Whether you’re an experienced skier or a complete beginner, everyone knows that skiing is a very active sport and like all forms of exercise you should prepare your body for a full on week of skiing or boarding.
The ABTA Destination Services team have produced some ski related guidance and tips so you can find out how to have a safe and healthy holiday in the snow and specifically how you can get fit for skiing!
Have a gander at the ABTA documents below (they're all in downloadable PDF format), and give some of the stretches or exercises a go. You won't regret being prepared!
The problem with ski holidays is that they have a habit of occurring around or shortly after Christmas, one of the most gloriously gluttonous times of year, when it is safe to say physical fitness may not always be at a premium. After all those mince pies and advent calendar chocolates it might not only be your skis which are in need of a service before you go! So what can we do to condition our bodies to best help them prepare for skiing?
The internet is full of multiple-week ski fitness workout regimes, drawn up by fitness professionals. In reality, the best way to condition your body for skiing is… skiing! But failing this we need to perform exercises which most accurately replicate the forces your body will encounter when shredding the corduroy. Even if you usually work out daily, skiing for a week can be taxing on certain muscle groups; you need to tailor your workouts to being beneficial for ski fitness or you can still struggle.
There are three areas in which you need to train: your cardiovascular fitness, your flexibility, and lastly your strength and power. Read on to learn some alternative ways you can train each area, to help you get the best out of your ski holiday this winter.
Cardiovascular Fitness – Spin for the Win
Your cardiovascular fitness is the first thing you should work on in the lead up to a ski holiday. If your heart can’t get the necessary oxygen to your muscles for them to work fully, they won’t be much good, no matter how many squats you have been doing.
Running is the most obvious way to work on your cardio, however there are ways which are more relatable to skiing. In the gym, rather than heading straight for the treadmill, try a spin class. These are great as you are working your lower body at the same time as your heart; cross trainers or stair machines also offer better preparation for skiing than a flat treadmill.
Running up and down hills will naturally work your body in a way more similar to skiing than running on the flat will. Downhill works best because you will be building eccentric strength in your legs. Don’t know what this is? Read on…
Strength and Power – Lift Your Game
Eccentric strength (rather than ‘concentric’ strength), is "negative" strength, used when a muscle is performing the opposite action to its intended movement. For example, you use eccentric strength to lower a dumbbell when doing bicep curls, or more applicably for our topic, when lowering yourself into the bottom of a squat or hiking down a steep hill.
Alpine skiing primarily demands eccentric strength, mostly in your legs; as gravity bounces you down the ski slope your muscles absorb the negative force of each landing or turn.
Here is an example of an exercise which trains the eccentric strength of your quads, rather than the concentric strength you will gain from performing regular squats.
Load a leg press machine with just over half of the weight you can lift with both legs. With one leg, lower the plate down for six seconds. When you’re at the bottom, push up with two feet. Perform this slowly, resisting the weight coming down on you, keeping the movement smooth and controlled. If you have to move too fast, then the weight is too heavy.
There is an added benefit of this single-leg work over movements using both legs - it helps eliminate strength imbalances. If you have a weaker leg this will be more susceptible to injury than your stronger leg, so building this up a bit in advance of a ski trip is always a good idea. (And it will make your skiing more balanced which is another bonus).
Another great exercise is the Squat Jump.
With your feet shoulder width apart, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then jump as high into the air as you can. Land softly on the balls of your feet and repeat. This increases the explosiveness of your quads and glutes, great for pushing hard out of turns.
Similar to this, but with more emphasis on building muscle endurance in your quads, glutes and lower back, is the Pump Squat.
If in the gym use a medicine ball, or at home simply a heavy book will help. Hug your chosen weight to your chest, go into a low squat position and pulse up and down only an inch or so each way for 1 minute, without coming back to a standing position.
These are all more beneficial than the common flawed pre-ski exercise of leaning your back against a wall and squatting, as this can translate into skiing with pressure on your heels, (and is a less effective way of working your quads than performing regular squats).
Flexibility - Getting Into the Right Shape
As important as your body’s strength on the slopes is its flexibility, this is key to avoiding injury. As well as all the stretches and yoga moves which can help prepare you for skiing (which it is useful to research as well), you need to get to know your biomechanics in your knees and pelvis area, and work on controlling your weight distribution. Training these areas before a ski trip can drastically improve your flexibility, agility and consequently your skiing in general. Short of being able to ski, the best training you can do it is closely replicate the position you will be asking your body to get into when you are skiing.
Firstly, imagine a dot on the centre of your knee cap and picture a vertical line from it down to the floor. This line should finish between your second and third toes. Then you need to find the neutral position of your pelvis, as this is the position in which your muscles work best. To do this it helps to imagine you have a tail: keeping your upper body relaxed, stick your tail bone out and up so that your imaginary tail points upwards as far as it will go. Next bring your tail bone down and imagine pointing your tail forward in between your legs as much as possible. Your pelvic neutral will be half way between these two extremes.
Practice both the above movements at once - move your knees into position, (bent and directly over your second and third toes), whilst also keeping your pelvis in its neutral position. As you squat down ensure your weight is coming forwards, nearly enough to tip over. A good trick is when in this position to imagine you have a Smartie in your belly button, and you have to hold it there without your hands, using just your core muscles.
This will train your biometrics into being the correct alignment for skiing. By balancing your weight forwards from your core in this position over the centre of your skis, you will get the greatest level of control in your skiing. The more time you spend in this position in the lead up to a ski holiday the better. Training your body in this way can be immensely more valuable to the average holidaymaker than trying to fit as many heavy squats as you can into a few weeks.
These are just some ideas, there are many different exercises you can use to train for skiing. Whichever you choose, it shouldn’t be hard to get motivated, knowing that you're doing it in order to get as much enjoyment as you can out of your ski holiday! What better incentive could there be to exercise?
We aren’t personal trainers, we are keen skiers, so feel free to take a few sage words of advice from those who have learned from experience, but please do always consult a professional before beginning any kind of training programme.