6 Tips to Get Your Body Ready for the Ski Season

Val d'sere ski resort. Reach Soft Tissue Therapy & Sports Massage
Heading off piste, Val d’sere

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have already dusted off my snowboarding gear and started thinking about where this season might take me.

My technique leaves a lot to be desired, although I have made a lot of progress since my first holiday to Bansko, Bulgaria, where I spent much of the time untangling my limbs and trying to work out which way was up.  I am quite paranoid about injuring myself and although I am a pretty competent boarder, once I build up any sort of speed I only have to think ‘if I fall at this speed it’s really going to hurt’ and wham, bam – down I go!

Snowboarder lying on snow. Reach Soft Tissue Therapy & Sports Massage
Embracing the mountain after another fall onto my coccyx

So it got me thinking that I really must do everything I can to prepare my body for the inevitable battering that winter sports invite.  Whether you’re a skier or snowboarder, here are my 6 top tips to get your body ready for the season.

  1. Improve your cardio

The first thing to address is your aerobic fitness.  Start now. Being in fine fettle before you head out will ensure you can stay on the mountain all day and still have enough juice left for the sprint to the last bus back to your hotel, haha. At high altitude the lower concentration of oxygen in the air results in less oxygen making it into the lungs and around the body, forcing your heart to work harder to get what it needs.  The better your cardiovascular system is, the easier it will be to suck in the air.

Ideas for doing this

  • Running or cycling – interval training best improves fitness in a short period of time.  In fact, researchers at McMaster University in Canada found that three 20-minute sessions of interval training a week provided the same benefits as 10 hours of steady exercise over a two-week period.  Awesome!  Try 3-4 twenty-thirty minute interval training sessions per week, working harder to increase the heart rate for two minutes, then working less hard to drop it right down for a minute before doing the same again, throughout the session. Remember to build up exercise gradually and consult your GP if you have any concerns.
  1. Strengthen your core

If you’re pushing hard there’s a chance you’ll be falling hard. Core strength is vital, since this is what keeps you upright, taking pressure off your spine and supporting your hips and legs too.  This has a positive knock-on effect on your balance and helps with rotation and control.

Ideas for doing this:

  • Try sit-ups, the plank and side planks to work on your core at home.  Set the timer on your phone to 45 seconds and keep going until your time is up.

For sit-ups, lie on your back with your knees bent and shoulder width apart.  Cross your arms over your chest, then lift your back up off the ground, folding at the hips.  Lower yourself down and repeat.  To adapt this for crunches, do the same move but only raise your shoulders.

For the plank, lie face down.  Keeping your tail bone and tummy tucked in, raise yourself up onto your forearms. Your elbows should be directly below your shoulders and your legs supported by your toes.  Hold this position.

Side plank exercise. Reach Soft Tissue Therapy & Sports Massage
Demonstrating the side plank

Progress to the side plank.  Lie on your side, and raise yourself up onto your forearm, with your elbow below your shoulder and in line with your hips.  Hold this position or, if you can, raise your hips off the floor and distribute your weight between your arm and ankles.

3. Work on your strength

The most common winter sports injuries reported are to the upper limbs.  Falling directly onto an outstretched arm can cause shoulder dislocation.  Falling down onto the hand can cause your collarbone to become separated from its join with the shoulder blade. Ouchy!  High speed falls can result in impact injuries such as fractures to the arm and hands.  Improving shoulder strength will help prevent these nasty injuries.

Ideas for doing this:

  • Standing Ys – bend over at the waist, keeping your back straight and chest raised.  Pull your shoulder blades down and towards each other.  Now lift your arms above your head.
  • Standing Ls – standing tall, squeeze and lower your shoulder blades.  Bend your arms at the elbow to a 90 degree angle and raise your elbows out to the side, so they are in line with your shoulders.  Once at shoulder height, rotate your forearms so your hands face the ceiling. With both of these exercises it is your shoulders that are doing the work.
  • Press-ups – with your legs out stretched, get onto your hands and toes on the floor.  Your hands should be shoulder width apart and feet should be slightly closer together.  Your back should be straight and  your tummy pulled in. Start with your arms straight, then bend at the elbows to gently lower your body to the floor.  Keeping your spine in a neutral position, push back up until your arms are straight.  Count how many you can do in 45 seconds and get excited as this number increases as you progress!

4. Improve your leg strength

Jumps, heavy landings, ollies, all put strain on your knees and lower legs and damage to the ligament at the front of the knee is a common occurrence.  Particularly vulnerable are the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and the tendon, with repeated impact causing ‘jumper’s knee’ (patella tendinopathy).  The tendons and ligaments are the joint’s last line of defence.  Help them out by strengthening the surrounding muscles so they can take the strain.

Ideas for doing this:

  • Squats and one-legged squats – stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart. Keep your back neutral and put your arms out in front of you, level with your shoulders.  Keep your head up as you bend your knees and hips, allowing your bottom to ‘stick out’ and don’t let your knees go out further than your toes.  Lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel with the floor.  Try 3 sets of 10 for starters, increasing as you feel able.
  • Lunges – stand with your feet hip width apart.  Take a long stride in front of you, coming up onto the toes on your back foot and bend your back knee so that it drops down to the floor, without making contact.  Push up off the back foot, coming back to an upright position, before moving forward into a lunge with the other leg.
  • Box steps – find a step (stairs will do!) and stand facing it.  Step fully onto the step, putting your weight into this foot as you bring your other foot up to meet it.  Step back down to reverse the movement.  Try this for 1 minute before swapping legs.

5. Boost your balance

Working on your balance can improve your chances of staying upright, which is your best chance of avoiding injury!

Ideas for doing this:

  • Practice standing on one leg!  It’s surprising how many of my clients are wobbly on their feet.  This can be as a result of previous injury (we all know that if you’ve sprained your ankle it is very easy to do it again). By standing on one leg you can reinforce the neural pathways, known as proprioceptors, which tell your brain where your foot is in relation to the rest of your body.  Too easy?  Try closing your eyes at the same time or tracing the alphabet with the leg that you’re not standing on.
  • Round the world lunges.  Move around in a circle, lunging (see above) as you go.  This will also strengthen your glutes, quads and hamstrings.  Bonus!

6. Improve your flexibility

Maximise muscle responsiveness and minimise your risk of muscle tears caused by repeated jumping and landing by incorporating some basic stretches into your routine.

Ideas for doing this:

  • Tight calves are susceptible to injury during explosive movements – stretch these by placing your hands against a wall, then step back with one leg until you feel a stretch.  Hold for 30 seconds, then swap legs.
  • Hamstrings and back can be stretched by reaching down to touch your toes.
  • Pec stretch – stand side-on to the inside of a door.  Put your forearm along the door frame, while keeping your upper arm in line with your shoulder.  With your body in front of your arm, adjust your position until you feel a stretch in your pecs.

Bonus tip

Book in to see a soft tissue therapist for some hands-on treatment to address any imbalances and niggles before you go!

Go for it!

Snow reports at www.onthesnow.co.uk show that snowfall is already reaching 60 cm in some European resorts, meaning there’s no better time to get yourself ready for action! Have fun and stay safe!

Snowboarding off piste. Reach Soft Tissue Therapy & Sports Massage
Off piste view

References

1. Gillen, Martin, et al (2016) ‘Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment’
2.
The BMA Guide To Sports Injuries (2010)

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