As the first snow falls in the mountains, people across the land begin to unpack their snow sports equipment to begin a new season of carving lines in fresh powder in the backcountry or shredding up the front-county. As you dust off your skis or snowboard, take a moment to ask if your body is also ready to go downhill for a full day of adventure. To avoid tweaks, bangs, and season ending injuries, it is advised to begin some cardio and high-intensity exercise before heading out onto the slopes to condition the body to handle the stress of the downhill excitement. Enter the pre-habilitation phase of the winter season.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding involve high intensity activity over a short 2-3 minute span. The ability to sustain the intensity level while not fatiguing is one major way to prevent injury. When the muscular system is not getting adequate blood for the demands of activities, the body will compensate with weaker positions that place increased stress on ligaments of joints or the tendons connecting your muscles to bone. The key to pre-habiliation for high-intensity snow sports is to train the muscles to function at a high capacity with a lack of oxygen, or an anaerobic state. Part of the descent will be during aerobic, but the majority of the activity will be anaerobic. Training should focus on increasing cardiovascular endurance and gradually increasing the ability to do high intensity exercises. In addition, training should incorporate eccentric activity of major muscle groups to mimic the loads imparted on the muscles and joints that are involved in both snow sports. Another key to training is to develop muscular control and strength in order to avoid positions that place the knee at increased stress for a potential ACL injury: rotating the hip inwards, horizontal forces to the knee and rotation the lower leg outward. (HIP IR, Valgus, Tibial ER)
To get started go ahead and try these initial exercises:
- BW Squats
- Wall sits
- Lateral Lunges
- Forward Lunges
- Trunk Rotation
- Heel Raises and Toe Raises — mainly for snowboarders, but ankle strength is important for skiers too.
When the above exercises get easy, progress to these more advanced exercises:
Split Lunge Jumps
Bulgarian Split Squats
Lateral Skater hops
*If you encounter any issues with the exercises or are starting the season with some lingering injury, please reach out to you local physical therapist or physician for advice.