Since the majority of us can only ski or snowboard for a few months of the year, and because sports like this use some pretty specific and unique muscle groups, it can be hard on the body the first time you hit the slopes each year. Staying upright and safe as you hurtle down the hill involves strength, endurance, balance, and agility, so it is easy to get exhausted if you are not physically prepared.
To avoid injury, excessive soreness, and potential FOMO (fear of missing out), it is important to take some time to prepare your body for at least a few weeks before you head for the slopes.
To that end, here are a few areas of fitness you should focus on to make sure you are ready.
It is critical in snow sports (downhill or not) to build strength and stamina in our leg muscles, especially if we want to be able to stay on the hill for the full day. Our legs are indeed the most involved muscle group, so it is vital that we focus on them at least two days per week in the lead-up to ski season, and also throughout the season.
Our quadriceps is arguably the most used muscle group in our legs while skiing and riding, because the quads hold you in position, give you stability, and protect your good-old knee bones from excess compression.
Also, when swishing your way downhill, you will typically hold your body in a mostly flexed position, leaning forward from the hips. This requires strength from your hamstrings and glutes so make sure you add those into the mix.
Having some good strong arms will help skiers push off with your poles while remaining stable in your shoulders. Strong arms also help with pole-planting and will make traversing across those flatter areas of snow easier, which comes in handy when you are lining up for the chairlift or heading to the chalet for an apres beverage.
Having good arm strength helps snowboarders with their balance and stability and can save your face when you catch an edge. For this purpose, your shoulders and triceps (backs of the arms) are where you will want to spend that majority of your arm-strengthening time.
Strong abdominals and a stable lower back will help to support your spine on the slopes. This becomes even more important and apparent when you are skiing or snowboarding down steep hills, in deep powder, or on moguls.
Think about the flexed and bent over position that you get into when you are skiing or boarding. As you can imagine, your back has to work hard to keep your spine protected from injury. A strong, well-conditioned core is key.
Remember that your core is composed of your abdominals, obliques, lower back, and hips—not just your six-pack. So you will want to strengthen them all with both targeted and multijoint exercises.
Balance, Flexibility, and Agility
Obviously, both skiing and snowboarding require that you have good balance so you can remain in an upright position—at least most of the time. After you manage to get yourself off the chairlift, there is the ever-varying surface of the snow to contend with. The type of snow changes many times on the way down a hill, from powder at the top, to ice at the bottom, and likely some hard-packed stuff in the middle. The skier or rider needs to be able to handle them all.
In terms of flexibility, the most important muscles for skiers and snowboarders to stretch regularly include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, ankles, piriformis, and lower back.
Agility in these winter sports is needed for the body to constantly adjust to your changes in direction, changes in speed, and of course changes in whether you are upright or not. This is doubly important for anyone who is spending time in a terrain park working on their 1440 Triple Cork.
Aerobic and Anaerobic Fitness
Skiers and snowboarders should maintain a solid aerobic fitness level but should also be able to go anaerobic when necessary. If you have solid cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance you will be able to stay on the hill longer and minimize your risk of injury due to fatigue.
Some ways to build aerobic fitness in the non-snowy season are long, slow runs or bike rides, and in the winter you can choose to cross-country ski. These types of movements most resemble the changes in terrain that we see on the slopes.
But skiing and snowboarding are also anaerobic activities and require short but intense bursts of energy with limited rest periods in between. So HIIT training can be very helpful in your training as well.
You can try a combination of steady-state exercise (maintaining a consistent heart rate) and intervals (alternating between high-intensity and lower intensity periods). This type of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) fitness allows the body to adapt quickly to constant changes in speed on different types of terrain.
Before you start incorporating these exercises into your workout program, it is always best to warm-up. Five to ten minutes is enough to get your blood flowing and your muscles warm. Check out this article for some great ways to warm-up before your workout.
Here are some ski and snowboard exercises that you can start peppering into your (hopefully) already solid fitness plan.
Your thighs (or your quads) are pretty much the hardest working muscles when you are heading down the slopes, and squats are one of the best ways of building strength and stamina in your legs.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to head straight to doing squats with heavy weights, especially if you are new (or newly returned) to this exercise. Start with three to five sets of body weight squats to maximum burn and then go from there.
Dumbbell Reverse Lunge with Curl
This is one of those multi-joint exercises that I am always hounding you to incorporate into your workouts.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand. Step your right foot back into a lunge, and then bring the dumbbells up into a bicep curl. Lower the dumbbells to your sides and stand up, out of the lunge and back into a standing position. That is one rep.
Not only is this exercise an excellent way to strengthen your legs, but it also helps to develop explosive springiness in the quads and glutes. It’s not hard to imagine how this will come in handy on the hill.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down so your thighs are parallel to the floor (or slightly lower), then jump up high in the air. Gravity will do the rest.
Pro tip: land as softly as you can and try to keep the momentum going back into your next jump.
Single-Leg Squat with Cable Row
This is a great one for strength, balance, and agility.
Stand in front of the cable machine at the gym or use a resistance band at home and balance on one leg. Hold the cables or the ends of the band with your arms extended in front of your chest. Perform a three-quarter squat then, as you stand up from your squat, row with one (or both arms), engaging your shoulder blades and pulling your thumbs as close as you can to your armpits.
Low to High Woodchopper
Let’s not forget the core! This dynamic exercise works the obliques and upper abdominals while also getting your heart rate up.
Pick up a dumbbell or a medicine ball. Squat down, and twist your body so you are holding the dumbbell on the outside of your left leg and close to the floor. Then lift the weight diagonally across your body, ending with the dumbbell above your head and off to the right.
Pro tip: move with a combination of control and power. Don't just use momentum to keep you swinging.
Mini-Band Lateral Walking
This will give you the hip stability you need to stay upright for longer on those slick slopes.
Tie a resistance band around your lower legs and stand with feet hip-width apart, with your knees slightly bent. Shift your weight onto your left foot and step your right foot out, followed by your left. If you need more explanation for this one, or think you need more of this type of movement, check out my article about Lateral Movement.
Stand strong and well-aligned with your feet hip-width apart. Then take a large step to one side into a lunge position making sure that the bent knee is pointing forward and not extending past your toes. Pause for a second and then push off the ground as explosively as you can and return to the starting position.
Like the squat jumps earlier, this will build strength and the rebounding strength to survive even the toughest moguls.
We use the core muscles (especially the lower back) a lot more than you might think when skiing, especially when you are turning or taking on more challenging terrain. So almost any type of planking is going to work well for you. For some great info on planking, check out the article called How to Plank Like a Pro.
Push-Up with Lateral Movement
This exercise will work on your arm strength and core stability—both of which are essential on the slopes.
Assume a push-up (or plank) position with your feet hip-width apart. Do a push-up. Then, step to the side with your left arm and leg, followed by your right arm and leg. Then do another push-up and move your body back to the right.
Stability ball plank knee drive
This exercise is one of the most intense ones and it is a great finisher for this workout.
Get into a push-up or plank position but with your hands on a stability (or yoga) ball. Alternate bringing each knee up to the ball while maintaining a nice flat back in the push-up position.
Pro tip: bring your knees straight up to the ball or slightly off to the side (like a mountain climber) or alternate between the two—this will increase the difficulty and intensity for the core.
Being specifically fit from doing exercises like these, makes hitting the slopes not only safer but also more fun. With the right preparation, you can enjoy your day in the snow, stay safe, and also not worry about how sore you are going to be in the next 24 to 48 hours.
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