Will Downhill Skiing Help or Hurt Your Golf Swing?

Skiing can be an excellent physical activity for any golfer trying to gain strength in the legs and core

Well, it's winter in Utah. If you are a skier, then you are enjoying the snow. If you are a golfer, like me, then you already have Spring Fever. However, winter can be a good time to get in shape for the upcoming golf season. I used to get laughs when I would talk about golf fitness and getting in shape for golf. But with the recent increase in the fitness level of PGA TOUR players, it is becoming more commonplace to get "fit for golf." One question I get asked a lot from my golf clients is, "Will skiing help or hurt my game?" This article will attempt to answer that question.

I have two sons that were eager to try skiing this year. The oldest is six and the younger one is four. We braved the hills a few weeks ago. It had been a long time since I had to perform the snowplow or wedge skiing maneuver that is common for beginners. After several hours of wedge skiing, I began to feel an interesteing burn in my hips. While my boys were taking a well-deserved rest during lunch, I went up the hill by myself and did a few runs in a more parallel skiing style. This skiing action created a very intense burn throughout my quads, but I didn't feel as much in the hips. By the end of the day, I was very sore in the hip, quads and my glutes. I did some research to see what muscles were active during skiing.

Hintermeister published a study in the Journal of Medicine Science and Sports Exercise that measured the EMG muscle activity in the lower extremity and core during three types of skiing. They examined the skier during wedge, parallel and giant slalom skiing techniques. EMG muscle activity during the parallel and giant slalom skiing was most active for the vastus lateralis (quads), medial hamstrings, biceps femoris (quads), and external obliques (abdominals). (1) During the wedge skiing motion, they found that the muscle action of the gluteus maximus was more active than in the other two skiing actions. This research indicates that with the exception of the gluteus maximus, greater muscle activity is required in giant slalom followed by parallel and then wedge turns. In the giant slalom technique, all muscle activity increased and the medial gastroc and erector spinae muscles significantly were more active than in the other two techniques. (1)

Here is a review of the three skiing techniques:

The snowplow or wedge technique is performed by keeping the tips of the skis together and allowing the back of the ski to come apart as in the letter "A." You make turns and control your speed with this technique by performing a movement at the hip joint called internal rotation. Putting pressure on the right ski causes you to turn left and pressure on the left ski results in a right turn. The research shows that the main muscle active is the gluteus maximus.

Parallel skiing is mainly performed by keeping the skis together and allowing your lower body to move side-to-side while trying to keep the upper body very still and pointing downhill. Turns are performed by using the edges of the skis to dig into the hill while you point your skis to the right and the left. Research suggests the active muscles are the quads and core (abdominal) muscles.

Giant slalom is an aggressive form of parallel skiing in which there are quicker turns and greater speeds. Main muscles involved are the quads, hamstrings, abdominal and erector spinae (lumbar spine) muscles.

These are interesting findings and if we review the performance of these muscles in the golf swing we can then correlate the two activities.

Lance Gill of the Titleist Performance Institute has published an article abou the gluteus maximus muscle entitled "The King." (2) He states, "This entire muscle group is so vital in helping the golfer to maintain lower body stability throughout the swing. It is also vital in helping to maintain core stability thoughout the swing. It is this one muscle group that helps to blend the lower body movement into the upper body movements, via the central portion of the body (the Core). Therefore, it is of utmost importance to have this muscle group functioning at its optimal levels in order to attain a repeatable and consistent swing." (2)

Skiing is an excellent exercise to develop leg strength. Dr. Greg Rose was asked how important the strength of the legs in the golf swing is and he responded by quoting Tiger Woods from Golf Digest in 1991, "I use different amounts of weight for different parts of my body and I vary my reps. Of course, the heaviest weight is reserved for my legs, which are the strongest part of my body. Since legs provide the foundation for a golf swing, I would recommend the following exercises to help you build a solid base: extensions, curls, presses, plus regular squats or hack squats. The last are probably the single most important exercise for building strong legs." (3) This is a very good endorsement from the world's number one player on the importance of strong legs.

Let's now talk about what we would do if we have a golf client interested in skiing. It is important to review the client's golf evaluation to see what their starting pelvis position was (S posture, C posture or Neutral), if they were presented with weak gluteus maximus muscles, (failed bridge with leg extension test) what their hip internal rotation measurements were, and if their pelvic rotation test showed a good ability to move their lower body independently of the upper body. Common with weak glutes is a lower body syndrome described by Janda. (4) This syndrome states that an anterior pelvic tilt tends to inhibit the glute max and abdominal muscles and creates a shortened but strong hip flexors and strong lumbar spine muscles. Hip internal rotation is a key measurement for both the back swing (right hip) and the follow-through (left hip). Independent upper body and lower body movements help the golfer have a better X-factor. Phil Cheetam said, "A relatively large X-factor at the top of the backswing is thought to facilitate high club head speed at impact." (5)

Based on the client's presentation, I then recommended skiing but question them on their style of skiing. If they do have the S-posture and lower crossed syndrome, then I tell them to avoid the aggressive style of giant slalom which really fires the erector spinae muscles, and mainly perform the parallel technique for the lower body strength. I tell them not to forget about the power of the wedge technique, especially if they have tight hip internal rotators. The wedge technique will help to engage the gluteus maximus and stretching both hips into internal rotation. Parallel skiing will greatly help develop strength in the quads and facilitate independent upper body and lower body movements excellent for a rotational golf swing.

Skiing in general is a great way to improve overall fitness. Skiing aids balance and kinesthetic awareness by challengeing the skier to stay upright on unstable and changing terrain. There is an increase in aerobic and anaerobic power, skiing demands high levels of both aerobic and anaerobic power to facilitate repeated brief bouts of intense effort between lower-intensity periods. Skiing improves core stability keeping the upper body "quiet" while moving the legs demands good core stability and postural control. (6)

In summary, skiing is an excellent physical activity for any golfer trying to gain strength in the legs and core. Look closely at the client's scores on the following tests: set-up posture, torso rotation test, bridge with leg extension test and the hip internal rotation test. Depending on the golf evaluation findings of your client, you can then provide them with specific ski technique instructions.

To learn more about golf fitness and to develop a personalized golf fitness program, please visit www.mytpi.com.


1. Hintermeister RA; O'Connor DD; Lange GW; Dillman CJ; Steadman JR
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Apr;29(4):548-53. Steadman Hawkins Sports Medicine Foundation, Vail, CO 81657, USA.

2. The King, by Lance Gill; Posted November 6, 2006; http://www.mytpi.com/mytpi05/Fitness/article.asp?id=405

3. Dr. Greg Rose, Ask the expert section www.mytpi.com http://www.mytpi.com/mytpi05/Health/qadetail.asp?xid=13

4. Dr. Greg Rose, Lower Crossed Syndrome - ''S-Posture''; Posted September 7, 2005; http://www.mytpi.com/mytpi05/Fitness/article.asp?id=203

5. Phil Cheetham, Streching the ''X Factor'', Posted July 20, 2005,http://www.mytpi.com/mytpi05/Swing/article.asp?id=62

6. Sam Murphy, The Guardian, UK Publication, Saturday January 13, 2007

Jon Rhodes is a physical therapist with the Ogden Clinic in Ogden, Utah. His clinic is 30 minutes from 3 ski resorts (Snowbasin, Power Mountain, and Wolf Mountain). He is a certified golf fitness instructor with the Titleist Performance Group.