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]