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To Stretch, or Not to Stretch...That is the Question

Whether you’re in Telluride to ski the steep and deep or carve arcs on velvet groomers, your body will thank you for taking the time pre and post skiing to work on preparing your muscles and joints for the demands of skiing.

Skiing is a very dynamic sport that requires strength, flexibility, balance and skill. Hopefully you have completed some sort of preseason conditioning program. Even if you have prepared, you are not necessarily done. It is important to perform a short warm-up and stretching program before and after hitting the slopes.

Muscles and joints of the hips, knees, ankles and back are required to move through their respective ranges with good control and ease of movement in order to absorb and dissipate forces. When they are able to do this successfully, your performance is maximized, your risk for injury is lessened and you are ultimately enabled to enjoy yourself more.

When one talks of stretching, most people think of a type of stretching called “static stretching”. This type of stretching refers to when a muscle is stretched and held just beyond its normal range of motion, with the goal of gradually lengthening the muscle or joint.

For years the common thought was that "static stretching" before an activity or sport gave participants protection from injury and a performance boost. The evidence in mounting, however, that static stretching before activity neither improves nor enhances muscular performance and may not prevent against injury at all. Most studies show that static stretching may actually inhibit athletic performance if done prior to an activity or sport. Static stretches following a sport or activity can be beneficial however. It has been shown to help reduce muscle soreness by flushing out lactic acid and improving flexibility, thereby reducing injury potential. But these stretches should be saved for after skiing.

So what should you do?

Prior to hitting the slopes, begin with a quick warm-up that includes “dynamic stretches”. Dynamic stretching, in contrast to static stretching, is an active stretching routine that has you slowly moving through motions to increase your heart rate, raise your body temperature and send extra blood to your muscles. A sufficient warm-up does not have to be long or intense and is important for beginner to advanced skiers alike. Its purpose is to prepare the body for physical activity and should be designed to closely resemble the movements required by a particular sport. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2008 showed that athletes who performed a dynamic stretching warm-up daily for four weeks showed significant improvements in strength, power, speed, endurance, flexibility, and agility compared to athletes who performed a warm-up of static stretching.

So here are a few key dynamic movements that will prepare you for a day on the slopes:

Wave Squats:

Holding your poles in front of your body with your feet hip width apart, bend your knees and squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Quickly rise back to the starting position. Perform 20-30 consecutively with good control, taking care to maintain alignment of your knees over your feet.

Lunges with Rotation:

Holding your poles in front of your body with your feet hip width apart. Step one foot out into a lunge position, and rotate arms and torso over your lead leg. Rotate back to neutral and stand up. Step forward into a lunge with the opposite leg while rotating arms and torso over that lead leg. Perform 10 times each side. Try to step through each lunge without pausing at the standing position.

Side Lunges:

Holding your poles in front of your body with your feet hip width apart, toes angled out slightly. Lunge to the right, bending the right knee (keeping that knee behind the toe) while keeping the abs engaged, torso straight. Make sure to keep your left knee straight. Press back to starting position and lunge to the left. Try to step through each lunge without pausing in the standing position but be sure to perform with good control.

Derek Tuohy, PT, MTC, CSCS


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