Downhill Skiing: Increase Performance, Prevent Injury and Attract New Clients
It is essential to understand anatomy and how to design exercises specific to the needs of skiers.
Skiing is a thrilling sport, providing majestic views of the mountains and a vigorous workout. If you haven’t seen the Disney cartoon starring Goofy, you must! Go to video.disney.com and type “the art of skiing” into the search box. After you have had a good laugh at Goofy’s antics on the slopes, come back here and find out how to create a strong foundation for attracting and training downhill skiers.
Now is the prime time for fitness professionals to provide their services to the skiing community. With ski season about to begin, your guidance can help skiers become stronger and healthier in the weeks and months ahead.
What Can You Offer as a Fitness Professional?
Combining knowledge with practical applications will give you the self-assurance to create successful programs for skiers. “Your ability to lead is based on the amount of confidence you bring to the mission,” says Jeremy Manning, owner of La Jolla’s Finest Training in La Jolla, California. “If you want people to follow your guidance, you must have a strong understanding of the objective.”
Aside from having fun and nurturing a passion for the outdoors, skiers have two main goals: improving performance and preventing injury. Increasing a skier’s threshold for fatigue can meet both of these goals simultaneously. “Fatigue plays a major role [not only in limiting] performance, but in causing injury,” notes the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “Achieving higher levels of fitness, therefore, is an obvious way to enhance your skiing performance” (USSA 2008).
Targeting the specific muscles used most during skiing is a vital first step in designing ski fitness programs. The American Council on Exercise (ACE 2010) emphasizes that correct anatomical knowledge of muscle attachments is crucial to designing safe, effective exercise programs. Building a strong foundation in muscular anatomy will also set you apart from other fitness professionals. Educate yourself and clients about the attachment sites of muscles used in skiing, and know how to strengthen them. This awareness will contribute significantly to performance gains and injury prevention. Study the “Eight Lower-Body Prime Movers” sidebar to refresh your anatomy knowledge.
6 Components of a Program for Downhill Skiers
An exercise program targeting muscles used by skiers should include a warm-up; balance training; core exercises; isolated exercises; sport-specific training; and cross-training. Addressing each of these components will ensure a well-rounded portfolio of exercises. You can find the sample exercises from each section in the photos and also in the chart, where repetitions and sets are suggested. Start with these and brainstorm some of your own ideas to design a balanced workout.
Moving the joints and muscles before skiing will prepare the body for activity and alert the client to any concerns within the joints. Active-stretching exercises specific to the mechanics of skiing are the most appropriate for warming up the muscles. Type “downhill skiing USSA” into YouTube’s search box and watch the mechanics of skiing athletes to familiarize yourself with the movements at each joint.
- Windshield wipers with tibia (ankle): Align knees with ankles.
- Torso rotations while holding squat (core and legs): Relax shoulders.
2. BALANCE TRAINING
Ski turns constantly shift weight from one leg to the other. At any moment a majority of the body weight is on one leg, increasing the threat of falls and injuries. Falls account for 75%–85% of skiing injuries, and the knee’s medial collateral ligament, or MCL, is the most likely injury site (ACSM 2014).
When skiers lose control and stand up on one leg, their ability to stabilize on one ski can make the difference between regaining control and cartwheeling down the mountain. Being able to hold weight on one ski also enhances performance.
As ski-training author Lito Tejada-Flores wrote, “What I’m suggesting is that to really pass from the beginning stages of skiing to its upper levels, you must develop a new style of balance: a comfortable stance over one leg, one foot, one ski” (Tejada-Flores 1986). Once again, the goals of improving performance and preventing injury can be achieved together.
Foot strength is important for balance. When light on the mountains is foggy or dim, the feet become a second set of eyes for the skier. Proprioceptive feedback from the feet allows the skier to interpret the “feel” of the terrain more accurately when making the fast decisions required to stay in control.
