A number of preseason forecasts are promising a better-than-average snowfall this winter, which has many of us practically salivating. The question is, “Will we be ready when the snow flies?”
One of the undisputed facts about skiing is that it’s work. Not in a “job” sort of way, but in terms of a workout. That’s especially true if you, like me, hit the lift lines early, and stay until they close late. The result is a seven-hour interval training session. Rest and recover in the lift lines, or on the lift, and then go through a vigorous all-body effort as you head downhill. So, the next question is, “What can I do to make sure I get the most out of each day skiing?”Your best bet is to commit to a preseason fitness regimen that incorporates yoga — primarily for flexibility and balance — and strength training.
Kim Johnson, owner of The Athlete’s Yoga near Boston, said practicing this ancient art not only can help keep the aches and pains at bay, but also improve your performance.
“Few activities mimic skiing in terms of technique, balance, rhythm and coordination, all of which are enhanced with a consistent yoga practice,” said Johnson. “Improved balance keeps you more in control on skis. Lack of flexibility leads to decreased range of motions in your shoulders, hips and spine, all of which are necessary for good form and technique.”
The catch is that improving flexibility takes time. And the older you are, the longer that “improvement” is going to take (especially if you’ve been sedentary). So get started now.
“As with many conditioning programs, not enough emphasis is placed on flexibility and its overall importance,” said Johnson. “Any athletic endeavor is more challenging to perform when tight.”
And while yoga can be done at home, the best approach is to make certain that you’re performing each movement correctly. To do that, get professional help. Let your instructor know what your goals are, and if you specifically want to prepare for the ski season. That way, an instructor can tailor your sessions.
“A home practice is great, but as a beginner, it may be best to seek a qualified instructor or studio that resonates with you,” said Johnson. “Each studio has its own feel, vibe and energy, and most offer a variety of classes. I advise taking a beginner series to learn the poses, alignment, breathing techniques and overall foundations of a yoga practice.”
Next, work on the explosive muscles and proprioceptors that enable us to ski increasingly challenging terrain while staying in control. Like yoga, I’d recommend working with a trainer.
“No matter what level you are as a skier or snowboarder, it’s very important to physically prepare all year round,” said Dan Newton of Unleashed Fitness in Massachusetts. “But if that hasn’t happened, it’s not too late. If you properly train a month or so before the ski season starts, you’ll avoid injury and optimize your ski runs.
“Nobody wants to go out on their first day of the season and get hurt by something that may have been preventable, or not feel up to the next day of skiing,” he said. “To really see the benefits of a good preseason workout routine, you should give yourself about six to eight weeks of training.”
That’s the key: Put in the effort beforehand, so you can maximize your time on the hill.A personal trainer will assess your current fitness level and your goals, and devise a workout road map to connect the two.
“It’s extremely important to have a professional to make a plan for you and watch your form,” said Newton. “To get the full benefit out of any of the exercises you do, you must do them properly and with the correct weight and intensity.
“Even if you hire a personal trainer to make sure that what you are doing is with good form for a few times, you’ll still get a lot out of it,” he said. “The best-case scenario is you get a trainer a few days a week to do workouts in the gym with a good balance of weight training, endurance training and agility-based exercises.”
Gyms and training centers are a worthwhile investment, but aren’t essential. There are a lot of exercises that you can do at home to develop your skiing/snowboarding musculature.
Newton suggests getting started by purchasing an elastic mini-band for a variety of home exercises to improve lower-body strength and balance. Again, it’s critical to do all of these exercises properly, so consult a professional to make sure you’re using proper technique.
Squats.These can be done with or without weights, and with or without a mini-band over the top of knees while keeping your knees from buckling. Complete four sets of 10 repetitions.
Side lunges. Keeping one leg straight, move laterally while shifting your weight on the opposite leg. Make sure to use your glutes to counterbalance the movement so you don’t put your weight too far forward. Do four sets of 10 on each leg.
Superman. Lay flat on the ground with arms outstretched above your head, and lift both the upper and lower body by squeezing your back and glutes. Do four sets of 15.
