Leg Strength Training for Skiing

In my last article, I discussed movement prep and getting your body ready for a workout. This post will cover leg strength training exercises for skiing.

As always these articles are based on the expectation that you’re in good physical shape and that if you’ve been inactive, you’ve discussed ramping up with your physician. If you have orthopedic challenges — like an ACL tear or a joint replacement, or chronic issues like hypertension — consult your physician before hitting the gym.

Start conservatively and progress incrementally. You’re far better off performing quality movement with just your body weight or light weights. Struggling with too much weight can compromise your form and increase risk of injury.

The squat and deadlift are foundational movements for leg strength. In last spring’s get in shape article, we discussed different squat variations of these exercises. Let’s review the basic goblet squat and deadlift before continuing on to other movements.

The squat trains glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. To set up for the goblet squat, your feet are positioned about hip width apart, with knees over the second and third toes. Hold the dumbbell against your sternum. Brace your core. Keeping a neutral spine, squat until your thighbones are parallel to the floor, or slightly below parallel. The squat is a knee dominant exercise, so you’ll want to avoid excessive hinging at the hips. The deeper you go, the more glute activation you’ll get. Drive up through your heels.

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

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. Note that 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.

While I can’t cite any quantitative data, in my opinion, lunges are a key movement for skiers. The primary movers here are the quads and gluteus maximus. You’re also training adductor magnus, glute medius and minimus, the erector spinae group, hamstrings and soleus. Lunges also train balance and deceleration. What are we doing when we’re carving turns? We’re decelerating.

The video below illustrates two lunge variations. The first movement is the reverse lunge to balance. In the video, you’ll see that I’ve got a neutral spine, keeping my core tight. Take a big step backwards and drop straight down – get both knees to a 90 degree angle. Touching the floor with your knee isn’t necessary. Drive up through your front foot, then bring your other leg up, flexing your hip to a 90 degree angle.

The walking lunge is a supercharged progression of the reverse lunge and it works the same muscles as the reverse lunge. Take a big step forward, bringing your knees up high before planting your foot and driving up with your front foot. High knees are necessary to your knees stay behind your toes. Knees in front of toes during lunges = excessive stress on the knee.

Progress either of these movements by adding weight. For the walking lunge, I think carrying a plate overhead contributes to training balance. You may see people doing these with a barbell in the gym, but I don’t like the stress on the spinal column.

Last but not least, I like stepups. Like the lunge, they’re a multi joint movement working all the leg muscles. The taller the step, the better the training effect will be. I’m demonstrating lateral as well as frontal stepups because we move in multiple planes on the ski slope and elsewhere in life.

Any questions, please leave a comment below. If you prefer movement instructions written out rather than narrated in video, I’d love to know. Next up: upper body strength. In the meantime, if you live nearby one of my studios, you’re welcome to schedule a meeting for a complementary assessment.


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 fitness studios in Morris Plains, NJ; Woodland Park, NJ and in-home. Contact: [email protected]

3 comments on “Leg Strength Training for Skiing

  1. This is awesome but I’m more looking forward to the upcoming upper body piece. My lower body problem has always been finding ski boots that can fit my massive calf muscles inside. Are there any exercises that would give me skinny calves?

  2. Harv in the videos I’m going lighter than I would in a workout. Goblet squat, that was 30-35lb. Walking lunge prolly 20# dumbbells.

    The point isn’t how much I’m lifting, it’s how much you can lift with good technique. So maybe 1 day you do 10 goblet squats with 30 lb . When you stop, you realize you could done 10 more. That’s a data point that you can push more weight NOT a wasted session.

    Don’t be scared of deadlifts. Leading strength coach Michael Boyle thinks dead lifts are safer than squats.

    I’ve had 2 people call me “what do I do” after blowing up their backs squatting in CrossFit. Never had anyone do that regarding DL.

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