Warm Up for Cold Sports

7 conditioning tips to help ensure your trip down the mountain isn’t a painful exercise.

If you’re a skier, it’s not that Ed Andree doesn’t want to meet you; you probably have a lot in common.

But if you meet Andree at his workplace, Hood River Therapy, rather than the mountain, that probably means you didn’t prepare well for ski season – or got yourself hurt up there. So the physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist offered to share a little pre-season advice that could greatly minimize chances of skiers ever meeting him and his team. Unless, of course, you run into them (figuratively, of course) on the slopes.

Andree says skiers eagerly itching to strap on the boards can increase chances of a long, fun and injury-free season if they lay a solid foundation first. That means conditioning the major muscle groups that support good skiing – the quadriceps on the front of the thigh, core muscles and the hamstrings and gluteus maximus (OK, butt muscles) on the back side.

Good conditioning is only half the recipe for injury-free skiing. You also need to ski smart and stay within your limits. Here’s how to do both.

Pre-Ski Conditioning

As with all sports, Andree says it’s important to prevent injury by strengthening the trunk and lower-body muscles – the glutes, hips and the thighs. Strong quads – the muscles at the front of the thigh — equal strong skiing. “Our quads normally fatigue first which can lead to less control of our skis,” Andree says. To help prepare your legs for the fun ahead, do these three exercises.

img_3328_hr1. Prolonged squat.

With your ankles at the same width as your hips, and your knees in line with both, drop your butt from the standing position, not allowing your knees to bend more than 90 degrees. “Like you’re sitting in a chair,” Andree says. Hold that position, but roll forward onto the balls of your feet, then back, and keep rocking back and forth.

For variety, stand facing a wall and throw a ball against the wall to challenge your balance, simulating the changing conditions you will experience on the slopes. Do three sets of 30 seconds duration, every other day. Increase by 30 seconds each week for six weeks before skiing. “You should build up to doing this for maybe four minutes, or whatever it takes you to get down the longest run at your favorite mountain,” Andree says.


2. Side Plank.

Hard-core skiers need a – all together now — hard core. Skiing depends a lot on strong abdominal muscles to help maintain balance and absorb the bumps that threaten your flow. To prepare, lie on your side, with the forearm braced against the ground. Your ankle on that side is also against the ground. Using your core muscles, lift your hips so your body is like a “plank.” Then raise your hips a bit higher than the original body position and hold for 10 seconds. Return to the original position. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat the cycle three times. Switch sides and repeat. Do the 30-second side plank twice on each side. Add five seconds in each position each week for the six weeks of pre-ski conditioning.

3. Speed-skater jump.

Think about how speed skaters lean forward over their legs, shifting their weight from side to side. Without skates on, do the same thing, hopping slightly as you shift your weight from one side to the other. Swing the foot of the non-weight-bearing leg behind the supporting leg, and tap the ground. Cycle through both legs for 10 repetitions, three times a week. Add five repetitions per week so you are doing 35 repetitions by the sixth week of conditioning.

Play Safe

Adequate conditioning isn’t the only key to avoiding physical therapy. Smart skiing always helps.

4. Warm up before taking your body to its max.

Andree advises taking a couple of cruiser runs before hitting the chutes and ladders. Warming up your major leg muscles happens best when you’re using them, not abusing them. Relax, think about proper technique, find a good flow. “There’s no evidence that static stretching helps prevent injury,” Andree says, referring to stretches where you flex and hold the position.

5. Adjust to the conditions.

How you ski depends on the snow beneath your skis. A nicely groomed run is perfect for staying true to form. But hit the chunky crud, or ice fields and you may find yourself sitting back on your skis. “When that happens, we lose the ability to control our skis,” Andree says.

6. Do what your mind says you shouldn’t.

Andree says the body’s natural response when going downhill is to lean back, not forward. Remember to push forward into your boots and help the front of your skis guide you through your turns. Even though it’s counterintuitive to lean downhill, Andree says it’s really about proper weight distribution. “The inside edge of the ski dictates how you’ll turn, so if you put weight over your downhill ski, you’ll do better,” he says.

7. Listen to your fatigue.

When you become tired, you become sloppy. If your legs cry out in pain when you bend them to turn or absorb the bumps, it’s their way of saying, “Hey, you, we’re ready for a break down here.” Quit while you’re ahead. “That ACL injury that ruins your year? It often happens at the end of the day,” Andree says. Just as you began your day, back off the pedal a bit, and cruise it home without the aid of a stretcher.

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