Upper Body Workout for Skiing

In addition to leg strength, you need upper body strength to get down the mountain. Developing your upper half will help you master your turns, dodge trees and other skiers, and reduce the risk of injuries — shoulders, back, arms — that result from falling. This piece goes through a simple upper body workout for skiing.

A wise man once said: “You’ll look a whole lot better coming down the slopes if your arms aren’t flailing and your skis aren’t controlling you.”

And for cross-country skiers, upper body strength is calculated to be half of what gets you up a hill.

To start, I’m assuming that you’re in good physical shape. If you’ve been inactive, discuss ramping up your activity with your physician. If you have orthopedic challenges, e.g. ACL tear or a joint replacement, or chronic disease issues like hypertension, please consult your physician before hitting the gym.

Always start conservatively and progress weight incrementally. You’re far better off performing quality movement with lighter weights and good form. Struggling through a set with too much weight will compromise technique and increase the risk of injury.

Vertical Movements

The overhead press primarily works the shoulder muscles as well as trapezius and rhomboids in the back. I prefer dumbbells, because they allow the shoulders to work independently. As Michael Boyle says, a barbell is a hunk of iron with no give, forcing your shoulders to make adjustments that might lead to injury. I’m all about keeping people safe. Until I have bodybuilders as clients, no barbells.

Key cues for the dumbbell overhead press: Tight core, knees slightly bent, and feet about hip width apart. I like to start with hands in neutral position and rotate the forearms as I press up. Keep a neutral wrist.

Pullups train the major back muscles, biceps, forearm muscles, and more. Primary cues: keep your core tight and pull up to the bar with a quiet body. No extending your chin, and no flopping around like Gumby to generate momentum. If you have difficulty doing a bodyweight pullup, as I do, many gyms have a weight assisted pullup machine. A better alternative is to use a Superband for weight assist, as demonstrated in the video. You can find Superbands on amazon.com or performbetter.com.

Another pulling movement is the X-pulldown. It works the same muscles as a pullup, but the load is provided by a machine. Key cues: you’re kneeling; your core and your glutes should be firing. Start with your knuckles facing you and rotate your forearms as you pull.

Horizontal Movements

Variations of the pushup and dumbbell bench press are foundational horizontal pushing movements, training your anterior deltoids, pectorals and triceps. Incidentally, these all happen to be muscles you use to break a fall. What do we worry about for ourselves or our elders?

When positioning yourself for a pushup, your spine should be straight and your feet around 12 inches apart. Brace your abdominal muscles and your glutes: the pushup is like a plank with movement.

The dumbbell chest press works the same muscles as a pushup. This video below demonstrates a dumbbell press while using a physio ball, which requires more core stabilization than a bench. You’ve got your shoulders on the ball; your glutes and core musculature should be engaged. Be sure that your spine is straight, no sagging pelvis! Press up; lower down.

The dumbbell row trains the major muscles of the back. One hand is on the bench, you’re crouched in the athletic position. Pull up, keeping a neutral spine. Keep your back straight and don’t rotate your spine.

Any questions, please leave a comment below. Next up: core strength. If you live near one of my studios, you’re welcome to schedule a meeting for a complementary assessment. Just mention that you saw the story on NYSB!


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; Fairfield, NJ; and in-home. Contact: [email protected]

2 comments on “Upper Body Workout for Skiing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *