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Essential Ski & Snowboard Conditioning Tips

22 Apr 2015
Randall Cooper
Skiing and snowboarding is a unique sport for most because it’s all or nothing, you spend 51 weeks of the year doing nothing (or some other sport), and then ski or ride as hard as you can every day, back to back, for 1 week. As a result, minor aches and pain at best, or a serious injury at worst can ruin what would otherwise be a great time in the snow. Preparation is the key, so here’s my top 5 tips on getting physically ready for a ski or snowboard trip.

Tip 1: Improve strength with isometric exercises

Traditional skiing and snowboarding programs include squats, lunges, and plyometric (jumping and hopping) exercises to improve muscle strength. These exercise work through range – up and down, up and down. If you’re an elite mogul skier or have maintained technique taught in the 70’s that’s great, but skiing and riding has changed. Turns are now longer, easier, and you roll from edge to edge rather bounce up and down to change your ski or snowboard edge. Here’s a video of what I mean.

Exercises to help prepare you for this type of skiing or riding need to mimic the activity, so isometric exercises are the way to go. Isometric exercises involve holding a position such as a single leg squat without moving. I’d suggest holding positions for 10-15 seconds and repeat until fatigued.

Tip 2: Build start-stop endurance
Think about how you’ll ski or ride in a resort for a day. Coffee, catch a lift, ski or ride for 3-5 minutes (less in Australia!), catch a lift, ski or ride for 3-5 minutes, and repeat for 6-8 hours. It’s interval exercise, and to prepare properly you need to do interval training. So whether it’s in the gym, on the bike, or on your run, get into the pattern of intervals.

We’re all short on time, but the longer the better – hours if you can, and if I had to pick one aerobic activity that approximates skiing and snowboarding the best… it’s cycling. A spin class with the local spin king is terrific. 

Tip 3: Improve balance on unstable objects

We all know snow is slippery. When I worked as physiotherapist in a ski resort I’m sure I saw as many injuries from people walking home from the bar as I did from crashing on the runs (in a poor ski season anyway). Alcohol aside, your body needs to get used to unstable surfaces and there’s a fantastic assortment of toys for people to use. My personal favourites are Bosu balls, dura discs, foam, and spin discs, but you can also use things you have around the house like rolled up towel or doubled over pillow, or outside like a rock or low log fence.

You can kills two birds with one stone here and combine isometric holds on an unstable surface such as a Bosu ball.

Tip 4: Integrate quick movements for quick responses

A quick reaction to an unexpected incident in skiing or snowboarding is essential. Anything can happen when you’re cruising along, such as hitting a patch of ice or a completely oblivious skier or rider cutting you off who came out of nowhere. Fast movements need an alert brain and fast twitch muscle response, and like anything – use them or lose them.

Fast feet exercises such as running through ladders, fast grapevine drills, or even a game of touch footy can wake up those fast twitch fibres. Perturbation exercises (where there is an outside influence) can help train those reaction times. Stand on one leg and have some keep throwing balls to you, or get your trainer to stand behind you and tap side to side on the bosu ball. Another great way to do two exercises in one!

Tip 5: Don’t forget the core and upper body

The focus is always on the legs, and I suppose it should be. However, the core and upper body play a part - so don’t ignore them in a conditioning program. In the old days, you’d train each muscle group in isolation, such as doing a triceps pushdown, bench press, and bent over row. These days the trend is full-body drills that incorporate multiple muscle groups in one movement pattern. The guys at Kinetic Link Training offer exercises as good as anyone. Here’s a video of some of their stuff.

If you want to keep it basic and go with old school exercises, that’s fine, but combination exercises such as these get “patterns” strong which is important when skiing and snowboarding. Think of the pattern of skating along a flat section on skis, or how a snowboarder will use the core and upper body whilst carving down a groomed run. These patterns can all be trained and strengthened before you hit the snow.

These tips are quite generic, and that’s what I wanted to get across. Discuss these ideas with your exercise or health professional to tailor a program suited to you and your ability. Good luck and happy trails!

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