Not everyone can shred all day. We all have that one friend who's the first to drop off and hit the bar. Or our friend we lose after run No. 1 because they simply can't keep up with the group. And there's nothing wrong with that. Skiing and snowboarding are grueling sports that take a toll on your body and can leave you burnt out, sitting in a lodge face-deep in a bowl of Frito pie by 2pm (also nothing wrong with that).
Skiing and snowboarding are anaerobic activities. In addition to high cardio cross-training like running or biking, prepping for the season involves a series of exercises and stretches, many of which fall into the convenient category of DIY training you can easily do at home. We tapped certified ski instructor and fitness trainer Bridget Ericsson, who teaches the Ski Fit class at Colorado Athletic Club for some of her best workouts.
Ericsson typically begins her Ski Fit workout with rolling out the quads, hamstrings, IT band (basically every part of your thigh), butt muscles, as well as the shoulder blades on the foam roller. Anyone who’s tried it knows that foam rolling is a slow form of self-torture, but the more often you do it, the less painful it becomes. It's crucial in warming and softening the deep tissue of the largest leg muscles before a workout. You'll actually see pro ski racers doing it all the time (using the sides of their poles rather than a foam roller).
Next up: balance exercises, specifically ones that involve leg rotations. Standing on one leg, swinging the opposite leg back and forth in the air, then rotating the elevated leg in big, slow circles to the right and left. “These slow movements are great for balance, strengthening the support leg as well as creating flexibility,” Ericsson says. “One-leg balance obviously comes into play a lot on skis or a snowboard.” Once the muscles are warmed up, stretch the hips one at a time, transforming into a one-legged human chair, and then holding each quad behind you (holding the opposite index finger up for balance) for 30 seconds. These also ramp up your balance.
“You don’t realize how much you use your upper body when you ski,” Ericsson says. “If someone has a lazy or weak upper body, the arms hang low and it not only looks bad but throws off your entire stance and makes you unbalanced and prone to falling."
Steps or jump steps
If you have a block, step, or any raised surface available, lateral stair jumps simulate the sensation -- and fast muscle movement -- of swinging through powder or down steeps. A safer version of this exercise involves stepping onto the block with one leg, bringing up the other to meet it, then stepping back down in controlled fashion. Using weights while stepping up can add an extra challenge, especially if stepping up and raising one knee and one arm carrying a weight above your head. “Anytime your hands are moving above your heart, you’re getting your heart rate up,” Ericsson says.
These can be done in two sets of 10 or for 30 seconds, with arms on the ground -- or a raised surface -- hop one leg in front of the other as quickly as possible. “These are great for moguls training. Preparing for those short, powerful bursts from top to bottom.” Ericsson says.
Do these with feet facing forward and out, with weight in two hands and back straight. Aim for three sets of 10. Squats mostly isolate the hamstrings and glutes, two of the three largest muscle groups used on the slopes.
To mitigate that burn in your quadriceps (the third-largest leg muscle group used in skiing), get your thighs conditioned early by doing a few sets of these on your carpet or patio before putting them to the test on the hill.
Paper plates on carpet will suffice and there are numerous motions you can make with these that simulate a slippery snow surface. Using a glider under one foot for reverse lunges, bending the standing knee and drawing one leg laterally in and out, or using a glider under each foot to skate from side to side as one would do on skate skis.
One leg sits
Single leg sit-to-stands are another exercise featuring an equal mix of balance and strength, as are one-legged square hops (be sure to slightly bend the knee). This can prepare your legs for getting on and off of the chairlift, which uses more power than you might think.
The “Jane Fonda”
“Doing an equal number of exercises for the quads and hamstrings is important because you want those muscles to be balanced,” Ericsson says. A subtle hamstring and glute strengthening drill is getting on the hands and knees and lifting one leg into the air with the foot flat to the ceiling and pulsing the leg upward. This hamstring isolation can help with those sudden movements required of avoiding an obstacle or recovering from a near-fall.
“Probably the most important area of the body to condition for the ski season is your core,” Ericsson says. Her ab workout of choice is a two-set circuit of Turkish get-ups or half get-ups. These things are hard. Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, hold a weight (start out light) in one straight arm, keeping the arm above your shoulder and use your ab muscles to pull yourself up to a seated position (half get-up), or all the way to a standing position for the full getup.
“You don’t want a stiff back when you ski. You want a pliable back,” Ericsson says. How does one achieve this? Pilates is a time-tested practice testified by a number of pro athletes to harden your back and core muscles, which you use every time you turn on a snowboard. AND which strengthens your stance and makes you more centered and balanced on your boards. Bridges, half-bridges, and any progression of exercises that strengthen the back and abs in low-impact fashion work well for the pilates sequence.
In addition to pigeon, which stretches those hip flexors that get so rigid after a cold day of action, downward dog, child’s pose, and butterfly are stretches that isolate calves, lower back, and inner thigh muscles, which can, if left unstretched, cause cramps and soreness in these areas for days.
Ericsson’s ski training class meets for one hour two days a week, but now that the season is breathing down our necks, it’s time to kick it into high gear. A combination of warm-up, two or three sets of 10 of each of these exercises along with a five to 10-minute stretch session and cool down will help boost your bionic turns on the mountain this winter. Now get after it.
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