Tune Your Body for Skiing

Winter is just around the corner. Time to tune those skis, and if you haven’t already started, tune your body. A well designed fitness program can help you get in shape for ski season.

Judging by the topics in the NYSkiBlog Summer Sports forum, skiers are active paddling, cycling and hiking. However, if you’re not hitting the gym to lift weights, you’re missing a key component.

Weight training is beneficial for all the ski disciplines. In this video, Ted Ligety demonstrates massive core strength that keeps him off the snow, and leg strength and hip mobility that enable him to work magic around those gates. We might not be skiing as fast as Ted, but we can still benefit from regular gym workouts.

This article is based on the expectation that you’re in good physical shape; and that if you’ve been inactive, you’ve discussed ramping up your activity with your physician. If you have orthopedic challenges, like an ACL tear or a joint replacement, or chronic disease issues like hypertension, please consult your physician before hitting the gym.

If you’ve never been in the gym, or if you’ve been away from it for a while, start conservatively. You’re better off doing any move with lighter weight and correct technique. Trying to be a hero is a surefire way to get hurt. If you’re unclear on the instructions or the video, find a trainer in your gym who can cue you on technique.

Since skiing, like life, is a variety of multi-joint movements, those are what I program. Here are some of the movements I use for myself and with clients.

Three Squat Variations

The squat is a knee-dominant movement training quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. The videos show three squat variations of progressive difficulty: goblet, front squat, and single leg squat. Choose the one that matches your fitness level.

To set up for goblet or front squat, one’s feet are positioned about hip width apart. For the goblet squat, hold the dumbbell against your sternum. Brace your core. Keeping a neutral spine, squat until your thighbones are parallel to the floor. The deeper you go, the more glute activation you’ll get. Drive up through your heels.

For the front squat, set the bar just below shoulder height on the squat rack. When you take the bar off the rack, it should be resting on your shoulders, held with the first and second fingers of each hand and elbows forward. As with the goblet squat, brace your core and squat until your thighbones are parallel to the floor. Maintain a neutral spine and drive up through your heels.

Both the goblet squat and the front squat train the large leg muscles but not the small muscles that help us balance. That’s where the single leg squat comes in. With this movement, you have to balance yourself in space. Body weight becomes the resistance, so less outside weight is required. This also reduces injury risk.

For a single leg squat, your body weight should be over your stance leg, and your core should be tight. You may not get your femur parallel to the floor with this one.

Three Dead Lift Variations

The dead lift is a hip-dominant movement targeting gluteals, hamstrings, and the erector spinae muscles of the back. If you have lumbar spine issues such as herniated disc or bulging disc, I would avoid the standard (two-legged) dead lift and focus on bridges.

To do the bridge, lie down on the floor, with your knees bent and your heels digging in to the floor. Drive up by contracting your glutes, keeping a neutral spine. Don’t arch your back to get higher into the air. If your hamstrings cramp during this movement, they’re trying to do work because your gluteals are underactive. You can ameliorate any cramping by repositioning your heels.

For a standard dead lift, your feet will be approximately hip width apart. Your shins should about 1 inch from the bar; the bar will be over the middle of your foot. (I often bash my shins while dead lifting.) Your toes are pointed slightly outward. To prepare for this lift, hinge at the hip so your spine is parallel to the floor.

Then drop down so your back is at a 45-degree angle to the floor and grab the bar. As with the squat, my core is braced and my spine is straight. N.B. it’s imperative to keep a straight or neutral spine for this movement otherwise there’s an elevated risk for a back injury. For the lift, begin by straightening your knees, and finish by straightening at the hip, driving your hips forward. Return the bar to the floor flexing hips first, then knees.

Like the single leg squat, the single leg dead lift recruits the muscles that help us balance and neutralize our bodies in space, while training the same muscles as the regular dead lift. In the video below, I’m using less weight than I did for the standard dead lift. You can also do this move with a medicine ball for dumbbells.

Position yourself for your body weight is over your stance leg. Bracing your core and keeping a neutral spine, hinge forward at the hip. There should be little or no bend at the knee. Come back up by contracting your gluteus.

To close, let’s look at one core strength movement: Using the ab wheel. This is a great tool to increase core strength without flexing your spine. Simply find a mat or an Airex pad for your knees, grab the handles, and extend yourself as far forward as you can. For those with lumbar spine issues, this is a great movement and a great alternative to situps.

Next time I plan to cover additional core strength and upper body movement. But a good trainer knows how to listen as well as instruct.

If you’ve got feedback, ideas or questions you’d like addressed, please post in the comments below.