Glute bridge/single-leg bridge. Laying flat on your back, bring both feet close to glutes and push through heels until hips are in a tabletop position. This will activate glutes and hamstrings. Once you’ve mastered this, you can lift one leg in this bridge until one thigh is matched with the other with the high leg straight out. These are done with isometric contraction. Hold each position for four sets of 30 seconds each.
Front plank (with lateral hip drops). In a front plank, on either hands or elbows, keep your core stable and shift weight from side to side. Do four sets of 15 each side.
Step-ups. These can be done facing either stairs or a stable surface, or next to that surface. Marching step-ups facing surface are as simple as raising your foot to the surface and stepping up with the other foot, then putting down your first foot on the ground then the second. Right left, right left. You complete this in a set, then switch with the other foot going up first. You can also be next to the surface and keep one foot up the whole time through the set going up and down until you have finished your repetitions, then switch to the other foot. Do four sets of 15 for each leg.
Gym equipment can be helpful. Jeremy Woodward, owner of Highpoint Fitness and Jeremy’s Bootcamp in Concord, N.H., recommends several exercises that skiers and snowboarders will benefit from.
“Using a Bosu Balance Trainer is one of the best tools,” to prepare for ski season, said Woodward. “It offers an unstable surface that forces the individual to engage their core and use a lot of the stabilizer muscles in the legs and gluteus muscles that are used in downhill skiing and snowboarding.
“Typically we will have individuals perform squats on the Bosu, with and without weight, for anywhere from three to four sets, and eight to 15 repetitions per set,” he said.
Woodward’s gym also is equipped with Concept2 SkiErgs, which are “awesome” for full-body conditioning purposes.
“Not only is this a great exercise that mimics the motion for skiing both downhill and cross-country and core strengthening, but so many other activities as well,” he said. “We will typically perform intervals of 500 meters, repeated anywhere from three to five sets, for a total of 1,500 to 2,500 meters.”
For crossover athletes, Woodward said, “Single-leg squats are probably the single toughest exercise but the most effective tool in the arsenal for training for both skiing and snowboarding.” With a bench or chair behind you (in case you lose your balance), stand on one leg and squat down, making sure that your knees don’t extend over your toes.
“This targets specifically quads, hamstrings and gluteals,” he said. “This exercise specifically helps with working your stabilizers and strengthening your knee for turns, and being in the bent-knee position while skiing and or snowboarding.”
A diagonal slideboard and/or gliding discs “are a great technique for developing and isolating quad, gluteal and hip dominant strength,” said Woodward. “Place one foot on the slide board or (disc) and slide that leg backward. Keep the front leg stabilized on an even floor surface. I’d recommend three or four sets of eight to 12 reps.”
Newton and Woodward also are proponents of occasionally leaving the gym behind, avoiding jogging on a treadmill or using other indoor cardio tools. Immerse yourself in the real world. You know, just like you do when you’re skiing or riding.
“Get outside and acclimate to the elements, and force yourself to balance on the ground and avoid obstacles,” Newton said. “It’ll be much more fun, and is better for your decision-making skills on the fly.”
Dr. Bojan Zoric agrees. A physician for the U.S. ski and snowboard teams based in Massachusetts, Zoric suggests that winter enthusiasts, especially those with more sedentary desk jobs, should increase their activity level to increase their cardiovascular fitness. Even a brisk daily walk, or several times a week, has appreciable benefits. But because of the dynamic nature of skiing and snowboarding, more strenuous activities, such as trail running and mountain biking, are even better (provided you don’t overdo it).
Zoric highly recommends following any strenuous activity with a gentle stretching session as part of your cool-down, which promotes recovery and prepares your body for the next outing. He’s also a proponent of yoga, for both general fitness routine and injury prevention.
“If you’re going to skimp on anything, it’s probably the upper body,” said Zoric. “But your lower extremity and core strength are vital for balance, protection and manipulating your way through turns in different conditions.”