The better you prepare your body ahead of your ski holiday, the more you’ll get out of your time in the mountains. This blog explains the importance of – and a few ways for – conditioning ski muscles, prior to heading to the slopes…
Skiing uses muscles which are often underused the rest of the year, and skiers and boarders who don’t take time to prepare properly can end up suffering from Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS). We all know that any serious exercise will result in some muscle ache the next day, but DOMS can strike up to 72 hours later if you haven’t prepared properly, manifesting itself as a dull, aching pain in affected muscles, often combined with tenderness and stiffness: Not what you want when you’re trying to get in as much skiing or boarding as you can.
Getting muscles ski-fit can reduce or even eliminate the effects of DOMS, so we asked expert instructor & Race Coach, Bruce Thompson – X-Life’s Master Personal Trainer and Nutrition coach, to recommend activities to help prepare muscles for skiing:
4 Methods for Conditioning Ski Muscles
1 – Gym Classes
Most ski-specific muscles are in the lower body and core, so a combination of spin and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) classes is an excellent way to tone up. HIIT classes usually involve intensive 3 minute workouts interspersed with 30 second rests, and classes can range from 30 – 50 minutes – depending on how intense you want to get!
Lasting up to 50 minutes, and often the most intense kind of HIIT, Tabata-based classes are also good preparation for skiing. A Tabata workout usually consists of 30 second activity bursts followed by rest intervals of just 10 seconds – pretty brutal but very effective!
2 – Gym Equipment
Many standard pieces of gym equipment, including cross-trainers, rowing machines and vario-steppers, are perfect for helping to get your muscles prepped for skiing.
3 – Other Activities
If you fancy mixing it up a bit, there are plenty of other activities that complement skiing. Anything involving sustained legwork or / and agility including cycling, swimming, rugby, football, hockey, tennis or squash will certainly help.
4 – Skiing!
Of course, there’s no better preparation for skiing than actually skiing! But you don’t have to use up valuable holiday time toning up – just book some time at your local ski centre to give your ski muscles a workout, and improve your technical proficiency at the same time. You should start your regime at least 6 weeks ahead of your holiday.
“How much exercise you need to do will depend very much on your personal fitness level, your metabolism – and motivation, but as a general rule, I’d recommend twice weekly resistance sessions of at least 30 mins, with twice weekly cardiovascular workouts – one (preferably two) session(s) of which should be high intensity, the other long duration, medium intensity such as a slow jog for about an hour.”
“If you want to avoid DOMS and make the most of your next ski or board holiday, book onto an online, app-based taster program with me!” Bruce Thompson, Head Ski Trainer, Niseko Black.
A Guide to Your Ski Muscles & What They Do
- Front (anterior) = abdominals: Used in spinal flexion (bending forwards) and spinal rotation (twisting the trunk).
- Back (posterior) = lower back / erector muscles (those two prominent muscles either side of your lower spine, above the pelvis):Used in spinal extension (straightening of the back after flexing).
- Sides = obliques / abs: Used for spinal rotation & lateral flexion / extension.
Core muscles stabilise you and allow you to flex and twist. A strong, stable core is essential for skiing.
Upper Legs & Knees
- Glutes (the butt): Mainly used for hip extension, but also for internal / external hip rotation – important for steering the feet.
- Hip flexors: As the name suggest, these flex the hip, allowing you to bend at the waist. If you have a sedentary job, these muscles can become tight and cause postural and lower back issues. Hip flexors are super-important in skiing for retraction of the legs, acting much like car suspension, keeping the skis in contact with the snow, especially on bumpy terrain. They are also used for medial (internal) rotation of the hips and knees – important for steering the skis!
- Hamstrings: Used for knee flexion and also used for lateral (external) and medial (internal) rotation of the knee / pointing the knees to the outside / inside when steering.
- Quads: Used for knee extension.
- Adductors: Mainly inside of the thighs but also involve parts of the glutes – used for bringing the legs from a wide to a narrow stance – highly important when skiing off piste or in the bumps. Also used for medial (internal) rotation of the hips.
- Abductors – parts of the quads and hip flexor groups and glutes: This combination of muscles are used to widen the stance.
- Back – Calves. These perform ‘plantar flexion’ of the foot / pushing (or planting) the toes, allowing the ankles to extend (think tip-toes here). Mainly under constant extension during skiing, but used for small corrections in the fore-aft plane when adjusting stance and balance.
- Front – Extensor muscles. These perform ‘dorsiflexion’ of the foot / lifting the toes upwards, allowing the ankles to flex. Mainly under constant compression during skiing (if the skier is locked on the fronts of the boost, which isn’t necessarily a good thing). These also perform ‘eversion’ of the foot, or twisting at the ankle, so the little toe raises / big toe lowers and ‘inversion’ (opposite to eversion). Not hugely important unless at the higher end of the skiing spectrum – these actions are tiny in comparison but used for ‘micro-adjustment’ of balance & technique. They become more important when carving or performing GS (Giant slalom) turns. You’ll often hear instructors talking about ‘big-toe, little-toe’ or ‘rollerblade’ turns, which come mainly from hip ab / adduction, hip and knee rotation.
Expert skiers use all these leg muscles and movements in blended, well-timed combinations in order to keep the skis in contact with the snow, to balance, to steer and to absorb pressure. The three key leg joints act in unison as your suspension system, whilst the muscles stabilise and adjust your stance. The core is used mainly for stabilisation / balance but without those muscles, you wouldn’t be able to twist or bend your torso.
- Thoracic (mid to upper-back) muscles: Used to move the shoulders up /down (elevation / depression), forwards & backwards (adduction / abduction) and to rotate the shoulders up & down. Whilst not being primary skiing muscles, this group assist in stance & balance, as well as being extremely useful for propelling the skier forwards, using the poles. At a higher level, these muscles become more important (on steeper & bumpier terrain) for stabilizing the skier with a solid pole plant.
- Cervical muscles of the neck: Used to move the head- their main function (in a skiing sense) is to enable the skier to look up and see where they’re going!
These muscles are extremely important for all movements involving extension (straightening the back, following flexion, using the abdominals), lateral flexion and rotation (twisting), the muscles of the lower (lumbar) spine assist the core muscles. They are crucial for balance and stability when skiing.
Chest, Shoulders & Arms
- As with the thoracic muscles, these assist in stance and balance, as well as poling. Whilst they might not be primary muscles for skiing, it’s important to keep these groups of muscles in good proportion (both in a strength & power sense) to the rest of the body’s muscles, especially those of the back and core, in order to help maintain good posture, stance & balance. They’re also pretty handy for helping the skier ride the network of ski lifts in a resort, especially drag lifts such as the Poma (button) and T-bar.