Ski Strength & Conditioning

Good preparation for skiing is imperative to ensure you minimise your risk of injury, and are armed with the necessary conditioning to permit you to embrace good technique, ski well and have fun! Skiing places demands on your body that are unique, and not seen in other sports. It is therefore imperative that you specifically train for the demands of skiing itself. Just because you run 25 miles per week or play tennis to a high level does not equip you adequately for skiing.

The areas requiring attention can be easily identified:

  1. Cardiovascular fitness.
    If you do very little exercise of any sort, from 6-3 months prior to skiing it would be advisable to do aerobic exercise. This is steady exercise that takes your pulse to a target level, and maintains it there for an absolute minimum of 20 minutes. To work out your target pulse: 220-your age, and take 70% of this. This should be performed ideally 3 times per week. This will help get your body used to regular exercise and is also a good way to shed a few excess pounds. However, skiing is more anaerobic, ie your pulse is up to a higher level for short bursts, and therefore your bias for the 3 months prior to skiing should be on anaerobic training. This is most easily performed with interval training. For example, spinning classes or running fast for a minute, then walk for half a minute, (repeated for 20-60 minutes, as able). Do make sure that you are well warmed-up before doing these, and if you have any health concerns seek medical advice first. If you have concerns about any of your joints, then try and stay away from running, and perform your intervals on the bike or cross-trainer. These intervals should fatigue your muscles so that they feel tired after! You therefore ideally should do those alternate days, to allow your muscles to recover in between.
  2. Power.
    Skiing places great power demands on many muscle groups, especially your quadriceps, (front of your thigh), and gluteal muscles, (muscles of your bottom). They need to be able to generate large amounts of force in short bursts. Training should therefore be geared at fatiguing these muscles after 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions. The leg press in the gym is a good starting point for this, and more specific to the demands of skiing than the leg extension machine. However, a problem with weights machines is that they do not mimic the dynamic requirements of skiing. It is therefore advisable to move towards lunges and squats holding weights, but do check your technique with a physiotherapist or trainer. There are many other exercises that can build power but do try and build in the ski postures where possible. Aim for 3-4 times per week.
  3. Endurance.
    Skiing requires some muscle groups to work steadily all day long to maintain your position on your skis. This is particularly relevant to your soleus, (deep calf muscle) to maintain your ankle flex, your adductors, (inner thigh) to stop your skis sliding apart, and your transversus abdominis and multifidus, (lower abdomen and back) to maintain your “core”, and stop you folding at the waist, especially in the bumps!! These should be targeted differently to the power muscles, doing exercises that create fatigue after 3 sets, but loads that permit 20 repetitions. Soleus calf raises should be performed with the knees flexed, and consider Pilates for your core.
  4. Balance and proprioception.
    Skiing requires constant fine adjustments in order for you to adapt to the constantly changing terrain, snow, speed etc. Your joints, and soft tissues will be constantly providing your brain with information about your body position, and this is known as proprioception. This is what informs your brain you have just gone over a bump even if you can’t see it as you are skiing in a whiteout. Excellent proprioception means that you will be faster to respond to the conditions. Proprioception will improve with specific training. Ask your physiotherapist or trainer to show you some exercises on a wobble board or cushion, and find out about swiss ball exercises.
  5. Flexibility.
    You do not need to have the flexibility of a gymnast to ski well, but good flexibility will help you have a good stance on your skis and prevent injury. Be aware that interval and power training mentioned above will tighten your muscles if not counteracted by stretching, so the most effective, and important time to stretch is after exercise when you are warm. Good flexibility in your soleus muscle, (deep calf) is essential to have good ankle flex in your boot, and this should be stretched with your heel down and knee bent. Flexibility has also been demonstrated to impact on you strength. You are at your strongest in the middle of a muscles available range, hence the more range you have; the easier it is to find this optimal range. Lastly, muscle injury occurs when a muscle is stretched beyond its normal length. Good flexibility is helpful to prevent muscle injury during a fall.
  6. Plyometrics.
    Plyometrics is a form of training which utilises bounding and jumping to take a muscle from shortened to lengthened very rapidly. It is an excellent way to mimic the rapid dynamic demands of skiing whilst improving explosive power. An ideal way of performing plyometrics is whilst holding the basic ski pose.

Thank you to Ms Claire Robertson (Physiotherapist) for her research and input into the above information on ‘Strength Conditioning’ for Skiing for the Warren Smith Ski Academy. To read more about Claire, click here.

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