December 2014 Issue
Get Ready to Hit the Slopes — These Exercises Will Prepare Skiers and Snowboarders Alike
By Jennifer Van Pelt, MA
Vol. 16 No. 12 P. 58
The onset of cold and snowy weather marks the beginning of ski season for millions of Americans. Many of your clients may enjoy winter snow sports, but not all will be prepared for the rigors of skiing and snowboarding. Approximately 600,000 skiers and snowboarders injure themselves each year. About 20% are head injuries related to falls or collisions; the remaining 80% include joint dislocations, fractures, and muscle, tendon, and/or ligament strains, sprains, and tears. Knee injuries are one of the most common injuries in skiers, but shoulder injuries also are common, especially in snowboarders.1,2 Snowboarding, initially popular with younger skateboarders, has grown rapidly as a winter sport, and its participants now include adults of varying ages.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), lack of proper preseason conditioning is an important factor that predisposes skiers and snowboarders to injury.2 The key word here for your clients is "proper." Most skiers and snowboarders are physically fit and exercise throughout the year, but may not focus on conditioning specifically to meet the demands of winter sports. Three to five cardio workouts per week combined with some basic strength training and stretching keep clients "in shape," but may still put them at risk of injury when they hit the slopes. Although being in good physical condition will help with the cardiovascular demands of snow sports, muscles that are engaged when the body is stressed on the slope generally aren't a focus of routine conditioning. Even if your clients focus on strengthening the major muscles used during skiing and snowboarding, such as the quadriceps and gluteal muscles, the exercises that strengthen these muscles don't condition assisting and stabilizing muscles, and even may create a muscular imbalance that further increases injury risk.
Preseason Conditioning Tips
Exercises that involve the hip adductors—the inner thigh muscles, and the hip abductors and gluteus medius—the muscles of the outer thigh and hip, are especially important to stabilize the knee and provide support during lateral ski and board movements. Side leg lifts with a resistance band, lateral side-to-side jumps, and side-step squats all work these muscles. Conditioning the hamstrings, the muscles in the back of the thigh, ensures balance for strong quadriceps and also supports the knee and lower back. Hamstring curls on a weight machine or using a resistance band will strengthen these muscles. A great conditioning exercise for the hamstrings that also engages the core and hip muscles involves the stability ball: begin in bridge position with heels on the ball and hips lifted off the floor, then roll the ball toward and away from the hips.
Good core strength is essential for safe skiing and snowboarding—balance and stability come from strong abdominals and back muscles. Crunches and sit-ups neglect the transverse abdominis, the innermost abdominal muscle that acts as a girdle, supporting and stabilizing the pelvis against outside forces. This support is much needed when trying to avoid a fall or negotiating turns. Core conditioning movements such as planks, planks with leg movements, and bicycles engage the transverse abdominis. Medicine balls and stability balls also can be incorporated into core conditioning to add resistance and challenge.
Pilates is excellent for off-season core conditioning; its series of exercises strengthen abdominal, back, hip, and leg muscles as well as improve flexibility. One physical therapist and avid skier created Skilates, a class designed to condition muscles and prevent injuries using Pilates-based exercises specific to skiing and snowboarding. Skiing and snowboarding form and technique also are incorporated into the class.3
Practicing yoga regularly also can help with snow sport performance and injury prevention. Power yoga styles improve balance and upper body and core strength, and stretch the hip and lower back muscles. Slower-paced yoga classes focus on flexibility, balance, and relaxation, all of which complement harder cardiovascular and strength workouts.
Once on the slopes, your clients shouldn't neglect certain exercises, even though skiing and snowboarding will be hard workouts. The ACSM and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons provide the following recommendations for injury prevention on the slopes:2,4
• Treat skiing and snowboarding as a workout and always warm up beforehand. Stiff muscles that aren't warmed up are more prone to injury. Brisk walking, calisthenics, and easy first runs are recommended before skiing or snowboarding down more challenging slopes.
• Be aware of fatigue. Many injuries occur at the end of the day, when skiers and snowboarders are trying to get in "just one more run." Tired and overworked muscles increase injury risk. Save the challenging run for the next morning instead.
• Select slopes appropriate to ability and physical condition. Those who ski in a group with varied fitness and skill levels should be conscious of peer pressure. Beginners shouldn't feel pressured to ski or snowboard beyond their ability by more experienced companions.
One recommendation that received little attention in injury prevention guidance was end-of-day stretching and rest. Ski vacations often are filled with fun off the slopes, and skiers and snowboarders may go straight from the slopes to pubs and parties. Advise your clients to take time when they come off the slopes for some slow stretches. Those lucky enough to have access to a hot tub also can take advantage of warm water therapy for tired muscles and aches and pains. Many ski resorts now offer après-ski yoga classes designed to ease sore muscles after a day on the slopes.
Some resources clients may find helpful for skiing and snowboarding season include the following:
• a digital download of a yoga class designed for skiers and snowboarders: www.stokedyoga.com/product/yoga-for-skiers-and-snowboarders-dvd/;
• Sports Yoga Ski With Billy Asad: a DVD offering a power yoga workout for preseason strengthening, a stretching warm-up before hitting the slopes, and an après-ski stretching segment;
• a website offering numerous free online skiing conditioning video exercises, geared toward those born between 1946 and 1964, but appropriate for beginning skiers of any age: www.bumpsforboomers.com/basic-ski-fitness-free-online-video-skiing-exercises;
• a free online video workout for snowboard conditioning: www.fitnessblender.com/v/workout-detail/28-Minute-Snowboard-Workout-Conditioning-Workout-Routine/8i/; and
• Pilates for skiers and snowboarders DVD: http://skilates.com/.
— Jennifer Van Pelt, MA, is a certified group fitness instructor and health care research analyst/consultant in the Reading, Pennsylvania, area.
1. Haider AH, Saleem T, Bilaniuk JW, Barraco RD. An evidence-based review: efficacy of safety helmets in the reduction of head injuries in recreational skiers and snowboarders. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2012;73(5):1340-1347.
2. Roy BA, Stimpson K. Ski/Snowboarding injuries and prevention: brought to you by the American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Health & Fitness J. 2014;18(1): 3-4.
3. Schoeneman S. Skilates: the core of ski conditioning & injury prevention. Balanced Body website. https://www.pilates.com/resources/newsletter/Fa07-Pilates-Skilates.pdf.
4. Skiing injury prevention. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00321. Published December 2011.