By Melanie Brooks, DPT
Skiing is undeniably a fun and thrilling sport for all ages — nothing compares to a bluebird powder day on the slopes!
Unfortunately, it’s a sport often riddled with injuries, especially for those weekend warriors who don’t take the time to get fit first.
What’s the best protection against injury? A conditioning program begun 8 to 10 weeks prior to the start of the ski season can have huge impact. To be effective, the program must include strength, agility, endurance, and flexibility training for the specific muscle groups involved with skiing, including the smaller, less visible muscles so important for hip and core stabilization. Preseason conditioning will not only decrease injury risk but also improve performance from day one. For skiers, a conditioning program should include the following:
Cardiovascular Exercise – Skiing is a vigorous form of cardiovascular exercise. It will often bring one to within 70-85% of maximum heart rate (220 minus age). Therefore, cardiovascular exercise should be an integral part of training. Many professional skiers will maintain their cardiovascular endurance with biking during the off-season (either mountain or road), as many of the same muscles are used in biking. Running, swimming, and hiking are also good options. If individuals are unable to exercise outside, there are great gym options, such as the elliptical, treadmill, or Stairmaster.
Strength Exercise – Wall sits and squats are the most popular choices to strengthen quads, hamstrings, and glutes, as these exercises mimic the motion of skiing. For telemark skiers, walking lunges are a good option. But don’t neglect the stabilizing muscles in the hips and the core, which will help minimize risk of injury to the back and the knee. Clamshells and sidesteps with a band can help strengthen the glute medius, and planks, bridges, alternating arm/leg lifts and bicycles are good for the core. Lat pull-downs can help gain strength for poling. All strengthening should be done in a neutral position (maintaining the natural curves in the spine) to prevent low back and neck injury.
Balance Exercise – Balance work, such as on the BOSU, wobble board, or Dynadisc, is great for improving ski performance and helps to strengthen the core as well.
Agility/Plyometric Exercise – To condition the muscles for the power and burst movements required in skiing, it is important to incorporate plyometrics and agility exercises into a conditioning program. Squat jumps, box jumps, power skipping, ladder drills, and shuffles are some examples of plyometric and agility exercises.
Flexibility – Maintaining flexibility is important to avoid muscle tears. Ideally, one should perform dynamic stretching prior to skiing and static stretching afterwards for the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and calves. Yoga is another great way to maintain muscle flexibility and, again, build core strength.
Though a full ski conditioning program may seem daunting, it is possible to work it into a busy schedule. One option is to alternate days of 30 minutes of cardio two to three days per week and 30 minutes of strength/balance/agility training two to three days per week. There are also ski conditioning classes that meet two or three days a week to ideally target all of the above areas. Stretching should be performed after all cardio and strength training. At least one day of rest is important.
And let’s not forget nutrition: to build strength, endurance, and power, it is important to eat a balanced diet rich in protein and fruits/vegetables as well as carbohydrates, and to avoid processed foods as much as possible.
Stay safe on the slopes and minimize injury risk this winter by building strength and endurance with a ski conditioning program. And pray for snow!
Melanie Brooks, DPT, is a physical therapist at Spaulding Outpatient Center Plymouth. Her clinical interests include sports medicine and spine injuries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (508) 927-7424.