Peter Minde is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). He also has NASM’s Corrective Exercise certification and is a Certified Functional Strength Coach. He trains at GT Fitness Concepts in Woodland Park, NJ, and in-home. Contact: [email protected]

7 comments on “Tune Your Body for Skiing

  1. This is an awesome idea for a piece. Thanks for posting. I’m looking forward to more suggestions but I’m gonna add squats to my routine right away.

  2. I used to think I had it covered with 2500-3000 miles of road riding, crunches and leg lifts on the floor, and upper body work. After a knee operation about 2.5 years ago (and a departure from cube life), I learned that wasn’t enough, especially for the legs and core. I’m now doing similar exercises in the gym to the ones mentioned above, and, it’s improving things a lot. It takes time, though, so, Im bothered by the first short paragraph, which I see elsewhere this time of year. No, nothing you will start to do right now at this time will help you this upcoming season, especially if you’re over, oh, 40. But, do it anyway, because next year, at this time, you’ll say to yourself, hey, I feel much better and stronger. And so on for the next season. The most important thing to to integrate workouts like this into your daily life, like brushing your teeth and cooking and cleaning. (Well, strength training every other day, but, you get the message) Slow and steady wins. Patience. If you’re not 18 anymore, this takes time.

    Maybe don’t start immediately with weights in the gym. My PT had me buy leg weights to work my legs all over up to the hips, and those you can use anywhere. Combine those with a foam roller and a large ball, and you can do a lot in front of the tube instead of consume massive amounts of chips. And, walk. Yeah, walking. I know, I know, seriously? Well, when was the last time you took a long walk? Be honest, now, car lover and cube sitter. Your body was pretty much designed to do a lot of walking, and, without it, muscles atrophy like they do from lack of use elsewhere. And that weakness compounds into other issues. Sounds simple, but, it is. Mix it up, and work on strength.
    If only they could invent a good workout to prepare for skiing at 12,000 ft. first day out west.

  3. Brownski and Benny thank you for your feedback.

    Benny, on one point I disagree. Six weeks from today would be 4 December, hardly the heart of ski season. As a fitness professional I’ve seen people make big improvements in 6 weeks. They may not be able to deadlift 2x their body weight, but they will see a change. Before they go in the gym, they need a plan; once they’re in the gym, they need intention. I.e. no stopping to shoot the breeze for 20 minutes between sets.

    Walking will have a cardiovascular benefit, and we should be doing that or some other cardio movement. But walking by itself will not improve lower body strength that you see on the slopes.

    Go for quality of movement, then add weight.

  4. First, Peter, thanks for the videos.

    I guess what I’m trying to avoid is the short term thinking trap. Oh no, it’s almost ski season, you know, like those diet commercials: oh no, only a few months to swimsuit time! But it should be a long term plan, as I said, integrated into ones life as a natural, everyday activity, not spurts here and there, with beer and nacho and weekend football binging in between.
    Maybe it’s because I’m in my sixties now, and it’s a constant struggle. At this age, you can get to the point of no return without even knowing it, if you slack off. I see it every day in others, and, yeah, just recently, I was having serious leg issues, and I thought, ok, maybe this is it, time to lay low and hit the rocking chair and take up more sedentary activities. Pour another one. Fortunately, I chose the other fork in the road.

  5. Benny the second half of your comment gives me the chills, because I know it’s true. Work can be overwhelming and it is hard for me to get exercise every day. But I have to do it. Thanks for posting.

    It’s nothing like the program recommended by Peter but I’m going out for a walk now.

  6. @ Benny Agreed regarding a long term outlook to fitness. Six weeks is just getting started. One needs to look at the long term: not only to be able to continue ripping couloirs and tele turns, but for the functions of everyday life. Respect the process and you’ll learn a lot about your body in the process.

    Two stories. One: The oldest finisher at both this year’s Climb to the Castle and the App Gap roller ski races was 74-ish year old King Milne. He coaches at a Vermont high school. Two: A convo in the previous gym that I worked in, with a person about the same age as King. He goes, “I’ve been exercising on and off for 15 years.” This person had diabetes and hypertension.

    Which one do we want to be?

  7. Thanks again, Peter.

    Harvey: I have to agree, work really gets in the way. I’ve spent the last three years out of work, and exercise is basically my number one priority. I was the poster child for “sitting is bad for you”, because, even though I hit the gym, on average, five days a week and bike 2500-3000 miles a year, I still developed issues from sitting in front of a computer five days a week. Now, I work out every day, mixing it up. God, do I feel better. My accountant (in his fifties) was bitching at me one time when I was still working about how, no matter how much he trains for his triathlons, he was getting beat by 70 year olds. I totally understand that now. They have all the time in the world to train. But, that’s the fork in the road n “retirement”, either keep active, or, become a sedentary, poorly nourished alcoholic, and I’m afraid more are taking the latter route.

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