by Matt Wagstaff (Sports Therapist)
When preparing yourself for a skiing trip, you hope to be ‘ski fit’, but what does this mean?
Yes, aerobic fitness is required (gained through cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming, cycling – anything that gets you out of breath and breaking a sweat), but to protect yourself from injury, strength is probably the most important exercise to focus on during the build up to the holiday.
Emphasis should be put onto strengthening the quads/thighs, hips and glutes, and the core (deep abdominal muscles). Apart from a fall causing an upper limb injury, the area most susceptible area prone to injury during skiing, is the knee. Legs fatigue from the endurance work they are not used to – even people who are on their feet all day, are not necessarily ‘working’ their legs in a comparable manner to the slopes. Yet, when we go skiing, we expect to be able to keep going all day! Add to this, the fact that your ankles are locked into a ski boot, those tired legs, twisting and the pressure forced through the knees and hips puts us in a vulnerable position for potential injury.
For more information on ACL knee injury, see post by orthopaedic knee surgeon, Alexander Dodds.
As always, prevention is better than cure, so start your preparation early. Include some CV, work but do focus on strength training. I’d like to highlight a few exercises for you, there are so many I could mention, but I’ve tried to keep the list short and manageable, I would suggest you include a combination of the below:
Bridge: Lying on your back, heels raised onto a step (bottom stair) knees bent, abdominals tight, glutes engaged, slowly lift the spine from the floor, peeling it up (vertebrae by vertebrae), until you are resting on your shoulder blades. Hold for a few seconds then gently lower the spine and hips in reverse movement, (envisaging a bicycle chain moving link by link) and keeping the abdominals and glutes working. To progress, add a leg lift. Repeat 8-10 times
Clam: Lying on your side, hips directly on top of each other and ankles together. Keeping feet together, slowly lift the top leg, squeezing the buttocks and contracting the core muscles. Only raise to the point where the hips want to rock backwards. The aim is to keep the hips still and perpendicular to the floor. An exercise band can be wrapped around the knees to progress. Repeat 8-10 times on each side, 2-3 repetitions.
Side plank: lie on your side, raise your upper body onto your forearm, elbow beneath shoulder, hips up and ankles on the ground. Imagine the hips being drawn up towards the ceiling by a piece of string. Slowly raise and lower (without hips touching the ground) – repeat 10-12 times, 2-3 repetitions
Crab walks: stand with feet about a foot apart, tie exercise band tied around the ankles and hold it in position with tension, bend gently at the knees and weight slightly forward onto the toes. Holding the core tight, take strong steps and walk sideways (as far as the room will allow) before returning the other way. To progress, as you step sideways, imagine you are stepping over a bar (about 5-6 inches high) and follow over it with the second leg. Focus on the glutes working to stabilise the hips as you move. Repeat for 2 minutes
Single Leg Strength:
Lunges: stand with legs a foot apart, step forward into a deep knee bend, allow the back heel to lift, but do not let the front knee travel further forward than the toes. Slowly step back and repeat on the same leg or alternate the legs. 8-10 lunges on each leg 2-3 repetitions. For extra endurance work, pulse the movement in the lunge position 10-20 times on the last rep. To progress this, hold weights to target the anterior thigh muscles.
Split squats: this is a lunge with your back foot raised (on a step or stair). Stand with one foot in front of the step (not too forward, see photo) and the other behind on a step. Drop into a lunge position as above, lift back up to start position and repeat. With the front leg close to the step you will work the quads more, if it is moved further forward it focuses more on the glutes – both are important, but I would suggest predominantly working the quads. Repeat 8-10 times, 2-3 repetitions.
Leg Dips: Standing sideways on a step, so that one foot is over the side. Slowly bend the standing knee and lower the foot below the side of the step and return. To progress, see below. Repeat 8-10 times, 2-3 repetitions.
Pistol Squats: as above, but the leg comes forward and is held in the air, usually going deeper into a squat and involving a fair but more control! Repeat 8-10 times, 2-3 repetitions.
Dead Bugs: Lie on your back with your arms pointing to the ceiling. Then bring your legs up so your knees are bent at 90-degrees. Your spine should be in neutral or flat to the floor, not arched and it should NOT arch during the exercise! Slowly lower your right arm (above your head) and left leg at the same time, until your arm and leg are just above the floor, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite limbs. Your core (deep abdominal muscles) should be engaged during the whole exercise and it should be performed slowly – aim for 5-10 sets on each side and 2-3 repetitions. Do not allow the back to lift, however hard you’re shaking!
Plank with shoulder taps: plank position, supporting yourself on toes and forearms, abdominals tight, gently lift each arm and tap the opposite shoulder before replacing the hand and repeat the other side. Repeat for 1 minute. To progress, extend time.
If you have an exercise ball at home or at the gym, add these:
Stir the pots: plank position on an exercise ball, rotate the elbows drawing circles with the ball on the floor (starting small and getting bigger the more you can control it). The key is keeping the spine aligned and pelvis tucked under to avoid excessive extension. Continue for as long as you can in one direction, then repeat in the other. If you find this too challenging with a full plank, simply keep your knees on the ground – you will still be working hard.
Exercise ball pikes: put your feet on the ball and hold yourself a press up position, then actively push the hips up towards the ceiling with a slight knee bend (if needed), drawing the ball towards your hands, then control back down. When done correctly, the body goes up into an upside-down V – see picture. Repeat 8-10 times, 2-3 repetitions. If you find this too challenging, start in the same position, but draw your knees towards your chest, abdominals tight and roll back.