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Bring the Hips Forward



by Greg Rhoads


One of the more common phrases that we hear in ski instruction is "your hips are too far back – bring them forward." Most of the time the student gives their coach a blank stare because there is no hip/pelvic muscle that most people can immediately recruit in order to bring their hips to a forward position. We must rely on other factors in order to maintain this kind of position over our skis. While I am no where near an expert on the topic I can provide some insight into some factors that have an influence over our hip position in relation to our feet. First I will note that I will be primarily discussing movement in the sagittal plane as illustrated below in order to simplify the topic slightly.

Planes

No discussion about skiing is complete without the discussion of having proper alignment. This discussion will be no different. However, we are not necessarily talking about lateral alignment here. We are talking about having the boot set to the proper forward flex and lean angle so it will best match the natural position of your body. To put it in simple terms, you do not want to be putting yourself in a boot with more forward lean than you have dorsiflexion (flexing at the ankle in the sagittal plane), as this will make it impossible for you to ever flex your boot properly. Not having enough forward lean poses the same problem as you will never be able to flex far enough forward in your boot. A proper setup here requires a proper boot fitting, or you will always be blocked from being able to achieve optimal forward hip position.

First let's define two posture possibilities for a skier. Let's call one a hip flexed position and the other a hip extended position. A hip flexed position should be defined as the classic (we've all seen it) curved lower back, flexed legs, bent at the waist, and hips aft position – picture a skier who is about to sit down but somehow gets stuck between a standing and seated position – that's what we are talking about. Conversely the hip extended position places the hips ahead of the feet by maintaining a straighter back, little breaking at the waist that causes the hips to move into an aft position, and a straight outside leg that is lined up with the properly set up boot cuff. Need a mental image of how a hip extended posture might look? See below:

Schlopy

No discussion about balance in skiing can go on without a discussion of stance (Stance Article in case you need to brush up). While bringing your hips forward does not require a "force based platform" as it is described in the stance article, as the skier achieves higher levels of balance with the outside ski, their platform will become more and more force based (properly balanced with the outside ski with the CM well inside of the turn, and outside of the base of support). If a skier is not skiing with a functional stance and keeping in line with the kinetic chain, bringing the hips forward is going to be a difficult task for any skier.

Check out our walking skeleton below:
Skelly

Notice that when he takes a step, the un-weighted foot is forward and the stance leg (supporting leg) is behind him, with the hips well ahead of the weight bearing foot? This is no different than your average turn on skis. The same mechanics are followed – perhaps not the same extremes, but they are maintained. Also note that the pelvis naturally swings toward the stance leg. This is natural counter rotation. Go back and look at the still photo of Erik Schlopy and you will see a snapshot of these same movements. Notice that there is no breaking at the waist that thrusts the hips rearward when you take a step forward (or when Mr. Skeleton takes a step forward).

So how do we ski this way? Often you hear about pulling the inside foot back in order to maintain a "hips forward" position. This link will show that too much pulling of the inside foot back is actually detrimental to staying forward. There is no doubt that we do not want the inside ski leading our turn so much that when we transition we are beginning the turn in an aft, defensive position. We do not however, want to pull the inside foot back so far that it blocks what our body wants to do as a result of it's natural mechanics – and that is to have some inside half lead that develops into a slight counter rotation of the upper body. A better way to view this kind of movement is to tuck the inside heel or heel piece up under your body as you develop a long leg and short leg in a turn. This will ensure that your are not pulling your inside foot back so far that you are inhibiting counter rotation and the rest of the kinetic chain. There is no doubt that tip lead needs to be managed in a turn, but in reality it will not disappear because your body requires it to stay in proper balance.

Maintaining this position over the skis is very important. It is also very difficult because skiing is such a dynamic environment. If you find yourself falling into an aft, hip flexed position, focus on ankle flexion to bring yourself forward. Focusing on the knee of the hip at this point will be counter intuitive as flexion at either joint will only push you into a more aft position over your skis. Another important thing to note is that when we describe a straight outside leg, we are not promoting a leg that is locked into a position, but rather the ability to get full extension and flexion of both legs when needed (think absorbing terrain) while maintaining a proper position over the skis.

Turns and transitions both offer an opportunity to bring the hips forward for a skier. Often, fully flexed cross-under type transitions are viewed as back seat transitions that put you into an aft position. Let's assume that you move through the transition fully flexed, but with proper ankle flexion, and by the time you reach the apex of the turn have reached full extension allowing you outside hip to be leading your skis – this is not an aft position. The movement of extending the outside leg and maintaining proper lower leg alignment with the cuff of the boot (by ankle flexion) will ensure that the skier is in a forward position for the entire turn, even though visually the hips may appear to lag in the transition.

Perhaps an easier transition to learn and teach is a cross-over transition, where the skier maintains a straight outside leg as they move through the transition. Here is a great link to examples of this kind of skiing. Notice how forward the hips are in these arc-to-arc turns. This is because the stance leg is almost always in a forward position in relation to the feet. Notice how similar the movements of these GS skiers are to the movements that Mr. Skeleton makes when he takes a step. The outside hip actually leads the stance leg into the turn and fully extension is always achieved at the apex. These are powerful, balanced turns.

If you can achieve this in your skiing you will be advanced well beyond most skiers out on the snow. These are skills and movements usually only recruited by the most skilled racers and skiers and will put you in a move forward position on your skis than you could ever imagine. With this forward position will come incredible control over your skis in any turn shape and size.

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