to how the skis move/shift down the slopes. But you also have to have some skill here because your center of gravity will change as well.
This is where balance comes into play.

We all know that our core helps to keep us centered but as our weight shifts as we turn to go down the mountain is where we need to have good “flex”. Think of it this way. If we are skilled enough to engage the correct muscles at the opportune, split-second moment while staying balanced you will be able to generate the desired performance from one’s equipment and thanks to proper biomechanics of the entire kinetic chain.

There are 5 skiing skills, 4 of which use all the joints in the kinetic chain. These are:
  1. Stance & Balance - the skier makes small adjustments in their stance to stay centered and balanced
  2. Edging - the engagement of the skis’ edges by “rolling” the knees and angulating the hips
  3. Pivoting - rotational movement of the “ball n’ socket” joint to steer the feet in the desired direction
  4. Pressure Control - the use of the 3 major joints of the lower body to manage the forces acting upon the skis and the skier
  5. Timing & Coordination - the blend of all the skills that go into good skiing
Based upon these 5 skiing skills, you should start to recognize that having strong, flexible and mobile ankles will make an overall difference in your ski performance.
But if it’s still unclear let’s break it down a little bit further...

  • Pressure Control - the ankles need to be able to flex and extend here. This allows you to move your stance & balance forward and back.
  • Pivoting - the ankle joints themselves move with internal rotation of the outside leg and external rotation of the inside leg allowing you to increase or decrease the steering angle.
  • Edging - the eversion & inversion of the ankles will affect the rotation at the hip as your body mass moves forwards and goes downhill Obviously, our ankles play a role in our overall ski performance.
Obviously our ankles play a role in our overall ski performance. Attached is a demonstration video that goes through a progression of balance exercises designed to help enhance these 5 skiing skills all the while increasing ankle flexibility/mobility and strength.


As always here’s to a great ski season everyone!
About author
Heather Gansel
Dr. Heather is a neuromusculoskeletal practitioner specializing in proper spinal/articular alignment, muscle imbalances and soft tissue injuries. As a Doctor of Chiropractic with over 20 years of experience, Heather has concentrated on athletic training/ sports medicine.

Thanks to the rise of the Pandemic, Dr. Gansel has also been able to provide continuous care for many patients via her telehealth platform. Dr. Gansel constructed a 3 week Sports Chiropractic Program which has been able to help thousands of people globally in becoming pain free. By using various digital platforms patients are able to use her treatment protocols which are customized to each individual.

A faculty instructor for American Aerobic Association International and International Sports Medicine Association, Dr. Gansel’s coaching approach is strongly informed by her targeted research and personal experiences in striving to use exercise to enhance stamina. She has purposefully had long experience working with other medical professionals to address the needs of frail elderly patients and youth dealing with physical limitations and/or mental/emotional rehabilitation issues and physical education needs.

Having redesigned the Keene State Women’s Basketball pre-, post-, and in-season training program, Dr. Gansel also developed training programs for the local high school and collegiate swimmers. She has treated and assisted with the sport-specific training of equestrians, ballerinas, lacrosse and soccer players (including the Connecticut Women’s Soccer League), and marathoners as well as athletes who sole goal is striving to function at optimal health and performance levels.

A board member Kids in Crisis, Heather has personally trained all of the fundraising tri-athletes for the annual for years.

A Doctor of Chiropractic and Athletic Training/ Sports Medicine, for which she received the Clinical Excellence Award for outstanding achievement throughout the clinical system, her additional certifications include:

• Personal Training • BOSU® (Both Sides Utilized) Balance Training

• Ergonomics • Total Body Resistance Exercise (TRX) Master Instructor

• Dynamic Variable Resistance Training (DVRT) Level 1

• Functional Movement Screening (FMS) and Holistic Medicine

Replies

In the drawing...the two foot flexion & extension are labeled opposite.
...Supination is when the foot rolls outward due to body struction. Pronation is inward rolling due to structure. ...Using muscles to roll the foot outward is inversion, and muscles rolling the foot inward is eversion.
 
Heather nice article! As a boot fitter I recognize the importance of proper alignment and fit to optimize balance and edging. It’s great too see articles that recognize the importance and unique use of dorsiflexing and the TA in skiing. Matching the ankles range of motion with the internal boot angles is important to optimize skier balance. If the skier uses up their range of motion just to match the net angle created by the boot board and spine, they will have a difficult time balancing efficiently as well as other issues. Matching the equipment to our mechanics will reap the best results.
 
Hey Henry, I am the original author of the post above and this photo was never part of the article. I will be taking down the photo/diagram and putting up the video I did that compliments the article above. :)
Thanks for this tremendous demonstration. I recognize the flaws in my dips and will work to improve.
 
Hi Heather, good article.

Quick question - at point 2 you mention edging is from rolling the knees but further down you only mention inversion and eversion, it is a bit unclear which does what.

Can you clarify your thoughts on that?

Cheers
 
Surely one wants to see edging coming from tipping the ankles first not from the hips and knees?
 
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