Balance exercises with or without shoes can increase proprioception in the feet. The simple single-leg balance is a great option for beginners, but there are specific ways to progress skiers.
- Standing balance on one leg.
- Side hops and hold-one-leg squat:
Engage core and land softly.
- BOSU® Balance Trainer weight shift: Stand on flat side, and shift right to
left in squat position (not shown).
3. Core Exercises
“I skied competitively as a junior, through college and on the Masters circuit, as well as serving 2 years as the head coach for a junior racing program,” recalls David
Cherashore, a professional skier and coach in La Jolla, California. “I always knew that it was important to have strong legs, but the advent of shaped skis has made it also necessary to have a strong core.”
A strong core will support the rest of the body over the legs during skiing. Isometric abdominal exercises with slight rotational movement will mimic the motion that occurs during skiing. (Isometric movements create muscle tension without changing muscle length.) A few abdominal exercises specific to the movements of skiers will add quality to your program.
Heather Paul, a professional skier, shares a favorite: “[A] great one I do all the time is a side plank with hip dips (25 each side) every day. This helps you strengthen your core, which is amazing for staying injury-free and resilient” (SkiNet.com 2014). What other core exercises can you design that mimic the movements in skiing?
- Plank hold with alternating hip
abduction: Keep legs close to ground.
- Side plank hold with hip dips.
- V-sit hold with rotation: Feet can be
on floor or hovering above it.
4. ISOLATED EXERCISES
Isolated exercises target a specific muscle, while sport-specific exercises— discussed in the next section—use a group of synergistic muscles that work together. Take, for example, rectus femoris: An isolated exercise for this muscle would be hip flexion or knee extension movement; a sport-specific exercise would be a squat or lunge with rotation.
Isolated exercises can target muscles that need strengthening for a specific sport. Isolation helps ensure that a specific muscle is being strengthened and not the surrounding synergistic movers. During sports, the body will perform to meet the demands of the mind and recruit the strongest muscles possible to complete the movement required. Identifying weak muscles in the gym and isolating them will ensure that all of the muscles work together instead of just the strongest ones. Isolated exercises also build awareness of individual muscles and can be used to identify strength discrepancies between the right and left sides of the body.
- Knee flexion (rectus femoris and vastus intermedius).
- Side plank hold with hip dips.
- Hip abduction lying on side with
internal/external rotation (gluteus medius).
5. SPORT-SPECIFIC TRAINING
Exercises sport-specific to skiing mimic the movements of the skier on the hill. The USSA (2012) emphasizes the need to exercise with eccentric contractions at a slower rate than for other sports because the hip angle does not change significantly during ski turns. (Eccentric actions happen when the muscle acts as a resistive force and lengthens while it creates tension.)
There is nothing quite like the actual sport to build strength, but if you combine knowledge and creativity, you will be able to simulate the movements of downhill skiing in the gym.
- Side band walk (band around feet/fifth metatarsal) in squat (peroneus longus).
- Wall sit with medial/lateral pressure.
Once the season has begun and the first ski trip has passed, the skier will benefit most from cross-training. This will use different movements than those of skiing, to activate antagonistic muscles and avoid overuse injuries. “A muscle that creates a major movement is called a prime mover or agonist. The muscle on the opposite side of the joint is called an opposing muscle or antagonist” (ACE 2010).
Alternative exercise, such as biking or swimming, will loosen up joints between ski trips and work the body in alternative movements. Core and balance exercise
should continue during the season. Also, you should evaluate which muscles are sore after each ski trip and help the client choose exercises that will work other muscles in the body.
You can teach a client to evaluate his or her leg soreness by explaining the attachments of the muscles and how to identify which one(s) is (are) tight. This awareness will help the client be more accountable for his or her body. Teaching the information will also help you remember your anatomy better.
Skiing is as unique as any sport, recruiting specific muscles to perform the required actions. Building a foundation of anatomy knowledge and following up with a well-rounded program design will set you and your community up for success this ski season.
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