What can you do to prepare physically for your upcoming skiing holiday?
In less than six weeks the busiest week of the year on the slopes in Europe is upon us and many of us will now be thinking ahead to February Half Term and our sacred week of skiing. Every year around this time in the clinic we are asked ‘what can I can do to prepare for my ski trip?’ or ‘what are the best exercises for skiing?’ Learn more about how to get the most out of your time in the mountains to help improve performance and reduce injury risk.
Due to the high velocity nature of the sport, when things go wrong they tend to go very wrong. The knee is by far the most commonly injured area of the body. This is partly explained by the fact that the movement of the foot and ankle is significantly limited by the structure of the ski boot therefore when forces on the lower limb become too great for us to handle it is usually the joint with the least support that is affected.
A QUICK BIT OF ANATOMY…
Keeping things simple here, the knee is a hinge joint designed to only flex and extend. It is held together by four ligaments connecting the femur (upper leg) to the tibia and fibula (lower leg). The quadriceps and hamstrings act on the knee to generate force and create movement. The knee is further stabilised by 2 rings of cartilage (meniscus) that sit on top of the tibia helping to deepen the articulation between femur and tibia, absorb impact and lubricate the joint. The knee is usually injured in skiing either traumatically, when it is forced into an extreme position, often in sudden twisting movement or impact, or due to prolonged over load (above and beyond what the knee is used to). If the traumatic force is strong enough one or more ligaments may be torn (sprained) and the cartilage may be damaged.
Of course, accidents happen and it is impossible to prevent all skiing injuries, especially when pistes are crowded and the force that causes the injury is entirely out of your hands. However, it is more likely for you to suffer a skiing injury if you are fatigued or if your body is not conditioned for the demands of the activity you are asking it to perform.
For many of us this might be the only week that we ask our bodies to do this activity all year. This in itself can increase the risk of things going wrong.
What is skiing all about?
When thinking about what you can do to help prevent injury it can be useful to break down the activity and understand exactly what we are asking our bodies to do. Skiing requires the controlled transfer of weight from one leg to another in order to initiate a turn by changing the weight distribution over the ski, from edge to edge, whilst keeping the skis in a parallel line. The ‘skiing position’ involves supporting the weight of our bodies and absorbing the ground reaction force of the snow whilst in a partial squat position, with knees bent, back straight and ankles (helped by the semi rigid ski boot) held in a slight degree of dorsi flexion (toes towards knee).
The muscle groups that take the most load during skiing are the quadriceps at the front of the upper legs and the gluteals in your backside. They should work together to absorb impact and contract to initiate the movement required to change direction. The glutes also help to reduce rotational forces on the knee by keeping it inline with the hip and foot during movement and are also vital for pelvis and lower back stability.
To summarise, skiing requires a number of key skills:
- Knee and pelvis strength and muscular endurance
- Lower limb stability and balance
- Foot stability and ankle flexibility
What can you do?
We have put together a simple and progressive exercise program to help get you in shape ready for the slopes. You never know it might even help improve your technique! The exercise program has been designed for you to try one exercise each day before moving onto the next level when you feel ready.
When you first give this a try attempt exercise 1 first, if you find this easy then move on, if not practice until ready for the next step. Once you master all the levels you may like to select a number of the exercises you find most useful to do as a small daily circuit.