Monday, October 7, 2002 - Physiology
Cross Country Ski Specific Core Strength and Stability Program (Part 4 of 4)

- By: Ross McKinnon

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

Lateral Abdominals - Stability
See assessment section for further details and common compensations.
Level 1 Single leg knee lifts
Level 2 Both knees to 90°. Lower one knee at a time, then up, repeat with opposite
Level 3 As above with heel slide
Level 4 As above with heel touch
Level 5 Lower both legs from 90°double leg heel slide
Level 6 Lower both legs from 90°double leg lowering
These exercises should be performed with breathing into the rib cage not stomach. A breath out should be performed with the leg lowering and a breath in with leg raising.
Each level should be performed for 20 repetitions. Progress to the next level once the athlete can properly control each level with minimal effort. Ensure that the neutral spine position is maintained so that the correct muscles are trained.

Sidelying Hip Abduction - Stability
The athlete is positioned side lying with their spine and pelvis in neutral alignment. The lower leg is slightly flexed for support. The uppermost leg is extended and slightly outwardly rotated (toes to the ceiling). The athlete is asked to lift the leg to the ceiling keeping it straight. Avoid allowing the hip to flex forward (this is the most common source of error), hitching the pelvis, rotating the spine or pelvis backwards, or using the outside hamstring muscles to lift. This exercise is best performed with the athletes back, hips and heel to a wall.

Repetitions: perform a 3 seconds raise, 3 second hold, and 3 second lowering for 1 minute. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Sidelying Hip Adduction - Stability
The athlete is positioned side lying with their spine and pelvis in neutral alignment. The upper leg is flexed forward for support in front of the extended leg. The lower leg is extended. The athlete is asked to lift the lower leg to the ceiling keeping is straight. Avoid allowing the hip to flex forward (this is the most common source of error), hitching the pelvis, rotating the spine or pelvis backwards, or using the inside hamstring muscles to lift. This exercise is best performed with the athletes back, hips and heel to a wall.

Repetitions: perform a 3 seconds raise, 3 second hold, and 3 second lowering for 1 minute. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Lower Abdominal Leg Raises - Strength
The athlete lies on their back. Keep the lower back and head on the floor at all times. Avoid turning the toes in, and excessive rectus abdominus bulging. Ideally there should be a balance between all abdominal muscles. The athlete should try to maintain the belly button into the spine as per the rotation stability exercises – this will balance the abdominal muscles. Maintain proper rib cage breathing while maintaining abdominal control.
Level 1 Bend one leg. Raise the other leg straight 3 seconds up, 3 second hold, 3 seconds down.
Level 2 Raise both legs to 75°, hold for 1 minute, and bend knees as fatiguing
Level 3 Same as level 2, hold legs straight for the entire minute
Level 4 Raise both legs to 60°, hold 1 minute with legs straight
Level 5 Raise both legs to 45°, hold 1 minute with legs straight
Level 6 Raise both legs to 45°; perform small scissor kicks and circles hold 1 minute with legs straight
Level 7 Raise both legs to 30°, mix static and dynamic movements hold 1 minute with legs straight
Level 6 Raise both legs to 15°, mix static and dynamic movements for 1 minute with legs straight.

Lower Back – Alternating arms and legs prone pointer - Stability
The athlete lies on their stomach with a pillow under the hips. Lift opposite arms and legs with the hips and head down. Ensure the thumb of the raising arm is pointed upwards. Ensure the gluteus maximus is performing the leg lift and that the movement is not initiated by the hamstrings or spine muscles. Avoid spinal rotations or extension of the spine. Excessive arching increases compressive loads to the spine to very high levels.
Repetitions: This should be performed for 10x10 seconds holding at the top until easy. Then the athlete can perform a 3 seconds raise, 3 second hold, and 3 second lowering for 1 minute. The athlete should breathe in while lifting and breathe out while lowering.

Trunk Curl with Straight Legs - Strength
Remember that a straight leg curl up is potentially damaging if done incorrectly.

The athlete lays on their back with the spine and pelvis in neutral alignment. Both legs are extended. There are two phases to the trunk curl movement. The first component is trunk flexion and posterior tilt of the pelvis and spine. The second component is hip flexion. Ideally, the abdominals should flex the trunk first and then the hip flexors should be able to lift the trunk over the pelvis to come up to a sitting position. The abdominals must maintain the posterior tilt of the pelvis during raising and lowering. Avoid extension of the lumbar spine, lifting the feet off the floor. Avoid using momentum and ‘jerking’ during raising.

