Snow sports: are you ready to take on the slopes?
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
Planning on hitting the slopes this winter? Has it been a while since you’ve stepped into your ski boots? Are you worried about feeling too sore after a few runs?
In this article we discuss: two tests to check on your preparedness to hit the slopes, how equipment can affect your chances of injury, and finally some exercises to help build strength required for skiing and help reduce your chances of injury!
Both skiing and snowboarding require a lot of strength, and although many of the same principles can be applied to prepare for the snow season, this article is targeted to all the skiers out there - sorry snowboarders!
We know that having strong quadriceps is particularly important for all skiers, and not just for those who hit the moguls! The shape and material of your ski boot means your ankle is locked into a position which forces your knee to be in a slightly bent position, driving your quadriceps to be almost consistently firing 1 (hello dreaded delayed-onset-muscle soreness or DOMS!) Along with strong quadriceps, skiers require a strong core and hip muscles 1.
So, before you hit the slopes this winter, try these two simple tests to determine whether you’re in peak physical shape to ski:
1. Single leg sit to stand:
Start by finding a chair/bench. Sit down so that the foot of the leg being tested is flat on the ground with the knee bent at approximately 90 degrees. Cross your arms over your body and put the leg not being tested straight out in front of you. From this seated position, you are now ready to begin the test!
Stand up and sit down as many times as you can until you reach fatigue. Ensure that you maintain control of the entire movement and avoid falling back into the seated position. The test stops when you lose control over the movement, or when you are too tired to continue. Repeat on the opposite leg.
How many could you do? If you can’t do at least 25 repetitions on one or both legs, we have some work to do - check out the leg strengthening exercises later in the article
2. Side plank test:
Start by lying on your side with your body supported by your elbow. Your elbow on the ground should be directly under your shoulder. Place your other arm alongside your body or put your hand on your hip. Your top leg can either be directly on top of your bottom leg, or slightly in front so your foot is rested on the ground.
Comfortable? Fantastic, let’s start the timer and begin the test. Raise your pelvis off the floor keeping your spine in line with your body. Make sure your hips are not bending forwards or backwards and hold for as long as possible. Tired? Great! You’ve given it your best. Now swap sides and repeat on the other side.
How long can you hold each side plank for?
If it’s less than 45 seconds, then let’s get to work! Check out the core/hip abductor strengthening section later in the article.
What about equipment?
Along with adequate muscle strength, ski equipment can also assist with injury prevention. Ski boot binding systems (SBBS) have progressed over the years, and current research demonstrates that the failure of bindings to release during a fall is one of the main causes of skiing-related lower leg injuries 1-3. DIN is the standard for the release settings on your SBBS and is determined by a combination of your skiing ability, height, weight, and boot length. Particularly if you’re new to skiing, you should get your DIN settings checked by a ski technician before you catch the lift to make sure the setting is suitable for you 3.
Additionally, if you ski with poles you should discard the pole prior to hitting the ground to minimise risk of injuries to your thumb, hand, and wrist when falling 1. Although losing a ski pole may lead to a hike up a hill, it’s better than a nasty injury. Correctly gripping the poles can also help prevent injury (see image)
Do you listen to music while you ski?
Interestingly, it has been shown that beginner and intermediate skiers ski faster when listening to music! But unfortunately, skiing while listening to music has also been demonstrated to increase injury rates 4,5. So to reduce your injury risk, best to ditch the headphones!
It should go without saying that the use of a helmet when skiing is also highly encouraged - not only is it important protection for your skull 6,7, but a great ski fashion accessory too ;) (evidence in picture below of our model Phoebe).
How do I get my muscles ready to ski?
Alright, time to get strong so we can make the most out of our days on mountain! Here are some good exercises to add to your usual routine that will help prepare you for the ski season. To track your progress, you can re-test yourself by doing the same two tests outlined earlier in the article.
To target your legs, try:
Single leg squat/pistol squat: you can work up to this exercise by practicing single leg squats the same as the test outline earlier. To progress this exercise, you can find a gradually lower bench to start from, and eventually remove the bench to complete a pistol squat.
Lateral sliding lunge: Use a sock/hand towel/furniture slider and stand with one leg on the floor and the other on the furniture slider. Slowly push your hips back and slide the furniture slider away from you while lunging. When your bent leg reaches approximately 90 degrees, slowly slide your other foot back towards the middle while standing back up. Aim for 12-15 repetitions.
Wall sit: find a spare wall you can lean against. Slide your back down the wall until your knees are bent at approximately 90 degrees. Keep your feet together and hold this position for as long as possible. Aim to increase the time you can hold this each time you practice.
To target your core:
Front plank: Maintain a push-up position using your elbows. Ensure your hips do not sag and your gaze is focused on the floor slightly ahead of you. Hold for as long as possible and aim to increase with each practice.
Side plank: Assume the same position as in our side plank test above. Hold for as long as possible and aim to increase your hold with each practice.
To target your hip abductors:
Monster walk: Use a theraband around the feet and assume the athletic stance (slight bend in the knees and hips). Then spread your feet apart and start walking forwards. It is important to keep your feet apart when moving forward: don't let them come inwards. Once you have walked forward, then walk backwards.
Sumo walks: To perform the Sumo walk, with the band around the feet, assume the athletic stance. Then simply walk from side to side. The emphasis when moving to the side is pushing off on the leg (i.e if you are walking to the right side, then push off from your left leg).