Winter Warriors (need Awesome Ankles)
It’s suddenly November and things are already starting to look pretty jolly! My home town of Calgary, Alberta, Canada just got a huge dump of the white stuff; turning the city into a winter wonderland (and a very risky place to drive). It’s both a blessing and a curse to be able to observe these conditions thanks to the magic of the internet and not experience them firsthand. Sure the sun and surf are nice, and scraping ice off a windshield isn’t fun, but when you grow up north of the 49th parallel… sigh. As a winter sports loving Canuck transplanted to southern California, this time of year always gets me craving more chill in the air and the beloved precipitation that grants us the ability to ski, skate, and snowball fight!
Since the snow isn’t right outside my door, and I have to make a special trip to reach it, I’m afforded ample opportunity to adequately prepare for my favorite winter activities. As a fitness professional, this got me thinking of some hard-earned considerations for winter warriors who share in the joy of this season’s athletic pursuits. There are some common circumstances shared by many of our favorite winter leisure and sports activities; needing to stay warm, staying dry, etc., but there’s one aspect that is often overlooked but is well worth addressing; the boots!
In this instance, I’m not talking about fashionable, warm winter wear so much as I’m talking about the equipment used for various winter sports and what it does to our movement when we have to wear it. Ice hockey or skating of any kind, alpine skiing and snowboarding are all activities which require the use of a robust, often rigidly moulded, boot that reduces the mobility of the ankle. This is a safety consideration in most cases, and helps to prevent injuries to the ankle that might occur during a fall at the high speeds experienced (and thoroughly enjoyed!) in the sport. Unfortunately, the adaptations our bodies make to address this immobility can sometimes create some movement dysfunction further up the chain of joints and make the knee or hip more vulnerable. That is unless we take some time to address this issue with a little dose of corrective exercise. A brief “movement snack” might be all we need to help mitigate the effects of the booted condition, and keep our knees, hips and low back in fighting trim for another day on the ice.
Let’s take a moment to consider Gray Cook and Mike Boyle’s “joint by joint” approach in this context, wherein the primary need for each of the body’s joints is catalogued. The primary role for the ankle joint is mobility, the primary role for the knee is stability, the primary need for the hip is mobility and so on and so forth; these roles alternate as we progress up the chain of joints. Now consider that when we spend a glorious Saturday on the slopes, our ankle joints are fairly immobilized by the boots we’ve been wearing for many hours. This might cause the ankle to become stiff, misconstruing it’s current condition to signal a change in it’s primary role from that of mobility to one of stability. In this same scenario it might also occur to the knee that given the unaccustomed rigidness of the ankle, perhaps it might be called upon to mobilize more readily (especially on those moguls) and thus the hip joint might stiffen up to pick up some of the stability work. If, on top of all these role reversals of the lower body joints, we consider that skiing, skating and snowboarding keep us in a forward-flexed athletic stance for extended periods, then you’ve got a perfect recipe for a stiff, sore and fatigued low back!
Let’s not let stiff ankles, achy knees, tight hips and sore backs take all the joy out of our favorite winter activities. Here’s a video with a quick series of our favorite drills to help remind the joints of their primary jobs and reset the body for another day of fun. Enjoy this brief but effective exercise circuit after a long day in the mountains or between the games of a weekend hockey tournament – it’s also great for anyone who wants a quick ankle focused mobility practice for whatever reason. Included in this practice is a brief self-massage section, especially for the feet, shins and calves, to give you the best chance of undoing the dreaded boot-posture! Best wishes for some happy winter wonderland adventures!