Whether it’s cross-country or downhill skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing, your off-season preparation is vital to an injury-free and healthy experience once the snow starts to fall. We’ve got you covered with expert tips that will make you the king or queen of the hill.
If the slight chill in the air gets your blood pumping, you’re not alone. According to the National Ski Area Association, nearly 55 million skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes during 2016-17 winter sports season. But whether you’re a weekend warrior or stay active year-round, you need to prepare your body for the demands of your favorite winter sport to avoid minor aches, pains or even serious injury.
Count on two to three weeks for your body to adapt to the physical challenges ahead if you’re active. Otherwise, give yourself a minimum of six weeks to gear up for the snow.
Ready to shred? Here are some conditioning tips to help put you on the path to a fun, successful winter season.
Start With Cardio
Cardiovascular exercise increases endurance as it conditions the heart, lungs and muscles and provides a solid foundation for other forms of exercise. And when you live and play at altitude, you need even more endurance.
“Research shows that our maximum heart rate, cardiac output and ability to exercise are suppressed at altitudes over 5,000 feet,” explains Daniel Staffa, PT, DPT, OCS, of Renown Rehabilitation Hospital. “In the Reno-Tahoe area, altitudes can quickly rise over 8,000 feet when we exercise in the Sierras, so it’s critical to have cardiovascular fitness to avoid associated fatigue and decreased mental alertness on the slopes.”
Try this: Pick an aerobic activity you enjoy — speed walking, running, hiking, biking or a cardio machine like the elliptical trainer. Build up to a minimum of 30 minutes, three days a week.
Increase Your Strength
Your core works overtime to stabilize the body and absorb the shock of pivots and turns and variable snow conditions. Strengthen your core, lower back, hamstrings and calves and you’ll go a long way toward guarding against ligament tears and damage to other joint structures. Stronger muscles will also allow you to relax while maintaining control and making those quick adjustments that uneven terrain demands.
Try this: Squats, wall sits and lunges. Work your core and lower and upper extremities with a variation of sit-ups, crunches, back extensions and planks.
Staffa explains that if your legs aren’t used to absorbing the impact of landing, severe injuries can occur. Preempt such trauma with plyometric exercises, or “explosive movements,” that simulate the movements of your favorite sport. You’ll develop greater power in your legs when you combine plyometrics with your strength training.
Try this: Incorporate multi-directional drills — such as lateral jumps and forward and backward jumps — on variable surfaces like a trampoline, solid ground, or a box or step. Here’s a challenge for the more advanced: Stand in front of a bench or box (12 inches or so). Jump up and then immediately back down. Do this 10 to 30 seconds at a time, rest and repeat. Or get old school and bust out the jump rope.
Improve Your flexibility
Flexibility is the ability to move joints through their entire range of motion, from a flexed to an extended position. Being flexible will allow you to pivot, twist and turn and navigate varying snow conditions with ease. You can increase your flexibility while maintaining bone alignment with stretching.
Don’t forget to warm up and cool down. Try taking it easy the first 15 minutes of your day on the hill; try starting with a beginner’s run or walk to warm up and prepare your body. Do the same at the end of the day or go for a brisk walk to cool down. Stretching will help return muscles to their normal length.
Try this: Dynamic stretches such as leg swings, arm swings and torso twists. Target your quads, hamstrings, calves, and lower back.
Fuel for the Hill
Staffa suggests loading up on healthy complex carbohydrates the day before you go out and bring along your favorite protein snacks. Assess the slopes before making that first run — is the snow heavy, fresh or wet — and stay mindful of your fatigue level throughout the day. Don’t forget to hydrate and re-hydrate before, during and after exercise. And most important, have fun!
Visit Renown Physical Therapy and Rehab for more information. Or call 775-982-5001 to consult with our sports and orthopedic experts who can help you develop an individualized training program in preparation for the winter season, including methods for overcoming previous injuries and limitations.