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Skier in powdery snow.

Strength For The Slopes

For every 1,000 skiers who hit the slopes on any given day, three of them will suffer an injury, according to the National Ski Areas Association. For snowboarders, that number climbs to seven.

Many of these injuries, however, can be prevented, said Alan Barichievich, director of Specialty Rehabilitation Services for Barton Health. Implementing pre-ski season conditioning before you begin carving down the snow-clad mountains at Lake Tahoe can help reduce injuries.

“People shouldn’t wait until the season starts to get your body ready for what it’s going to feel like when you ski,” Barichievich said.

Sure, skiers and riders don’t have to prepare for the winter season. Shed the rust while you shred, right? Barichievich said that’s the wrong approach. Not only does it increase your risk of injury, it heightens the odds your season will end before it’s really started.

Knee injuries are the most common season-enders for skiers, Barichievich said — specifically, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprains or tears.

“When you put yourself in a boot and you get on a six-foot piece of wood and fiberglass, everything changes,” Barichievich said. “The more aerobically fit you are, that will translate into your skiing and reduce your risk of injury.”

Knowing this, in order to be primed for ski season from a physical conditioning and performance standpoint, you should focus on four components: endurance, strength, flexibility and balance.

ENDURANCE:

Step 1 to ski season prep is getting in shape. There are a number of popular aerobic activities that will help you get on the path — or slope — to peak endurance, including:

  • Running
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Jumping rope
  • Elliptical trainer

“I recommend picking two of these endurance activities to provide a cross-training benefit and minimize overuse injury potential,” Barichievich said. In terms of frequency, he says the two exercises you choose should be performed for at least 30 minutes, three to four days per week.

STRENGTH:

Barichievich said strengthening is especially promoted for soon-to-be skiers and riders.

“Obviously, strengthening exercises will focus on the lower body,” he said. “However, you must include core strengthening to really be prepared.”

The exercises he recommends include:

  • Squats (free standing and/or against the wall)
  • Lunges (forward and to the side)
  • Bridges (double and single leg)
  • Heel raises
  • Hamstring curls
  • Planks
  • Sit-ups

“We promote a lot of hip and core strength, in addition to thinking about the quads,” Barichievich said. These exercises should be done three days a week, completing two sets of 60 seconds for each exercise.

FLEXIBILITY:

Stretching should include both static and dynamic stretches and only be performed after warming up with an aerobic activity, Barichievich said.

This should be done daily — two sets, 60 seconds each for static stretches. Dynamic stretches, meanwhile, should be a repeat of the static stretch motion, but done in an active manner.

An example: swinging your leg from the hip forward and backward and side-to-side five to 10 times, then marching in place with high knees five to 10 times each leg.

Other stretch examples include:

  • Hamstring stretches
  • Calf stretches
  • Quadriceps stretches
  • Reaching to the sky and bending from side to side
  • Standing with hands on hips and slowly rotating left to right

BALANCE:

Naturally, in skiing and snowboarding, balance is paramount.

To practice solid single leg balance, stand on a level surface for 60 seconds (two sets, daily). Once you’ve established strong balance, you can progress to harder balance activities:

  • Single leg balance with mini squats.
  • Single leg balance while playing catch or bouncing a ball.
  • Single leg hop, holding the landing for five seconds, repeat hop (straight up and down, forward and backwards, and side to side).

Now, while these exercises and stretches can all be done in athletic shoes, Barichievich believes there’s an even better way to physically prepare for the ski season — with click-in conditioning.

“I require skiers to bring their ski boots into the clinic in the later stages of their therapy,” he said. “Performing these exercises in your ski boots will better prepare you for the forces that will be placed on your legs and body when normal foot and ankle motion has been taken away and the weight of your ski boots has been added to your legs.”

After all, the ultimate goal of a pre-ski season conditioning program is to minimize the amount of time it takes for you to “get back into it,” he added.

“If you’re physically prepared, those first few days won’t seem so challenging and your abilities to improve during the season will happen at a faster rate,” Barichievich said.


An excerpt from "Orthopedics & Wellness" published by Barton Health for the 2018 opening of the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness. By Kaleb M. Roedel.