Hips Don’t Lie

Skinning skiing backcountry

Winter mobility & hip-strengthening exercises.

Ever wish you could get your hip just a little further into that kick turn? Or do you get that nagging hip pain after your first skin up Bradley’s Meadow every year? Having appropriate motion of the hips allows for ease when moving in and out of the squat-like positions involved in downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, ice skating, and even snowshoeing. It allows for proper absorption and efficiency when moving through uneven and unpredictable terrain.

But when there is a strength deficit, the body is forced to compensate, pushing that absorption to undesired areas that are less equipped to tolerate it—typically the back and knees. Having adequate hip mobility allows you to keep unwanted stress off other parts of the body and puts you in the anatomically correct position to use major muscles such as the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Here are my go-to mobility exercises for managing my range of motion during the winter.

1. 90/90 dynamic hip stretch. In the seated position, bend one leg at a 90-degree angle, creating an "L” shape. Keeping your back straight and chest lifted (for added stretch), bring your chest to the front leg. Perform 10-15 reps on each side.

2. Single-leg airplane. Begin in standing position with feet together. Shift your weight to one leg, bending the knee slightly, and extend the other leg backwards. Hinge at the hips, creating a "T” shape with your body. Your arms can go out to the side for increased difficulty. Hold for 20-30 seconds; repeat 3 times on each side.

3. Lizard lunge. Begin in plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists. Bring one leg forward and bend it at 90 degrees, lowering your hips toward the ground and keeping the opposite leg extended behind you. For an added stretch, push the bent knee further away from the body. Hold for 20-30 seconds; repeat 3 times on each side.

4. Pigeon pose. Begin in tabletop position. Bring one hip out in front with your shin perpendicular to your body, then slide your other leg backward until you feel a stretch in your leading hip. To increase the stretch, lean your trunk forward to the floor. Hold for 20-30 seconds; repeat on the other side.

5. Half-kneeling stretch. Begin in a half-kneeling position. To stretch your right hip, kneel on your right knee, tilt your pelvis posteriorly (i.e., tuck your tailbone) by engaging your core and right glute muscle. Make sure to keep your hips square. Then, gently shift your weight forward. To increase the stretch, reach over your head to the left with your right arm. Hold for 20-30 seconds; repeat on the other side.

Having sufficient hip mobility, stability, and strength will improve balance and proper alignment of the lower extremities, decrease risk of strains and overuse injuries, increase balance, and keep you charging well into the spring. Whether you are on the fifth Ridge hike of the day, or just getting back in shape for hiking season, you will be psyched that you put a little extra into hip mobility this winter.

Alyssa Deane is a former collegiate ski racer and a physical therapist at APRS.