By: Hannah Alderfer, BA, CPT, FMSC
The air is brisk. Snowflakes are powdering the earth. The slopes are calling. It’s ski season! If you take advantage of the colder months in Ohio, or other states, by dusting off your skis each winter, you are not alone. In 2015, about 9.51 million people in the United States headed to the slopes to either ski or snowboard. Skiing, whether downhill or cross country, is a beautiful sport that allows you to experience and enjoy the outdoors in a season that often forces people indoors. Unfortunately, along with the beauty of this sport often comes injury, and, like many sports injuries, some of these are avoidable with proper preparation. Being prepared when you hit the slopes can mean a variety of things, such as having the proper equipment, being aware of the snow conditions for the day, knowing your skill level and what you can handle, but most importantly making sure that your physical condition is at its best.
Examining when ski injuries most often occur helps determine what appropriate pre-season preparation should entail. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine finds that when people are skiing, it is often on a trip, and injuries occur most often…
- On the first day of ski week.
- In the early morning when the skier is not warmed up.
- In the late morning and late in the day when fatigue sets in.
- At the end of the week when the cumulative effects of the vacation make the skier tired.
According to Jasper Shealy, PhD and professor of the Rochester Institute of Technology, injuries from both skiing and snowboarding are on the decline. In fact, the numbers are about 20 percent less than in 1980. However, injuries still occur. Even though the statistics are better than ever, why risk an injury that could put a hold on enjoying that fresh powder? About one-third of ski injuries are knee related injuries that might require time off, physical therapy, or even surgery. Often, common ski injuries can be avoided with a comprehensive pre-season ski-conditioning program. Below you will find tips and strategies to best prepare you for the ski season ahead. Skiing requires a variety of skills, from your cardiovascular endurance to your muscular strength, from flexibility to balance, and from agility to explosiveness. Your pre-season program should include work in all of these areas. Having the cardiovascular endurance to avoid fatigue, the proper mobility to perform movements safely, and the strength and agility to maneuver on the slopes for hours are going to keep you from being another injury statistic.
Cardiovascular Endurance: Give yourself some time to condition your aerobic system if you are not currently doing any cardiovascular exercises. This could include cycling, running, using an elliptical, swimming or rowing. Start with 20-30 minutes 3-4 times per week. You should feel your breathing increase during these workouts, but still be able to talk. Wearing a heart rate monitor will help you accurately gauge your aerobic effort. If you need help calculating heart rate zones visit https://www.mioglobal.com/en-uk/calculate-heart-rate-zones.htm. According to Jason Amrich, a physical therapist and Director at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, “If you are relatively de-conditioned, consider starting off by building an aerobic base and beginning a simple strength training program. These two components alone, done for 4 to 12 weeks will vastly improve your physical condition when you hit the slopes.” If you do have a good aerobic baseline, then you can begin adding in anaerobic segments to your workouts. For example, by using the heart rate monitor as your guide, add in short intervals (1-3 minutes of higher intensity effort with a period of at least equal rest after each). That will push your lactate threshold, which is when your heart rate exceeds 85% of your maximum heart rate. Adding these intervals into your cardiovascular training will help you handle higher intensity skiing.
Strength Training: Your strength training routine should include exercises for your major muscle groups, multi-plane exercises, core strengthening, and balance work. Perform strength workouts 2-3 times per week, focusing on the major muscles used in skiing: gluteus medius and maximus, quadriceps, hip flexors, hamstrings, lower leg muscles (peroneus longus and tibialis anterior) latissimus dorsi, and deep core muscles (transverse abdominis and obliques). Your strength routine should also include balance and core work due to the instability of skiing and constant shifting of movement needed to stay upright on your skis. Below is a good start to your strength routine. Begin with 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions for each exercise and hold the planks for 20-30 seconds. Work up to 3 sets and 15 reps as able. Form is key; if you cannot maintain good form, adjust your reps or weight. Or if you simply aren’t sure how to perform an exercise properly seek guidance from a certified personal trainer.
- Lateral steps with a band around feet (hip strength & peroneus longus strength)
- Monster walk with a band (hip strength)
- Toe raises (tibilias anterior strength)
- Squats, split squats, and multi-direction lunges: forward lunges, side lunges, transverse lunges, adding weight as able (leg strength)
- Pull ups or assisted pull ups and bent-over rows (back and shoulder strength)
- Anti-rotational exercises such as planks and side planks (core strength)
- Rotation exercises such as Russian twists and torso rotations or chops with a band (core strength)
- For balance try single leg standing to start and then progress to standing on an unstable surface such as a BOSU or pillow.
Flexibility/Mobility: Focus on stretching the areas around your hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, latissimus dorsi and thoracic spine. Hold stretches for 20-30 seconds each and only perform stretches after you are properly warmed up.
- Kneeling hip flexor stretch – Tip: Maintain a neutral hip position (low back is flat) and shift weight forward to deepen the stretch.
- Book stretch – Tip: Keep knees and hips at 90 degrees and maintain contact of knees. Try to relax the shoulder to the floor.
- Lat Stretch on Swiss Ball – Tip: Point thumb up to the ceiling and pull torso away from hand.
- Standing quad stretch – Tip: Keep hips in a neutral position (low back is flat) and pull heel toward glute while maintaining hip position.
- Hamstring stretch from step – Tip: Keep your toe facing upward and reach with the opposite hand toward that foot. Push the hips backward (or arch the low back) to deepen the stretch.
Plyometric Exercises: Plyometrics should only be added to your program under the direction and guidance of a professional. This type of movement uses a quick, eccentric-concentric phase to harness elastic muscle properties to create an explosive movement. Although plyometrics give you the ability to quickly respond to unexpected obstacles and are an important part of performance and injury prevention in skiing, they can also be risky movements themselves. For more advanced skiers, this type of training simulates on-slope conditions, reactions, and explosiveness. If you are interested in incorporating plyometric exercises into your routine, make sure to have a baseline of strength first. Jason Amrich (see above) recommends at least 6 weeks. Start with simple ankle hops: beginning in an upright stance, feet shoulder width apart. Then hop up, with primary motion at the ankle joint. Land softly and immediately repeat the hop. Your movement should be as vertical as possible with little movement horizontally or laterally. Then move to low skips or side-to-side hops with two feet, then one foot. Then progress to higher skips and finally jumps, such as a jump squat. Remember that the key to a good explosive movement is the loading or re-loading portion. Think about landing soft as a feather, trying to make as little sound as possible. If you cannot, you aren’t ready for plyometrics.
Now that you have the right tools to prepare for your best ski season ever, begin putting them into practice. It’s never too early to begin! When you are preparing for your next ski trip this winter, making sure you have all the right gear and checking that the weather conditions look just right, hopefully your physical condition will match and you’ll be able to enjoy the slopes and the outdoors that much more!
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