Winter is coming…eventually! Are you ready?
It’s the middle of November and many of you are asking, where is all of the snow? With one of the warmest fall seasons in Colorado history, snow and snow making has been limited in Colorado’s high country, and we expect delayed openings at many of our favorite resorts. However, while we all anxiously await the larger snow totals we’re accustomed to, the delayed onset of winter can actually be a good thing. It provides a great opportunity to take a closer look at our physical conditioning and preparedness to hit the slopes this season. John Hopkins Medicine estimates that nearly 600,000 Americans are injured on the slopes every year, but we’re here to help you reduce your chances of being one of them.1 We’ve had a number of requests to provide exercises to improve performance and prevent injury for the 2016-17 ski season. Check out our Facebook Page for a 6 week training program to get you ready for the slopes. We will add 1 exercise each week focusing on the key areas below.
Have you ever felt your turns getting a little sloppy near the end of the day, or near the end of a long run? Muscle fatigue can lead to poor mechanics on the slopes, ultimately reducing performance and putting us at higher risk for injury. In addition, researchers have found differences in muscle endurance in high-level alpine skiers compared to intermediate skiers, drawing a potential link between muscle endurance and improved performance. Endurance of the muscles in the front of your thigh (quadriceps) and core muscles are especially important on those longer, more continuous runs. Holding various positions throughout a movement (isometric exercise) and higher repetition exercise can simulate the stresses we place on these muscles while skiing and snowboarding and keep us sharper on those long runs near the end of the day.
Core Strength and Stability
Whether we’re on corduroy groomed runs or in knee deep powder, the surface we ski or snowboard on is one of the most challenging on which any athlete must perform. To respond efficiently and maintain balance in ever-changing conditions, we must have great stability, provided largely by muscles of our core. While our abdominal muscles can also be important on the mountain, it is also important to focus on the commonly overlooked core muscles of the hip. These muscles provide the foundation for our trunk and upper body and control side to side movement at both the knee and ankle joints. Despite their importance, this is one of most common areas of weakness we see in the clinic and can be a common contributor to knee and back injuries. Research indicates training single-leg and multi-directional movements are the most effective means to strengthen key muscles of the hip (gluteus medius and maximus). Incorporating these movements into your training program can go a long way in setting you up for greater success on the mountain. The picture to the right shows one common indicator of hip weakness, but stay tuned to future videos in this exercise series where we will further explore ways to identify and correct deficits in hip strength.
Dynamic Strength and Power
Endurance can keep us going stronger throughout the day, and hip stability can keep us upright and reduce injury, but our muscles will also need to respond quickly and powerfully to manage the ever-changing terrain we encounter on the mountain. Researchers identified eccentric strength (our ability to absorb many of those bumps we encounter on the mountain) as a key component to skiing and snowboarding performance. In addition, poor body control during landings can greatly increase force on the ACL (one of the most common knee ligaments injured by skiers), and increase risk of injury. Plyometric/jump training can effectively address these concerns as it mimics many of the demands we face when navigating moguls, making quick and powerful turns, and absorbing shock during landings on the slopes.
Train on the Mountain
Endurance, stability, and strength in key muscles can boost your performance and reduce injury, however, our training should not end once we reach the mountain. One key tip is to start slow, especially on your first trip to the mountain this season. In other words, don’t race for that black diamond on your first run. Even with added endurance, stability, and strength, our brain needs some time to optimally orchestrate the many movements involved in skiing and snowboarding. Be patient, head for the easier runs first, and take some time to really focus on technique before hitting more challenging terrain.
So, while you’re waiting for the snow to fall, check out our Facebook Page and get training! Check in with your physical therapist if you need additional exercise guidance or have a nagging injury you want to get resolved before you hit the slopes.
Thanks to Eric Leeseberg, Physical Therapist Intern for this article
- Helmets Save Lives of Skiers and Snowboarders – 11/12/2012. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/helmets_save_lives_of_skiers_and_snowboarders. Accessed November 13, 2016.
- Kiryu T, Murayama T, Ushiyama Y. Influence of muscular fatigue on skiing performance during parallel turns. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2011;2011:8187-8190.doi:10.1109/IEMBS.2011.6092019.
- Gluteal Muscle Activation During Common Therapeutic Exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009;39(7):532-540. doi:10.2519/jospt.2009.2796.
- Koller A, Fuchs B, Leichtfried V, Schobersberger W. Decrease in eccentric quadriceps and hamstring strength in recreational alpine skiers after prolonged skiing. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2015;1(1):bmjsem-2015-000028. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2015-000028.
- Heinrich D, van den Bogert AJ, Nachbauer W. Relationship between jump landing kinematics and peak ACL force during a jump in downhill skiing: a simulation study. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2014;24(3):e180-187. doi:10.1111/sms.12120.