Ski boots at the ready! Ski season is almost here with European resorts opening soon. But before you jump in without a care in the world, you need to prepare your body for the physical pressures that come with spending hours on the slopes.
However, ski-prep is more than just hitting the leg press. Warren Smith is one Britain’s leading professional freeskiers and an internationally qualified performance coach.
He says that good ski technique is down to both physiology and biomechanics and his Ski Technique Lab offers simple tests, mobility and stability drills and technical advice to help improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury.
‘People look at skiing as a holiday,’ says Warren, who is also a Helly Hansen ambassador. ‘And, while it’s fine to enjoy the wine, cheese and après ski, people forget there’s an intensely physical element to skiing and can get caught out if they don’t prepare.
The major muscle groups engaged during a day on the slopes are in your lower body, including the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abductors, but you’re constantly reacting on the mountain so reaction muscles will include your core, lower back, shoulders and arms, too, when you’re making a pole plant.
Most people don’t do enough leg work before they head out, but muscle memory and core stability are essential. Pilates and yoga are great disciplines to help, alongside typical core exercises like planks and general core activation work for endurance, like sitting in your car, or on the tube, and activating your core for a length of time.’
Warren adds that cardio is equally important as you’re at high altitude and an at-home MOT of how the body moves is paramount to enjoying your time on the slopes. ‘You can be the fittest guy in the world, but if your biomechanics are out then you’ll be restricted on the slopes,’ says Warren.
However, there are some simple movement tests and exercises that can be done at home to help and Warren says that with a minimum of three weeks of consistent work you can create massive changes and turn yourself from a good skier into a great one. Here’s how….
Leg and ankle flexion
‘Being able to flex your ankles and knees is a big part of safe ski technique,’ Warren says. ‘Most skiers flex their knees more than their ankles and this causes bodyweight to rest over the back of the skis and puts strain on the knee joint.
‘Most people don’t meet the 10-15cm ankle flex range test and have differences between each leg.’
TRY: ‘Flexion and extension exercises will help to build muscle memory and be sure to get a good ski boot fitting to ensure you have suitable flexion in your ankle. Boots should have the correct resistance for your body weight and skiing ability.’
‘In skiing we need to make leg leaning angles from the hip,’ he says. ‘However, we usually favour one side of the body to lean into. This can be down to tight muscles around the pelvis, or simply mind over matter. On the side with the mental/physical restriction you will normally see skiers leaning their head and shoulders across and not really moving the hips.
‘Angulation helps your skis carve into the snow and reduces the risk of injury. A simple test involves letting your legs lean and the hip drop sideways towards a wall with your hand on the wall supporting you. As you lean you will find one side slightly tighter than the other.’
TRY: ‘Stretching out your body on the tighter side and practice falling onto a pillow or something soft to stretch the muscles on the weaker side.’
For most of us, the snow plough is a distant memory. However, Warren says that when you progress into parallel some of the A-Frame leg shape can be left behind like scar tissue.
‘Over 95 per cent of skiers, still ski in an A-frame. This is when the feet are wider apart than the knees or when the knees drop in. This can cause inconsistency between turns due to the skis being tilted at different angles and this puts stress on the knee joints.’
TRY: ‘Work on lateral control of the legs to activate your inner thigh (adductor muscle group). Slider exercises will activate your adductors and glutes together, so try standing with your feet on sliders 80cms apart and pull your feet together slowly over ten seconds.’
Being able to inwardly rotate your outside (downhill leg) leg independently of your body when performing turns is another key mobility drill and one Warren says will stop you flailing about and skidding on your skis.
‘Ensuring that you have inward rotation of 70 degrees in your downhill leg will enable you to finish off turns correctly,’ he says.
‘However, the national average for this rotation is 43 degrees and most people have a 25-30 degree difference between their left and right legs. We need good leg steering to direct our skis and must lead with the legs steering to decrease hip and shoulder rotation.’
TRY: ‘Inner leg rotation in not used often in day-to-day life, so practice this movement, as it is essential to gain the required development towards the goal of 70 degrees. Targeted flexibility work and mobility drills or even yoga and pilates classes will help.’
You can find out more about Warren’s biomechanic tests and technical advice here.
Fitness moves to try at home
‘Skiing and snowboarding are full-body workouts requiring good fitness levels,’ says Brett Gordon, from Fitness Superstore.
‘The major muscle groups engaged on the slopes are in your lower body, so your workouts should focus on strengthening your legs, glutes, core, and balance.’
‘One of the best ways to develop your hamstrings is through regular weight training on a leg curl machine, but if you’re training at home an exercise ball can be a great alternative.
Simply lay on your back with your feet hip-width apart on the ball and roll it back and forth towards your bottom. Be sure to engage your hamstrings and core the whole time, pulling the ball back in towards your glutes as tightly as you can.’
‘Try a combination of narrow-stance front squats and wide-legged sumo squats to hit the quads and glutes equally. To protect your abductors (which often get strained during skiing), stretch and open up your hips before you hit the slopes.’
‘It’s wise to include stability movements into your pre-ski season workouts. These could include stationary squats on a Bosu ball or multi-directional squats to help prepare for the twists and turns out on the slopes.’
‘This is crucial for balance and stability – the stronger your core the more chance you have of staying on your skis – so focus on workouts that include abdominal exercises like planks, oblique crunches and sit-ups.’
Injuries to watch out for
‘Skiing and snowboarding involve repetitive movements like twisting and squatting while also negotiating factors such as speed to safely navigate the slope,’ explains Andy Magill, Vitality Head Coach and Physiotherapist.
‘Injuries can occur due to an excessive movement (twisting too far) or compression (landing too hard) and can range from a pulled muscle or ruptured ligament, to broken bones and dislocated joints.
‘Injuries to the legs, particularly knees, are more common due to the demands placed on this area of the body.’
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