It’s that time of year again for a lot of us here in Colorado when we dust off the ski boots, strap the snowboards to the roof, and head up to the mountains. Skiing and snowboarding both require a combination of strength, endurance, agility and balance to keep you upright as you head down the hill. Whether you’re a year-round weekend warrior or winter is your time to shine, here are a few essential training tips to keep in mind before hitting the slopes.
Don’t Skip Leg Day
It’s no surprise an 8-hour day on the slopes requires a considerable amount of strength. Proper mechanics and muscle stability play a key role with the high velocity demands of downhill snow sports. Hip strength, in particular, can help control dynamic movement and decrease rotational forces that occur at the knee joint. By controlling the movement of your knees falling inward, you can reduce unwanted joint stress and prevent ligament injury. Hip and core strength are also crucial for maintaining balance and stability as you carve through the trees, weave through moguls, and (for some) get on and off the lift without wiping out.
It is recommended that you do at least 2-3 days of resistance training per week to build the necessary strength for weekends on the mountain. Some exercises to increase lower body strength with free weights (dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.) include double and single leg squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Suspension exercise options can include hamstring curls, knee extensions, pikes, and side hip abductions and adductions. Other great exercises for your hips and core include lateral band walks, planks and side planks.
High Altitude Preparation
Living in the mile high city, your cardiovascular system needs to adapt to accommodate the decrease in partial pressure of oxygen. In other words, at lower atmospheric pressures, your lungs are less efficient and the gas exchange ability decreases. As you travel higher into the mountains, you are putting even more stress on your systems when performing high aerobic activity. The best way to prepare for this is to perform cardiovascular training at a moderate-intensity at least 150 minutes a week. For example, you could do 30 minutes of running, swimming, brisk walking, biking, or dancing 5 times a week, in preparation for the ski season. Many popular classes such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) incorporate cardio, strength training and plyometrics and can be beneficial for a full body endurance workout.
Balance, Balance, Balance
A key component to snow sports is neuromuscular stabilization (or balance). We all have tiny receptors in our joints, muscles and tendons that sense the position of our body parts in space. Luckily this isn’t something we actively have to think about to stay standing; however, this system is integral to maintaining your center of gravity as you’re sliding down a mountain.
One of the best ways to challenge your muscle control is to perform exercises on an unstable surface. You can use a foam pad at the gym or a couch cushion or pillow at home. This type of training will mimic the terrain variability on the mountain, challenging your stability system from head to toe. Variables to change can include head positioning, closing your eyes, standing on one foot, or tossing a ball. You can add a strengthening component while on foam and perform double and single leg squats, 3 way lunges, or single leg deadlifts with cone grabs. Suspension exercises, such as Redcord and TRX, are also hugely beneficial for developing neuromuscular control.
The above is a short list of training tips and exercises to get you ready and keep you strong for the entire ski season. It is important to vary your routine and seek exercises that will challenge your whole body in order to help stay in optimal shape for those powder days. You can get creative with it and you may find a new exercise that you can continue throughout the year.
Always keep in mind if you are new to exercising or are dealing with an injury, it is best to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.
Haff G, Triplett T. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2016.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.