For the most intense Nordic skiers, speed is everything. Your speed could mean the difference between a first- and last-place finish, or it could ruin the workout you’ve been looking forward to all week. Cross-country skiers are known to do anything to increase their speed—from wearing skin-tight suits to adopting certain stances. However, one factor might have a greater impact than you’d think: head position.
Most of us, especially in the beginning, prefer to look down at our skis while out on the trail. It allows us to focus and stay in the zone—we can concentrate on the sensations of skiing and experiment with small technical adjustments. Even some professional, high-level racers ski with their heads down, another wonderful justification for this habit. However, head position can dramatically impact skiing performance. Here’s how.
- Shoulder function—Your head position will directly impact your scapular position and shoulder function. While Nordic skiing is a pretty benign shoulder workout, keeping your head down may cause a stiff neck, shoulders, or back problems. In keeping your skull up and your spine aligned, you will increase shoulder mechanics.
- Breathing—Keeping the head up will allow respiratory muscles to better function. This will open your chest, take pressure off the windpipe, and get more oxygen into your lungs.
- Core response—To ski quickly, cross-country skiers need to maintain core tension while moving smoothly and in a coordinated manner. Your head position will affect your shoulder function, which impacts your hand and pole positions. This, in turn, alters the response in your core muscles, which will affect your efficiency.
So, where should we look? Your head should be aligned with your torso so the entire spine stays neutral. Don’t crane your neck to look at the top of the hill, but don’t look at your tips, either. Try it for a few miles and see how you feel.