Get Fit for Skiing - How to Be Smart and Avoid Injury
November 03, 20216 min read
By: Tim Borys
It’s November! The snow has started flying and ski season is just around the corner.
Would you rather be experiencing face shots on an epic powder day, or laid up with an injury and relegated to hearing stories from your friends about how awesome it was?
I vote for powder! So let’s talk about how to get fit for skiing and avoid preventable injuries.
A fit healthy body definitely makes skiing more fun, yet the demands of skiing are very different from what most people do for exercise. So, while the old school method of “skiing yourself into shape” can work (sometimes), more often it’s a fast track to injury.
There are endless exercises and specialized equipment out there to help you get fit for skiing, but there’s a key step that people often miss that sets them up for failure, frustration, and injury.
This missing piece is to KNOW YOUR STARTING POINT...and train from there!
Exercises are exercises. Equipment is simply a tool. Which ones are best for you at a given time will be highly dependent on these important factors:
What is your ski experience and skill level?
What is your current fitness Level?
How long has it been since you did physical training?
How long since you skied?
These may seem like simple questions, but in my 30 years as a sport conditioning specialist and performance coach, I see this mistake made on a daily basis (for skiing and every other sport).
Consider this. Do you stay in great shape all year round with a regular, progressive, and varied exercise program? Plus, do you ski 50+ days each winter, and have been doing it for decades? If so, you will need a very different training program than someone who used to ski regularly in their teens, but is now over 30, hasn't been exercising regularly, and hasn’t skied more than a handful of times in the past decade.
Yes, this seems simple. But, it’s extremely tempting for the second person to dive into a training program that’s too advanced because ski season is weeks away and they “need to get in ski shape fast”.
Perhaps you’ve been following your favourite world cup skier on instagram and decide to try some of the exercises she is doing in her training. Hey, it works for her, why not for you...right!?
In combination with my physiotherapy colleagues, I often help in the rehabilitation of skiers that attempted to follow this pre-season training path. Sadly, it's a recipe for disaster and skiers often end up missing much of each season coming back from preventable injuries, aches, and pains.
By assessing your current situation, being realistic with your willingness to put in training time, and the type of skiing you desire to do, you can start at YOUR correct level, make quick progress, and get the most out of your ski season.
The rest of this post will be dedicated to helping you understand the factors involved in skiing success, injury prevention, and to show you a few specific exercises you can do to develop certain ski related skills. That way when you hit the slopes, your brain and body will be ready to work together and have fun!
So, what are the demands of skiing?
While the demands vary depending on your skills and the type of skiing you do, there are some big similarities across the board.
Whether your comfort zone is a slow speed snowplow (now called “pizza”) down the bunny hill, or you are regularly featured in the latest Red Bull extreme skiing videos, here’s what your body needs to improve and prevent most injuries.
Spinal Rotation (L/R)
Righting and tilting reflexes
Lateral weight shift skills
Build to Agility
Don’t worry. The actual training part isn’t this complicated. I added these factors to drive the point home that there is A LOT of physical skill involved in the sport skiing. It’s important to understand what you are asking your body to do each day on the slopes.
Now, let’s look at a series of progressive ski training exercises that will be helpful for everyone from beginners to experts. You will notice some crossover between areas, but remember the focus of the particular area you are working on.
Of course, we don’t have the time and space to cover everything that’s involved with ski training, but these will give you a great foundation. Start at the easiest version of the movement. Once you can easily perform each exercise with awesome technique, then move on to the next progression or variation.
It’s paramount that you perform each exercise with correct form. Otherwise, you are creating flawed movement patterns, not getting the key benefits, and increasing your rIsk of injury. If you aren’t sure if you are doing it correctly, ask for help from a qualified functional movement coach.
This is the foundation of function in any sport or activity. Can you maintain your desired position regardless of the forces you are facing at the moment, and can you maintain relaxed breathing mechanics throughout the movement.
By learning this breathing technique and then transferring it to ALL other exercises and sports you do, you will set yourself up for success. Check out this video for how to do it and a few examples of how to apply it to other exercises and body positions.
Mobility is simply controlled flexibility. Not how far into a range of motion you can go passively, but how far actively. The key areas of focus for our skiing are spinal rotation, hips, knees, and ankles.
Check out the video for a few specific ski mobility drills for each area
There are endless balance exercises, but one of the most basic places to start is by standing on one leg. Simple and highly effective. Focus on standing in neutral posture, making adjustments from your supporting ankle and minimizing all other body movement Once you can do that for at least 1 minute, then progress to other variations.
Rotation is one of the most important aspects of skiing and likely the least trained. Our goal is to improve control of spinal rotation and range of motion using our core muscles (while still maintaining proper posture).
Aim to identify imbalances between your right to left sides. Most people rotate better in one direction than the other and this shows up in their skiing during turns (do you notice you turn easier to one side?).
Our goal here is to maintain proper posture and breathing while also loading one side of the body more than the other...like when you turn. Our focus is on landing smoothly and controlling the absorption of force with our supporting/landing leg, and “edging” with our foot
One of the most foundational movement patterns in sport...including skiing. Learning to squat while maintaining posture, bracing, breathing, and alignment is one of the best ways to avoid injury and improve your skiing performance.
Start at an easier progression that you think you should and go for QUALITY of movement with proper breathing. Aim for endurance first, and then add load once you feel you have the pattern dialed in.
One you are able to perform all of the previous movements correctly, it’s time to add some quickness, speed, and direction changes. Think of this as dropping into a steep bump run and having to keep it all together while quickly navigating the constantly varied field of moguls, trees, hill features, and other skiers. Great skiers are able to react quickly in the moment while still maintaining their core technique and skills.
If you do catch an edge, agility and reaction time allow you to recover quicker. This is also a great way to prevent injuries!
Here are some simple footwork and agility drills to help you develop that quickness and reactivity.
If you practice these skills, your skiing will dramatically improve this winter.
Carve out at least 5 minutes each day to practice these exercises. You can even incorporate them into your pre-skiing warm-up routine...you DO have one of those, right!?
Everything else is a bonus and will help you see even greater results.
For more information and personalized guidance from expert functional movement coaches, check out www.freshfitness.ca.
Want to work at your own pace? Take your skiing and fitness to the next level, with our Movement Foundations video workshop. It’s a step by step on-demand workshop designed to help master the 7 Primal Movement Patterns and 4 Foundational Principles of Function so you can look, feel, live, and ski better with only a few minutes of practice each day.