Hip Flexibility in Skiing

Have you ever tried to learn some specific ski technique but was unable to perform it no matter how much you practiced? Sometimes there are physical limitations that prevent our body from certain movements.

We will look at the importance of flexibility in skiing. This post will focus specifically on joint motion at the hips. For most of us, flexibility is often over looked; especially those of us who work in sedentary jobs, or jobs/hobbies that put us into long term static positions (eg. skiing). Activities that put us in static positions for long periods at a time can have a profound effect on your muscular and skeletal system. These effects can include reduced range of motion at the hips, reduced muscular strength, and mal-alignment of your spine.  Having a functional range at the hips can decrease the risk of injury and improve your skiing.

Let’s first look at the hip, a bit lower than most people think; not at the top of your waist, but a bit lower. It is a ball and socket joint; which allows for a wide variety range of movements. If you locate the top of your hips then place your palm a bit below on it, move your thigh around, you should feel something moving under your hands. That is where your hip socket is approximately.

Let’s first look at the hip, a bit lower than most people think; not at the top of your waist, but a bit lower. It is a ball and socket joint; which allows for a wide variety range of movements. If you locate the top of your hips then place your palm a bit below on it, move your thigh around, you should feel something moving under your hands. That is where your hip socket is approximately.

Movements Available At The Hip Joint

Flexion: the movement of the thigh towards your chest. Typical range is 100º-120º

Extension: the movement of the thigh behind your body. Typical range is 10- 30º

Adduction: the movement of bringing your leg towards your other leg. Typical range is 20º-30º

Abduction: the movement of bringing your leg away from your body. Typical range is  40º-45º

Note this image appears to show increased hip abduction, however it is due to the movement of the pelvis.

External/lateral rotation: the movement of turning your knees away from your body. Typical range is  45º-50º

Internal/medial rotation: the movement of turning your knees towards your body. Typical range is  40º-45º

These movement ranges are approximate. There will be people outside of these norms as well.

Let’s look at a few examples of how these motions contribute to skiing.

Flexion: Not usually restricted in most people. Instead, the hip flexors are usually shortened reducing potential strength and hip extension. (Skiing most often puts into a shortened hip flexor position). Shortened hip flexors cause the pelvis to tilt forward. 

(Red arrow is pointing to lumbar spine due to rotated pelvis)

The problem with a rotated pelvis is its’ attachment to your spine. It causes you to have an increased curvature. This position itself is not a bad thing if intended as it can give great stability to your spine (Think dead lift at gym). Try rotating your pelvis forward and see how much you can bend your body to the side.

Pelvis with posterior tilt: image below. Try to side bend and see if you feel or notice a difference.

*A side note that a forward tilted hip leads to internal rotation of the femur, which can lead to pronation in your foot. But we will look at that some other time. *

Extension: can be limited due to tight hip flexors. It can make it difficult to stand up strait. Meaning your quadriceps muscles are always used. If you try to extend your hips while having tight hip flexors, you end up rotating your pelvis forward.

Adduction: reduced range of this action will result in the inability to bring your leg towards your other leg. This motion is not often restricted.

Abduction: Reduced abduction, which may be the result of weakened abductors (gluteus medius and minimus), or over shortened adductor muscles resulting in a muscular imbalance. High ski edge angles will require the legs to be able to abduct to some extent along with flexion.

Internal rotation: Can be and often restricted due to shorted lateral rotators and deep hip flexor. Lack of rotation will limit your ability to turn your skis under your body.

I remember in a ski camp one year a student was trying to perform short turns but was unable. A quick assessment showed that the student was unable to internally rotate their left hip. The result of not being able to internally rotate was that the leg was not able to turn right without the body following along. In ski terms, the student was not able to create upper and lower body separation. Long story short, that student ended up with knee pain due to trying to rotate using their knees instead. A few weeks of stretching was able to resolve this issue.

Internal rotation is decreased with a forward pelvic tilt. In fact, range of motion is decreased in all ranges.

External rotation: External rotation is typically greater than internal rotation. However, both external and internal rotation is equally important if you are trying to keep your body facing down the hill while turning the skis under your body.

Let’s look at how you can increase that range. These are typical stretches and there are many ways to stretch these muscles.

Flexion: never usually a problem for many people. To increase this range, you would pull your knee towards your chest with your knees bent. Having your leg strait will reduce this range due to the hamstrings muscle.

Extension: usually most people need to stretch in this motion. Focus on keeping hips parallel to the wall. The stretch will be usually felt on the front of the thigh being stretched behind you. The stretch will disappear if your pelvis tilts forward. 

Internal rotation: focus on using the top foot to press down on the outside of the knee.

External rotation : Laying supine (face up) place foot of the leg to be stretched on your other knee. Pull that knee towards your chest.

Abduction : make sure leg is out to the side and not forward or behind the body. Increase the stretch by bending the body towards that leg.

Adduction: The leg being stretched is the one behind the body and strait. To stretch this, stand sideways to a wall and cross your outside leg over the front of your inside leg then drop your towards the wall.

In conclusion, flexibility can play a large roll in skier movement. 5-10 minutes a day with some simple stretching can improve your skiing as well as reduce your chance of injury. Remember, it's not always you who can't learn how to change your skiing; sometimes it's your body!

Outsmart your ski instructor and troubleshoot your own ski technique

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2 years ago

OMG! I’ve been in physical therapy for hip pain for a couple months, working on my forward pelvic tilt and shortened hip flexors. This is changed my posture as I’ve developed the muscles for a posterior pelvic tilt, giving me more flexibility in every way. Today I went skiing and the difference was unbelievable! I skiied all day and wasn’t even tired, my muscles are sore in all different places. I guess I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. It was always a lot of work for me to ski, not today. I wish I had found this years… Read more »

2 years ago

Excellent article, these exercises and stretches that can be easily done throughout the day to strengthen and loosen my hip flexors. I have very tight hip flexors so it’s very helpful for me knowing these exercises and stretches. For those that want more info about exercises and stretches for hip flexors, I recommend this program that will show you many more exercises and stretches you can do. So check it out here http://bit.ly/2Tonroc /

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