Preconditioning: Focus on Overall Fitness Before You Hit the Slopes
While others are mourning the loss of summer, the waning daylight hours, the dying leaves, and the cold weather, you just can’t wait for snow to accumulate in the mountains.
But before the snowpack reaches critical mass, you can pass the time by conditioning your body to get ready for the ski season. The purpose of pre-season conditioning is to focus on overall fitness and to prevent injuries.
Skiing is an athletic sport that requires all major muscle groups. The better shape you are in, the more fun you will have on the slopes, so focus on preconditioning. The key to preconditioning is a focus on overall fitness. The right combination of preconditioning exercises will increase your
- balance, and
Preconditioning prepares your body for the unique rigors of skiing so you’ll be ready for the resorts to open.
Skiing is an anaerobic activity; it involves bursts of speed and strength (negotiating a run) followed by inactivity (riding up on the lift). So, while you don’t need the ability to run a half-marathon without stopping, your endurance will keep you ready for those bursts of activity skiing requires. Endurance training helps with your overall strength and fitness, reducing the risk of injuries on the last run of the day – when you are most tired. Endurance can be increased through cardiovascular workouts. Common cardio workouts beneficial to skiing are:
- hiking, and
Even though you will have a ski lift to carry you up the mountain, skiing requires muscle strength. Strength training consultant, Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., explains, “The body positions that provide the best combination of balance, stability, control and speed are those that require relatively high levels of muscle strength.” Strength training exercises, a few times each week, will pay off on the mountain. Strong hamstrings, glutes, and quads will enable you make turns and keep balance. Strong arms can push for speed. Strong calves and knees lessen the likelihood of injury and a strong core protects the back. “The key to better skiing is greater muscle strength, pure and simple,” promises Dr. Westcott.
Try the following strength training exercises for pre-skiing workouts :
Quadriceps (front of thighs)
These muscles are the most used in skiing and hold you in place as you glide down the mountain.
Exercises for quads: squats, lunges, and back wall presses
Glutes (hips and rear) and Hamstrings (back of thighs)
Glutes stabilize and give balance because you are typically leaning forward as you ski.
Exercises for glutes: deadlifts and step ups
These muscles have the difficult job of trying to help you keep your legs together even though your skis have a tendency to drift apart.
Exercises for the outer and inner thighs: side lunges and inner thigh leg lifts
Calves and Knees
Your stiff ski boots protect your ankles but the impact of the slopes is then transferred to your knees, which will require to be bent almost constantly while skiing. Because of the bent position required for skiing, your calves will also require strength.
Exercises for calves and knees: toe lifts, standing calf raises, half squats, and step downs
Core (abs and back)
The flexed position needed for skiing means your back has to work overtime to hold that position while the abs offer support your back and spine.
Exercises for the core: crunches and plank push-ups
Your arms will get a major workout from pushing your poles to get you up inclines or flat stretches to the ski logdge. And, your arms will also help push you up when you fall.
Exercises for arms: push-ups, plank push-ups, and dumbbell curls
Balance is essential for skiing. Strong leg muscles and a strong core are the foundation of balance.
Popular exercises for balance include:
Balance board: a few minutes each day on a balance board will not only improve balance, but also strengthen the core.
Slacklining: tie a rope between two trees 20 – 30 feet apart) Walk across the rope with ski poles for support.
Flexibility — Focus on General Fitness
Flexibility is crucial on the slopes, where, at any given time, your limbs may be extended four separate directions. Recent research suggests there is a such thing as being too flexible because it can lead to injuries. Keep in mind the focus of pre-season workouts should be overall fitness with emphasis on the muscle groups used in skiing. (Hint: you will likely use every muscle you have in skiing or boarding.) Stacy Ingraham, Professor of Kinesiology at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities explains, “…general fitness, rather than stretching, is a more important risk factor in injury prevention.” In fact, says Dr. Ingraham, striving for flexibility beyond what is required of the sport “…is not beneficial and can actually cause injury and decrease performance.”
