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Lateral separation is just one component required for technical and performance skiing. It describes the large angles between the torso and the lower body in a side to side plane of motion. Ski Performance involves many different strands. When you start to explore this in more details it can enhance the depth of your understanding of the skills required to progress and develop your skiing.
The BASI (British Association of Snowsports Intructors) manual refers to lateral separation as ‘when some parts of the body tilt with the skis and others don’t’. It states that ‘sometimes we will actively seek to separate laterally and other times it is a natural reaction to the movements we are already making’.
Lateral Separation is a movement pattern required to optimise long turns on the piste with the aim of being balanced over the inside edge of the outside ski. This movement pattern is easily identified when watching Giant slalom and Super G racing. An angle is created through the body as the lower body moves towards the centre of the turn while the pelvis remains relatively stable. If you are unable to achieve lateral separation, you are likely to inclinate (tilt with the whole body) more. This increases the pressure on the inside ski, thus affecting balance, edge and the resulting pressure on the outside ski and the ability to influence the ski turn.
Before I go into tips and drills to improve lateral separation, first we need to understand what is involved. It’s not often that we perform sideways movements in day to day life. Walking, running, stair climbing etc are all in a very linear plane, whereas skiing is asking our bodies to adapt to new demands in the lateral plane (amongst others)
We achieve lateral separation through movement of the ankles, knees, hips and spine. The amount of movement made determines the turn shape. The ankles are required to pronate and supinate (tilting onto the inside and outside of the soles). The knees are required to flex and extend, whilst linking with the abduction (outwards) and adduction (inwards) motion of the hips. You also need a good amount of hip flexion. There will also be some degree of rotation through the ball and socket joint of the hips underneath a relatively stable pelvis.
Some of the key elements that are needed for lateral separation include:
- good flexibility
- good range of movement in your hips
- high levels of core stability
- good agility
- balance and righting reactions
- good strength in your hip abductor muscles to prevent ‘A’-framing
If you are struggling to achieve lateral separation or if your coach has identified room for improvement it may well be down to technique. However, off hill analysis can help to identify any restrictions in the body which may be contributing and training can be focused to improve it. Much ski training off the hill involves squats and lunges, but what about lateral movements which are hugely important to skiing? If we are training to improve our ski performance, should we not make this movement specific?
First of all, lets start with flexibility. When analysing the considerations here, I do not necessarily think of muscles as individual units, but as a whole fasical train or sling. Fascia, as discussed in Anatomy Trains is the biological fabric which holds us together. It wraps around our muscles, bones, organs and bodily structures. A fascial train is a sling of connective tissue that links individual muscles into functional complexes and is essential for coordinating stability, movement, resistance, power and flexibility. Consequently, fascia responds to stretch, exercise and movement.
The body has various fascial slings or lines that work together to bring balance and integrity to the structure and function of the body. When the fascia, becomes restricted along any of the lines, compensation patterns can create pain, restrictions and dysfunction causing areas to work less efficiently.
The Lateral Fascial Train
In lateral separation, one of the main fascial trains we are concerned with is the lateral line, which frames both sides of the body. The lateral line acts to stabilise the torso relative to the legs and helps with the coordination of movement. Furthermore, it allows side bending and lifts the hips, as well as countering the opposite sides rotation and flexion. As I am sure you are already realising, this is key in skiing and perhaps shows why I prefer to think of the whole lateral line, rather than individual muscles.
Picture reference: Anatomy Trains
To gauge the flexibility or mobility of your lateral fascial line, start by simply trying a side bend (figure 1). Ideally, you should be able to reach your fingers below your knee crease on the side you are reaching down. Reaching your arm over head increases the stretch (figure 2) and keeping your arm close to your ear enhances the movement further.
During lateral separation, your lateral fasical sling lengthens and shortens as you move from turn to turn. Within the lateral fascial line, your Quadratus Lumborum muscles are key players in lengthening and contracting. They also have a key postural and stabilising role. The Quadrates Lumborum sits between your bottom rib and the crest of your hip and attaches into the lower spine.
Test your ability to lengthen and contract through the lateral line by reaching your arms over head, then reach over to one side (figure 3). Allow your hip to sway in the opposite direction as you do this. Then return to the middle.
If this is easy, you can introduce a medicine ball overhead to start to load the muscles.
To help optimise lateral separation, you also need good flexibility in your hip and gluteal muscles. You can open your lateral hip by doing the stretch shown below (figure 5).
Lateral lunges that vary in depth and tempo will help with hip mobility and lateral control (figure 6a, b & c)
Good balance and core control can be worked individually or in combination. The picture below demonstrates lateral leg lifts whilst standing on a bosu ball (figure 7). The addition of a 3 kg medicine ball greatly adds to the challenge and helps to engage your core.
To increase the challenge to your balance introduce more dynamic drills such as side to side touches. Stand on one leg and touch the ground to one side (figure 8 a). Stand tall and then reach to the other side. Progress this by increasing the length of your reach out to the side (figure 8 b). To challenge yourself even further, stand on a unstable surface (such as a bosu ball or wobble cushion) as your perform the reaches or hold a light weight in your hands.
Dynamic balance and Righting Reactions
Finally, general conditioning and agility drills for lateral movements can also include:
- high lateral step ups
- sideways shuttle runs
- lateral box jumps
- side to side hopping
I will publish a future post on ‘A’-framing in the skiing section of this blog, because this is a whole new topic in itself. Having good hip stability and strength is a key factor here. Importantly, your hip stability plays a key role in influencing the position of your knees. When training, if you are performing squatting movements try to ensure that your knee is centred over your middle toes. Try and correct it if it drops in. If you are unable to correct it, you may need further analysis.
The drills above are just a few ideas of how you can incorporate lateral movements into your training. There are many more ways of doing this. Everyone will have different requirements necessary to achieve the movement patterns for high performance skiing. When you are doing any off the hill training, always remember to ensure that you are warm and in a safe environment. It is difficult to be specific about the number or sets and repetitions, frequency of exercise, weights and resistance because every individual is different with different needs. Importantly, remember to make your training progressive so that you can continue to develop your skills, strength, power and stamina.
We do not recommend introducing these exercises without consulting a physiotherapist if you have any current injuries or back issues. We do recommend seeking advise from a healthcare or fitness professional when starting new exercises.
The purpose of this blog, is to provide general information and educational material relating to physiotherapy and injury management. ALP has made every effort to provide you with correct, up-to-date information. In using this blog, you agree that information is provided ‘as is, as available’, without warranty and that you use the information at your own risk. Furthermore, we highly recommend that you seek advise from a fitness or healthcare professional if you require further advice relating to exercise or medical issues.
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