Eccentric Loading

Eccentric Loading

Conant, Steve
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If you’ve seen a recent ski movie or tuned into the winter Olympics last February, you know that free-riding and freestyle have gone off the hook. What is so amazing about these winter athletes is not their aerial maneuvers, but that they can ski away from the high-force landings. Eccentric strength is what allows these skiers to ski as fast as they do and land huge air.

Eccentric contractions of skeletal muscle occur when a muscle contracts as it lengthens. When we bend our knees, our quadriceps lengthen. To absorb a landing, the quadriceps must contract to control this lengthening and in turn control our knee flexion. The more eccentric strength a skier comes into the season with, the better he or she will be at turning (changing direction) or landing (reducing force).

Eccentric loading exercises will help your body rapidly adjust muscle length and tension to the changing sport surface. As we ride down a mountain, vibration occurs between our skis and the snow. The better we absorb vibration and keep our skis in contact with the snow, the more control we have to change direction or reduce force. This means we can ski in control faster and land bigger air. Bode Miller actually has a wonderful understanding of this theory and he talks about it in a video you can watch online; contact [email protected] for the url.

Say what you may about Bode’s less-than-stellar Olympic showing, but if you’re criticizing him you have not paid attention to his World Cup dominance over the past few seasons. As for his understanding of ski conditioning, he is right on. Remember that some of the best skiers in the world are also world-class partiers, so give Bode a break.

So how do you improve eccentric strength? Something that every snow rider should be doing is walking or running down hill. The variable eccentric load of descending a hill closely resembles the stress we encounter as we ride down the slope. A simple at-home exercise is a triple flexion toss. Performed with a medicine ball, the triple-flexion toss is done standing on one leg. Toss the ball into the air, and when you catch it try to flex at your ankle, knee, and hip to reduce the force of the falling ball.

The last suggestion is a journeyman-level exercise that is only meant to open your mind about what the best skiers in the world are doing. Slow, eccentric contractions on an unstable surface replicate what we are doing as we ride, for example, a heavy squat performed on a balanace board,

These exercises only scratch the surface of what eccentric training can do for your sports performance. You can find more information on eccentric training at alliancesportsmedicine.com.
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