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Getting the most out of this ski season.

the novelty and thrill of downhill skiing make it a great way to stay fit in the colder months. Skiing is a terrific workout, but because it's seasonal, we tend to rust after half a year or more away. If skiing-specific muscles are out of shape when the season begins, you won't just huff and puff down the slope; you'll face great potential for a number of serious injuries. Warming up is difficult--there's a limit to what you can do at the top of a mountain, and the lift ride in the cold doesn't help those frigid muscles. But beyond that, the need for quad and calf strength, upper-body coordination, balance, and sensory awareness both of others and of abrupt terrain changes on the mountain makes skiing an exceedingly challenging sport to perform safely at the speeds it insists upon by sheer force of gravity.

Shaping Up

There are a number of exercises you can do as we approach the heart of ski season to be sure you're ready for all the slopes have to throw at you. These strengthening routines will help your snowboarding technique as well. Jeffrey L. Halbrecht, MD, FACSM, is an orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in sports medicine and biomechanics. He is medical director of the Women's Pro Ski Tour. He offers, "An exercise bicycle or StairMaster are the two best pieces of equipment you can use. Both of these work the quadriceps and hip musculature as well as provide aerobic training."

Halbrecht is a proponent of wall-sitting, as well. In this exercise, lean against a wall and slide down to a seated position, with your thighs parallel to the floor. Maintain this position for as long as you can; two to five minutes is a worthwhile goal. You'll be astonished at the simplicity of this taxing activity, but equally amazed how your quad strength develops over time.

"Resistance tubing is easily transportable in any overnight bag and provides a means to perform strengthening exercises without weights," Halbrecht also notes. "For quadriceps strengthening, simply stand on the center of the cord, hold the ends in your hands and do short arc squats. For more advanced exercise, do a single leg squat."

While squats are more specific to the muscle position and stress you'll encounter while skiing, at the gym, the leg press is a very good skiing-specific exercise. It primarily targets quad muscles, but also works the buttocks and hamstrings. See for a visual with instructions. The leg curl works your hamstring muscles, complementing the quad strengthening you'll gain from the leg press ( The calf raise will help strengthen not only your calves but muscles in your feet and around your ankles, all of which help stabilize you on the slope. And the lat pull down is a great exercise to strengthen your large shoulder and back muscles for overall skiing strength. It's not wise to ignore your upper body when getting in shape for skiing. Your torso, back, shoulders and arms are essential to help you maintain your balance as you turn (

In FitSkiing: Your Guide to Peak Skiing Fitness, a book praised by US Ski Team physician Tom Moore, MD, Andrew Hooge presents a nice overview of what's required physically of a downhill skier. Hooge, an ACE-certified strength and conditioning specialist, recommends balancing and strengthening exercises on a "Bosu Ball," which resembles a wobbly board but can be used upside down as well. His squat and ski tuck maneuvers work the quads and hamstrings while improving your balance. Visuals with instructions are available at

Improvements in ski bindings, particularly the installation of a pivot point toward the back of the boot and a quick-release mechanism to free the skier's foot during a fall, have led to the decline of skiing-related shin and ankle injuries. However, severe knee sprains in the form of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures have actually increased from the 1970s to the 90s. One tell-tale sign of such an injury is an audible pop, followed by swelling of the knee. If either of these symptoms occur, you should see your doctor immediately.

Better by Design?

Twisting falls are a common source of ACL tears in downhill skiing. Perhaps the most common one is what's known as a phantom-foot fall, which occurs when the weight of the skier is on the inner edge of the downhill ski tail during a backward fall, resulting in a sharp, uncontrolled, inward turn of the ski. Other characteristics of the phantom-foot fall are: the uphill arm back, the skier off-balance to the rear, hips below knees, and the uphill ski unweighted.

Over the summer a group of scientists used computer modeling to look at the role of binding pivot point position and release characteristics on ACL strain during a phantom-foot fall. Their discovery may be of use to ski manufacturers in the interest of decreased injury risk. After calculating knee strain, they found that a binding with fast-release characteristics and a pivot positioned in front of the center of the boot produces less strain on the ACL.

Current ski designs locate binding pivot points between the center of the heel radius and the back of the boot. A pivot positioned at the back of the binding is more effective for sensing loads that occur at the ski tip. It does little for the load-sensing at the tail, though, and therefore for the phantom-foot fall. A binding with two pivot points--front and back--could sense twist loads applied to the ski both at the front and at the back and might reduce ACL injuries without compromising current front-induced injury attenuation. Examples of the latter include when ski tips bury in the snow or cross each other.

The researchers also point out that, with only one pivot on a binding, if a load is applied at the exact position of the pivot, the pivot can't detect it. This is a kind of "pivot blind spot," since there is no torque there and so the binding will not release. With a new binding design featuring two pivot points along the boot, one point would always be able to detect such a load.

The Net at Work

Beyond exercise and injury prevention, there is a mountain of general information available to downhill skiers of every ilk. Separating the wheat from the chaff is not always easy. Listed below are several up-to-date and fairly comprehensive Internet resources worth exploring.

At, you'll find a vast community of online message boards where you can ask questions on any topic. You may well find the answers to your questions already posted in one of countless older threads in the site's archive. In addition to detailed discussions of gear, resorts and training, you'll find gems like the Boot Fitting Tutorial, a step-by-step guide to prepare you with basic information before you set foot in a ski store.

At, you can discover ski clubs in your area that sponsor group trips and other social events, which is especially worthwhile if you're just starting out. The information exchange with other local skiers is priceless, even if you plan on organizing your own trip with friends or family; why reinvent the wheel? It's best to see what others are saying about the mountain or resort you're thinking of trying.

For advice on ski technique, a very comprehensive site is, which has an impressive list of professional skiers, coaches and physical therapists comprising its advisory panel. They provide members with individualized advice.

(Med. Sci. Sport Exerc., 2004, Vol. 36, No. 7, pp. 1218-1225; FitSkiing: Your Guide to Peak Skiing Fitness by Andrew Hooge,; Preventing Ski Injury by Jeffrey L. Halbrecht, MD, Bay Area Ski Connection,
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Title Annotation:exercise
Publication:Running & FitNews
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Previous Article:A class intervention for school PE.
Next Article:Stretching, with caveats.

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