As 2013 moves headlong into the holidays and the first snow settles on the slopes, ski resorts around the country are hurriedly making the final preparations to welcome the winter crowd. This is the time when, as skiers and snowboarders, we should also be preparing for the new season. Skiing in particular is unique in the way muscles are used and even if you’re generally fit, you need to remind your body of what it feels like to ski. Getting into shape now can help reduce the chance of injury and increase your enjoyment on the mountain.
If you watch downhill ski racers, you’ll notice that they stay in the deep squat position for most of the race, with just small changes in knee flexion and extension for shock absorption. While mogul and powder skiing require knee movement, for the most part, when you’re carving down a groomed or smooth run, it’s the quads that are firing. If you’re not conditioned for this type of constant contraction, your quads will quickly burn out.
Squats are the number one exercise for ski preparation, efficiently combining all the trunk muscles and leg muscles for building skiing fitness. We strongly advise against stack exercises such as wall sits, which overload the front of the knee or single joint exercises such as an arm curl. The time spent doing that could be much better spent with combined exercise that trains the whole body.
Preseason ski conditioning should include exercises to boost overall body fitness, balance, coordination and agility. Unless you are primarily a cyclist in the off season, we suggest a preseason training program that combines squats and weight lifting with cycling plus soccer for speed and agility.
We find that doing at least 20 minutes of weight training per day, combined with other sporting activities, is the minimum necessary to build muscle power in a healthy ski fitness program. It’s best to exercise seven days a week, the rest days being the easy spin and swim days. Daily exercise leads to an addiction to the circulating endorphins, testosterone, pheromones and adrenalin. Once you get to this level, it becomes very easy to maintain your ski fitness and your appropriate weight.
Being at your optimal weight is important for skiing. Consider that even with walking, ten pounds of added weight can mean up to fifty pounds of excess force in the joints with each step. With skiing, the forces of impact are multiplied when landing from a jump or coming off the end of small moguls. Reducing excess pounds dramatically diminishes the impact of force on your knee joints as you ski.
Preseason ski preparation is just as beneficial for your mind as it is for your body. Over the course of our involvement in World Cup and recreational skiing, we have noticed that most ski injuries are the result of mental errors. Regardless of whether the skier is a world class pro or a complete beginner, whether they are in top physical form or out of shape, skiing injuries most commonly happen when skiers are not 100 percent focused on what they are doing at the time. They made a poor decision about where to land or jump or how fast to go down the mountain. These errors can be avoided with better mental preparation. By starting this mental preparation before you even get to the mountain, you’ll be less likely to make absentminded mistakes and better able to respond to the unexpected gremlins that may pop up on the way.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments. For more info, visit www.stoneclinic.com.