Now that ski season is fast approaching, I’m sure you are going over your gear checklist: tuned skis, fitted boots, local priced ski pass, agile muscles, strong core, plentiful stamina. Are you able to check off all those items on the list? Many folks are hurrying to get in skiing shape in hope of minimizing those early season muscle aches and pains. In earlier years you may have been able to get off the couch, strap on your skis or snowboard and “shred the gnar” without repercussions, but for me, and many others, this approach only brings pain and suffering.
In the days of youth, athleticism comes relatively easy, but as you enter those later decades and your body changes, you are no longer able to recover from strenuous activity as well as you once did. Reaction times become longer, strength declines, muscles become less elastic which increases your chance for injury; unless of course, you prepare yourself. A good off-season and preseason conditioning program can help your body handle the physical demands put on it while skiing. There is nothing worse than having an awesome day skiing, psyched for the next day only to wake up and have trouble getting to the bathroom because of really sore muscles. I see it all too often as a physical therapist, people with overuse injuries, sprains, strains, chronic injuries, all because the body wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the strenuous demands of a sport. You are most prone to injury when you are tired, so increasing your overall level of fitness will undoubtedly help protect you from injury and increase your overall performance and enjoyment in skiing or snowboarding. Amateur and professional athletes alike spend a lot of time prepping their bodies for a sport. Why shouldn’t you?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can just ski yourself into shape. In order to condition your body sufficiently to handle the physical demands of the ski season, implement a thorough exercise program focusing on strength, endurance, balance and flexibility 4-6 weeks before the season starts. You will be better able to handle steeper, deeper, bigger turns because your legs and cardiovascular conditioning will be able to handle it. If overlooked, you will tire quickly, suffer from muscle soreness and ultimately set yourself up for injury. While skiing, muscles and joints are activated through a limited range of motion (ROM). For example, when carving turns or skiing powder, most of the forces are placed through the hips and knees while in their mid ranges of the ROM. In order to prepare these muscles and joints, they should be trained through a full ROM which would allow for unanticipated challenges and demands when skiing.
For those who are recovering from injury, pre-season training becomes even more important. It is not the best time to discover that your rehabilitation efforts were inadequate if not non-existent after making a few powder turns down “kant-mak-em”. As a physical therapist, I always emphasize the importance of the final stages of rehabilitation I call “return to sport” training. In the case of a knee injury, a patient or athlete shouldn’t have to think about how their knee is going to perform if it has been adequately rehabbed and prepared because we’ve already put it through the paces. We have closely replicated the demands of skiing and created a balance of strength, endurance, power and flexibility, but most importantly, developed confidence. It’s important to identify underlying imbalances that may lead to injury and correct them through careful and detailed exercise prescription. You should consult with a knowledgeable physical therapist or trainer if you need help designing a personal program.
So its time to take care of your body, address those areas of deficiency and get in shape for the upcoming ski and snowboard season with a goal of preventing injury, increasing sport longevity and maximizing performance and enjoyment.