Maximizing Your Mobility: Ski conditioning starts now…continues through March

Jeff Smith Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center

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The coolness of the morning air, the coloring of the leaves, and the predictions of a snowier winter have skiers and snowboarders planning their winter activities and trips. In addition to tuning skis and waxing boards, attention must be turned to preparing our bodies to be ready to not only make those first turns but also to be able to last through the entire ski season.

Pre-season conditioning has become more the norm than the exception. Dryland training is a staple of preseason conditioning, focusing on muscle groups and movements that simulate skiing and snowboarding. This is one of the best ways to improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments that undergo pre-season training are more resilient to stress and strain associated with skiing and snowboarding.

What does a pre-season training program look like?

A typical pre-season ski/snowboard conditioning program is six to eight weeks in length prior to the beginning of skiing/riding. Conditioning should occur three or four times per week and last 45-60 minutes per session.

Cardiac training: Working for 20-30 minutes with modes of walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, etc. will greatly improve your heart’s ability to deliver oxygen to your core, leg and arm muscles. Push the intensity to challenge yourself.

Strength training: Movements such as squats, lunges and plyometrics are great eccentric strengthening exercises to condition the quads, hamstrings and gluteals in the same way they are used on the ski hill. Upper body strengthening of push-ups, pull-ups, pull-downs are helpful, as well. Core strengthening focusing on the larger upper abdominals (sit-ups, crunches) as well as smaller abdominals (pelvic tilt, planks).

Flexibility: Focus on hip flexors, hamstrings, and quadriceps as well as low back extensors. Daily stretching of 30-60 seconds per muscle group is an effective way to gain mobility. The key is consistency – a little bit every day.

The single most common pitfall of pre-season conditioning — it stops as soon as the season begins. In the words of a former ski patroller, “You can ski yourself right out of shape.” Consequently, challenge yourself this winter to continue dry-land training throughout the ski season. Less frequent, shorter duration workouts are sufficient to maintain your strength gains.

What does an in-season training program look like?

An in-season training program will essentially mimic the pre-season conditioning. The biggest difference is the frequency and duration. 2 times per week through the ski season is generally adequate to maintain the aerobic, strength, and flexibility gains made during the pre-season. A typical session can be shorter — 25-40 minutes. The type(s) of cardiac conditioning, eccentric strength training, core strengthening, and flexibility are the same.

Many programs are available at local gyms and health clubs. Training can be done on your own or with a group. Consider joining a class or meeting with a fitness professional to design a program that fits your ability and schedule. Enjoy the winter.

Jeff Smith, DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF-L1 is a board certified orthopedic physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. He is also a Level 1 CrossFit Trainer at CrossFit Petoskey.