Level 1 Start exercises with both knees bent, extending knees as the torso is raised.
Level 2 Curl up with both knees extended
Level 3 Hand crossed on chest
Level 4 Hands to ears
Level 5 Hands to spine between shoulder blades
Level 6 Arms straight overhead

Repetitions: Then the athlete can perform a 3 seconds raise, 3 second hold, and 3 second lowering for 1 minute. The athlete should breathe in while lifting the trunk and breathe out while lowering.

Side Trunk Raise - Stability
The athlete lies on their side. The athlete raised their torso and legs off the floor, supported by only the feet, elbow and forearm. Avoid rotation or side bending of the trunk.

Level 1 Support the body at the knees rather than the feet
Level 2 Support the body at the feet
Level 3 Supported at the feet, trunk raise plus raising the uppermost leg to the ceiling

Repetitions: This should be performed for 10x10 seconds holding at the top until easy. Then the athlete can perform a 3 seconds raise, 3 second hold, and 3 second lowering for 1 minute. The athlete should breathe in while lifting and breathe out while lowering.

Breathing Exercises

A) Utilize the positions mentioned in the breathing assessment (facelying or the cat stretch) to improve inspiration. Ask the athlete to perform deep breathing aiming for maximal expansions of the ribs ensuring the right and left sides expand equally.
B) Theraband Breathing – wrap theraband around the ribcage meeting in the middle. Keep elbows at your side, with elbows bent to a 90° angle. Practice expanding the ribcage against the resistance of the band. Progress to using theraband or HR monitor belt to reproduce the feeling with double poling and once comfortable try to incorporate this breathing with other techniques.

Training recommendations
The following are suggestions for progression of the cross country ski specific core stability and strength program. Each exercise can be made more difficult as described.

Level A Complete all exercises without rest, rest two minutes repeat all exercises.
Level B Complete all exercises without rest, rest one minute repeat all exercises.
Level C Complete all exercises without rest two times.
Level D Complete all exercises without rest three to five times as able.

These exercises should be performed three times weekly during the recovery, general preparation, specific preparation, pre-competitive and general competitive phases. These exercises can be performed once a week during the taper phase and eliminated if wanted during the peak phase.

Fundamental Stage – ages 12 and under. Core strength and stability exercises can be introduced to develop strength, stability and coordination. The neutral spine position can be introduced. The exercises can be reduced to 15-20 seconds and performed one time weekly during training sessions.

Midgets – ages 13-14. Up to 2-3 sets with breaks between sets. 1-2 a week.

Juvenilles - ages 15-16. Up to 2-3 sets with breaks in between sets. 3x a week during the training phases. 2x a week during the competition season.

Juniors – ages 17-20. Up to 3-4 sets without breaks. Ideally 3x week as outlined above

Seniors/ Masters ages 21+ as above

It is advisable that anyone starting a core stability/strength program that is not already doing strength training start at the juvenile level.
(adapted from Saar 1998)

BALANCE TRAINING – DRYLAND

Balance exercise can be done 3x weekly ideally after other training sessions such as zone 1 training as there will already be an element of fatigue present.

Each exercise can be made more difficult with the following

  • looking up and down moving the head
  • looking right and left moving the head
  • varying the angle of knee bend
  • changing balancing leg with a hop
  • balancing on an unsteady surface i.e. pillow, mini-tramp, _ foam roller
  • closing eyes
  • Remember to maintain the arch of the foot
    1) High Stance
    4) Diagonal Stride simulation
     a) In place
     b) With hop
    2) Heel to toe rocking  a) double leg  b) single leg
    5) Single leg hip pivot
    3) Single leg balance with hip circles
     a) forward circles
     b) backward circles
     c) sideways circles
    6) Single leg squats on 2x4 or _ foam roller
    7) Physiotherapy ball exercises –kneeling, double pole simulation, etc.

    Ross McKinnon is a former ski racer now working as a physiotherapist at Rutland Physical Therapy in Kelowna, BC. His interests include improving an athletes performance through the use of exercise (both injured and non injured). For further questions he can be contacted at or at . This article is part four of his weekly four part series on cross country ski specific core strength and stability.


    Skifaster Discussion - Your Opinions, Ideas, Questions, Comments on this article.

    This page is maintained by the
    © Copyright 2002, skifaster.net