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Health & Fitness: Strength Training for Skiers

By Kim Duke NETA & AFAA Certified Trainer

Most of the avid skiers I know do a great job keeping their aerobic endurance strong by traditional methods such as running or biking. However, many of them tend to leave out the strength training, which is necessary to build muscle strength and endurance, and it is also a built-in injury preventer. Without strength training, you are not building the muscles around your joints, such as knees and shoulders, and more times than not, I find myself first having an opportunity to train a skier when they are rehabbing a knee or shoulder after it has been injured.

So, why do skiers — even really good skiers — avoid strength training?

My theory is that these skiers have been skiing since they were kids and probably did not do a strength training program then. Many are very outdoorsy kind of people and are not traditionally fond of hitting the gym. And some just have no idea what exercises to do.

In my experience, training skiers who are gifted on the snow, the first time you have them do a squat or a side lateral lunge, they feel awkward and typically struggle to get the move down. However, once they have the basics down and their form improves, the benefits they see are amazing. Most of the skiers I started training in 2006 are still clients today. And, as we age, we need the strength training more and more.

For this article, I decided to break down the muscle groups that you will want to concentrate on when it comes to strength workouts.

Skiing involves:

Quadriceps: Probably the most used muscles in skiing are the quads. These muscles hold you in position as you ski and they also provide protection for your knees. Great exercises for the quads are squats and lunges.

Calves: Because your knees are bent when you ski, your calves (specifically the soleus) help you stay upright so you don’t fall over. You can work this muscle by doing calf raises either standing on a raised surface or machine calf raises.

The Posterior Chain, Hamstrings, Glutes, Lower Back & Lats: Skiers are known for their butts. The muscles in the back of your body, like your glutes, hamstrings, lower back and lats, power you downhill, keep you stable in uneven terrain, and allow you to explode in the bumps. A strong posterior chain is essential to any movement, whether you’re skiing, hiking or mountain biking. Great exercises for working the posterior chain are squats, deadlifts, lunges (back step, front step or side step) and pushing weight overhead. For elasticity blasters, add jumping lunges and jump squats.

Train Your Whole Core: Balance is a big part of skiing. Because you are in a flexed position (bent over), your back has to work like a maniac to hold your body in that position. I typically save my core work until the end of workouts, when the other muscles are tired. Always challenge the entire core cylinder. Target the front with sit-ups, sides and obliques with rotational exercises like wood chops, Russian twists and bicycles, and the back with back extensions and reverse hypers. Then increase your isometric strength by doing planks, V-sits and supermans.

Arms: Along with your back, arms help push off with poles while stabilizing your shoulder joints. Be sure to work your biceps, triceps and shoulders along with the rest of your body. You can work these in isolation or in compound movements like a squat and press, front step lunge and curl or staggered lunges with triceps kickback.

These exercises will all work your “ski muscles,” and will target and strengthen your endurance, stability and overall fitness. Don’t forget to get plenty of stretching in as well — being flexible is another way to keep your body safe from injury.

This year, make it a point to get in the best shape you can for skiing, starting as soon as you can. Building strength, as well as endurance, will keep your body strong and help you avoid injuries while making your skiing much more fluid and effortless.

To see how to do these exercises, just search for their name on the Internet, or ask your personal trainer to teach you how.

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