Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ski Conditioning

With cooler temps and winter approaching, it's time to start thinking about preparing for the ski season.  Sure you may have purchased some new skis, or new pair of boots, but what about your conditioning?  Now is the time to begin your pre-season ski conditioning program so that when the snow falls your body and joints will be better prepared for the demands of skiing and avoid injury.

One third of all injuries during skiing is to the knee joint, and a medial collateral ligament sprain is the most common.  Other injuries include the shoulders, thumb and head.  Skiing injuries have significantly reduced over the last 20 years due to the improvements in equipment, but this doesn't mean that having a solid conditioning program won't help make your ski season more enjoyable.

When preparing for your pre-season conditioning, you need to have a plan.  The plan should begin by assessing your current fitness level.  Have you been active during the summer, or have you been sedentary? If the answer is sedentary, then you will need to begin by focusing on improving your cardiovascular fitness.

A comprehensive ski conditioning program should consists of the following components:
        1.  developing the cardiovascular system
        2.  strength training
        3.  improving flexibility
        4.  balance and agility
        5.  power and explosiveness (plyometrics)

Developing the cardiovascular system involves improving your aerobic base.  Building the foundation of the aerobic base will allow everything else to fall into place.  If you have been active all summer (cycling, hiking, etc.) then you might be able to skip this component.  However, if you have been inactive during the summer, spend about 6 weeks improving your cardiovascular system through less intensity activities.  You'll want to spend 30-60 minutes of exercise that is somewhat challenging but still allows you to carry on a conversation.  Spend three to five days a week, and you can choose from running, cycling, hiking, or swimming as options.  If you prefer to workout indoors, then the stairclimber, row machine, or eliptical are also good options.  After 6 weeks of aerobic conditioning, include a few weeks of high intensity work; such as intervals or even tabata wokouts.  You can begin with shorter duration intervals (1-2 min. efforts) mixed with equal recovery times, and then build up to 3-5 min. of effort with less recovery time.  Ideally you'll want to spend about 15-20 minutes of high intensity per workout, two days a week and reduce the number of endurance workouts to 2-3 days.

Strength training is the next component, and could begin with your aerobic training initially.  Two to three days a week is sufficient to build the strength needed to stabilize your joints while skiing different snow conditions.  You should focus most of the workouts on the lower body, since your legs will be the contact point with your skis and the snow.  However, you'll also need to strengthen your upper body muscles as well, shoulders and back.  Some good compound leg exercises (multi-joint) can include squats, step ups, leg press and wall sits.  For upper body, shoulder presses, pullups or lat pulldowns, and alternating 1-arm dumbbell presses are good options.  You'll also want to work on developing better core strength, especially rotational movements,; such as bicycle crunches, hi to low cable chops, or even side to side torso twists while squatting on a Bosu Ball.

As with any strength program, flexibility should also be incorporated to maintain elasticity in the muscles.  Stretching should follow your workout, and should include long, slow, and controlled reps of 15-20 sec holds.  Stretch the quads, calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, chest, and shoulders. If you have access to a foam roller this can help break up any tightness in the muscle and act as a self-massage device.  I also use the TRX to help get an even greater stretch for certain muscle groups.

Next you'll want to focus on your balance and agility.  Skiing doesn't occur on a smooth surface, the terrain is often undulating and bumpy, and even greater so if you are a mogul skier.  You'll need to develop your balance in order to sustain your body upright on your skis.  Thanks to the various types of equipment available this can be accomplished in the gym.  You can use a balance board for squats, a Bosu Ball for 1-leg squats or lunges, an agility ladder for simulating the slalom ski movement, or even a Swiss ball for kneeling on.  When using some of these pieces of equipment, make sure you have a safe environment (clear a space free of clutter) around you because you will be working with less stability.  Start slowly with short duration and build to longer holds and really challenge your balance.

The final component is building explosiveness and power.  This can be accomplished by incorporating plyometric exercises, such as jumping or bounding.  Keep these types of workouts to no more than 1-2 session per week due to the demands on the joints.  The recovery between workouts will need to be longer for these types of exercises.  Plyometrics is used to develop power, so movements are done very fast and explosively, yet still under control.   Examples of plyometrics includes, box jumps, broad jumps, hurdle jumps, and even split lunge jumps (great for tele skiers).  Improvements on reaction time occur during this phase.  For most plyometric exercises, 6-8 reps is adequate, and you'll want to allow full recovery between sets.

So there you have it, all the tools needed to prepare for a successful upcoming ski season.  If you have been inactive during the last few months, it may be a good idea to get a physical from your primary care physician before beginning a conditioning program.    

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