So, if you aren’t incredibly flexible don’t fear. In practically every circumstance, gymnast-level flexibility isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Adequate flexibility is the goal. Research suggests more injuries occur in both people who are highly flexible and people who aren’t very flexible. Researchers James Parrott and Xihe Zhu note that people with “average” flexibility tend to have fewer injury risks than people with too little or too much flexibility. Injuries occur in people who aren’t very flexible because they have a very limited range of motion. The injuries in more flexible people may come because they push themselves and because their joints have too wide a range of motion, leading to injuries during falls. The lesson here? Know your strengths, weaknesses, and limitations.
The solution to the flexibility dilemma — Dynamic Stretching.
Dynamic Stretching: It’s All Downhill from Here
Some of the best kind of flexibility exercises to prepare for skiing are dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is stretching using movement. Parrot and Zhu recommend dynamic stretching for two reasons, “First, it moves the body through a wide [range of motion], thus maintaining or improving flexibility. Second, it can serve as a way to quickly warm up the body to perform activities that are more vigorous.”
The Absolute Best Pre-Season Exercises: Downhill Hiking and Mountain Biking
Because skiing involves weight-bearing, flexibility, and balance, dynamic stretching combined with cardio makes a wonderfully effective workout.
Four great all-around pre-skiing workouts that combine cardio, balance and the ability to stretch muscles are :
- Ice skating
- Downhill hiking (stairs will do in a pinch), and
- Mountain biking
The two absolute best pre-season work outs are downhill hiking and mountain biking because they involve developing downhill balance while increasing strength and flexibility in the knees.
Hiking downhill is a good example of a dynamic stretching exercise that increases endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. By working the quads in the upper thighs, and the calves in the lower legs, downhill hiking is an excellent preparation for skiing because skiing uses the same muscles.
Keep in mind, though, you must first hike uphill to gain the downhill hiking experience. Hiking uphill, you work your glutes while developing a true respect and appreciation for the ski lift. Hike uphill in the snow and you will realize the cost of a lift ticket is worth every dollar.
The other ideal pre-season workout is mountain biking. Spinning and road cycling are effective exercises for increasing endurance and quad strength, but mountain biking is a superior pre-season exercise because of the balance required. Mountain biking also requires more weight bearing to ascend hills, making it more intense than spinning and cycling.
Let’s face it. It’s hard to wait out the time between the first flurry and opening day at the ski resort. Preconditioning gives you a goal and something to do while you bide your time.
Franklin, Jon. ” Preventing Ski Injuries Through Conditioning.” Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle Online. Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle. n.d. 15 Nov. 2014. http://www.orthopedicspecialistsofseattle.com/preventing-ski-injuries-through- conditioning/
Ingraham, Stacy J. “The Role Of Flexibility In Injury Prevention And Athletic Performance: Have We Stretched The Truth?.” Minnesota Medicine 86.5 (2003): 58 – 61. MEDLINE. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
Parrott, James, and Zhu Xihe. “A Critical View Of Static Stretching And Its Relevance In Physical Education.” Physical Educator 70.4 (2013): 395 – 412. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
Westcott, Wayne. “Strength Training for Skiing.” Healthy.net. Healthy.net. n.d., 15 Nov. 2014. http://www.healthy.net/Health/Essay/Strength_Training_for_Skiing/398
POSSIBLE SIDE BAR
Dr. Franklin recommends a typical conditioning program, adaptable to your own preferences:
1. Aerobic fitness (5 days/week for at least 30 minutes)
.Elliptical or stair climber
2. Strength (3 days/week, 2 sets of 60 seconds each)
.Lateral leg raises
3. Flexibility (daily, 2 sets of 60 seconds each)
4. Balance Exercises (daily, 2 sets of 60 seconds)
.Standing on one leg, perform mini squats
.Single leg hop, holding landing for 5 seconds, repeat
Source: Franklin, Jon. “Preventing Ski Injuries Through Conditioning.” Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle Online. Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle. n.d. 15 Nov. 2014. http://www.orthopedicspecialistsofseattle.com/preventing-ski-injuries-through-conditioning/