Quick Tip: Let your hips rotate in diagonal stride
What’s the follow-through in diagonal stride?
The follow-through of the leg kick in diagonal stride is the part of the stride cycle where the ski loses contact with the snow and swings up behind the skier.
This is a slow-mo look at the follow-through:
The height of the tail lift surprises new skiers. It attracts their attention and is something they want to copy.
There’s a lot of things that have to come together before you can ski like this, but one thing that’s not obvious to learners is that the hips have to “open”, or rotate with every stride to allow for this full extension.
Why is the follow-through important?
Let me back up and explain more about the follow-through. The follow-through on a diagonal stride kick is like a ball pitch; for the effect to be as powerful as possible, the follow-through must be relaxed and the athlete can’t try slow it down.
The follow-through isn’t an “active” movement, it’s the passive result of a strong initial kick. The initial impulse, where the skier pushes down and back against the snow, is done with deliberate force. The follow-through just happens, like your arm just swings in an arc after you toss a ball.
That might seem obvious, but I’ve seen skiers deliberately try to lift their ski off the snow in a sort of stepping motion. They’d have more success by making the start of their kick as quick and strong as possible, then letting the leg swing freely behind them.
What’s the secret?
For the leg to swing back in full extension, the pelvis has to rotate or “open” slightly to the side. If a skier keeps his hips facing forward, he’ll essentially put a brake on his follow-through and suppress his kick. The only other way to get full extension would be to arch the lower back, which is obviously a bad idea.
We always talk about the hips like we have two of them: a right and a left, but we have a pelvis, and if one side rotates back, the other side rotates forward. When the right side of the pelvis is rotating back to allow the right leg to fully extend, the left side of the pelvis is rotating forward at the same time.
That’s great news because it means the skier’s weight stays forward and he can get a powerful kick with his left leg on the next stride.
So hip rotation is important for (at least) two reasons: First, it allows for a full and relaxed follow-through of the kick. Second, it swings the other side of your pelvis forward so when you step onto your glide ski your weight is already forward. That’s important because it makes for a better glide and it allows you to use more of your weight to push down and back against the snow on the next kick.
Here’s a video that gives you a pretty good look at hip rotation. I chose it because he’s a good skier, and because the red lines on his suit makes it easier to see the action of his hips.
Where’s the proof?
The tell tale sign of hip rotation is that the tail of the ski crosses over the track with each leg kick. If you’re wondering about your own stride, ski through some fresh snow and look back at your tracks. You should see marks in the snow from the tail of your ski crossing inward with each stride.
How much hip rotation do you need?
The degree of hip rotation varies with all the usual factors: skier’s morphology, skier’s style, terrain, snow conditions, intensity of effort, etc. For example, you’ll see much less rotation in a skier aggressively climbing a steep hill than one striding easily up a gentle slope.
My purpose isn’t to tell you how much you should rotate your hips or even how to do it. I wrote this post because I’ve noticed some skiers are “locked” because they keep their hips facing straight ahead. They should experiment with hip rotation.
For me, the rotation of my hips is the power source of my stride. I’m reminded of central pattern generators, which I learned about in a neurobiology class. A CPG is a circuit of neurons that fires in an endless cycle to govern cyclical actions like breathing. Once I wind up my “CPG” and set my hips in motion they just go “tick, tick, tick” as I ski along.
Weird, maybe, but it feels effortless.