There are fewer things more exciting than hitting the slopes with your friends and family this time of year. However, as fun as it can be, the risks and dangers that come with it are also very serious. It is important that we look after our health on the run-up to going away, making sure we are in the best possible shape we can be in.
Be your own body’s mechanic by training it to move in the most efficient way. To start, stand in front of a mirror in shorts with your feet parallel. Then, in your natural skiing position, check the following:
Look at how your knees line up. Draw an imaginary dot on the centre of your knee cap and make a vertical line down to the floor. This line should land in a central position between your second and third toe. In most people, the line will drop closer to the big toe or even onto the floor between the feet.
This means you won’t be able to carve properly on the slopes, in particular, the uphill ski will not hold an edge, causing problems with the knee cap joint. Do 30 reps of the corrected alignment every day, moving your knees up and out so that they are central, until it becomes your default position.
Examine your body from the side. Make sure your bottom is not sticking out too much or tucked in too far. You need to find the neutral position of the pelvis, (the position in which your muscles work best), keeping your upper body relaxed. To find the neutral stance, stick your bottom out and up so that your imaginary tail points upwards – this is one extreme of the movement. Then tuck your bottom right under, taking your imaginary tail between your legs – this is the other extreme. Your pelvic neutral is half way between these movements. Practice bending your knees into a skiing position maintaining pelvic neutrality – 30 reps every day until it feels natural.
Your weight should be balanced over the centre of your skis. Most people sit down too much, putting excessive strain through the quads muscles and knees and taking the weight into the back of the skis, causing loss of control.
Bend your knees into a skiing position, keeping your pelvis neutral and see where your hips move to. Stand up again and this time, as you bend your knees, make sure the weight is coming forwards, as if you are going to tip over. You should not have any body weight on the front of your ski boots. By balancing the weight forwards from your core, you are ensuring your weight is balanced over the centre of your skis, affording maximum control and ability to turn the skis smoothly.
Strength and power:
The quadriceps (front of your thigh) and gluteal muscles (above the back of your thigh) are the main power muscles used during skiing. These can be trained with exercises such as lunges, split squats, step ups, deep squats and cycling. Try not to use wall squats alone as this cans translate into skiing with weight on the heels.
Quads training is an often a neglected element of strength. The quads work in two ways on the slopes. Not only do they help straighten the knee but also control it from a straight position into a bent position.
Next, work the lateral hip muscles. There is no sport that relies on external hip rotation as much as skiing does, so the importance of training these muscles cannot be underestimated. The ‘clam’ exercise is a classic one – lie on your side with your hips and knees in a skiing position. Keep your ankles together and your hips steady as you lift your top knee only, like a clam opening and closing. You should feel the muscle working in the outside of your buttock. Repeat 30 times and then practice the same movement in a standing position, so you can learn to use those muscles while skiing.
Once you have built up your strength and fitness, move onto propulsive movements. A good place to begin is jumping sideways on and off a step, starting with a low step and gradually making it higher – this will particularly help on steep narrow slopes where fast movements are essential. Always make sure your alignment is perfect.
If your alignment is correct, your body works efficiently enough so that you can get away with a lower level of cardiovascular fitness. However, for those of us still on the path to perfection, interval training is the most efficient form of cardiovascular training. Try cycling or a step machine to work some of the muscles used in skiing. Remember to build up slowly and incrementally. The common rule is never increase more than 10% in any 7 day period.
Skiing does not require too much flexibility – you only really need to be flexible when you fall over. Some people might have particular muscle groups that are tight, often it’s the calves and hips. It’s better to sort this out BEFORE you are on your ski holiday rather than when you are suffering on the slopes.
Should you require any advice or have any questions, why not use our FREE ‘Ask an Expert’ service where you can speak directly to our professionally trained Physiotherapists.