Who else is ready to dust off their skis and shake off the winter blues? In this blog, I plan to cover a few topics that will help you prepare for ski season like a pro, including 4 ways to keep your season injury free.
With all the excitement of the new ski season, it’s easy to try to jump right back in where you left off last winter. As a sports specialist PT, I’ve seen a fair share of injuries due to this approach. The problem with jumping back into a sport you haven’t participated in in a while (no matter how “in shape” you may be), is that your body may not be adequately prepared. Skiing for example, requires completely different movement patterns and muscular demands than other sports, such as running. If the body is not conditioned for these hibernating demands after a long off-season, the skier is at a much greater risk of injury.
The break down of how to prepare for ski season like a pro:
- General Preparation for Skiing
- Strength Training
- What exercises should you be doing?
- Aerobic Training
- Tips to improve your aerobic capacity so you can ski at higher efforts for longer
- Strength Training
- Sport-Specific Training for Skiing
- What does sport-specific training look like for skiers?
- How much general vs sport-specific training you should incorporate into your training plan
- Equipment Check
- How does boot fit and equipment maintenance play a role in injury risk?
Preparing for ski season like a pro 101
The best practice for preparing for ski season like a pro falls into two main categories:
- General Preparation
- Sport-Specific Training
Downhill, backcountry, and nordic skiing are demanding sports that require a certain level of strength and fitness in order to perform well, avoid injuries, and enjoy the sport. Often we get into trouble when we strap our skis on and head for the slopes without any form of physical preparation.
Before jumping full-on into skiing, focus on general training first to allow the body to adapt to the demands of the sport.
What does general training consist of?
General training includes:
- Strength Training
- Aerobic Training (Cross-training)
Strength training is what I most often see neglected by individuals as they enter into a new season or sport, especially in endurance athletes. I think this would change if skiers, runners, and cyclists, knew that sport specific strength training can reduce the risk of injury by more than 30%!
One of the reasons strength training is so helpful is that it increases the ability of your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments to tolerate forces put through them while skiing. This essentially creates a buffer that ensures you are not exceeding your body’s capacity to take on the load when you start the ski season.
A strength training program should include:
- At least 10 sets per week of strength training for the major muscle groups in your legs (glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves).
- Sets should be heavy enough that you fatigue in 8-12 repetitions
- Gradually progress to adding plyometrics to your training plan
Ideally, you would perform 3-4 sets targeting each muscle group, 2-4 days per week. This would allow you to achieve your goal of 10 sets total per week.
Aerobic Training (Cross-Training)
We all want to be able to enjoy those long ski days in great conditions and not be limited by our fitness. Aerobic training helps to prepare our heart, lungs, and muscles to handle prolonged effort. The better your aerobic capacity, the longer (and faster!) you can ski without fatiguing.
Pro tips to improve your aerobic training
- Think about time: How long do you need to sustain the effort to get to the top of a backcountry run, or complete a nordic ski race? Train to be able to sustain effort for that period of time or longer.
- Cross-training, including running, fat biking, roller skiing, rowing, cycling, or swimming is a great way to achieve this goal
- Start small and build gradually: Give yourself at least 4-6 weeks to build up to your goal training time or distance.
- The general rule of thumb for injury prevention is to increase the intensity of your workouts by no more than 10% each week. (This number can differ based on your current fitness level.)
- Polarize your training: This form of training is a way to prioritize low and high intensity over moderate intensity workouts. Research shows that polarized training leads to the greatest improvements in endurance performance.
- Most of your early season training can be at a low intensity (meaning it is near a conversational pace).
- Mix in higher intensity interval training once or twice a week to push your heart rate and lung capacity
I recently posted a video on my Instagram page with tips on how to prepare for winter endurance sports. Click below to watch it and follow me @trevor.staples.dpt for more PT tips!
Sport Specific Training
Now that we’ve mastered general preparation, we can move on to the second step in preparing for ski season like a pro. Unlike general preparation, sport-specific training is specific to the sport. Therefore, ski-specific training is really what will set a skier up for a successful season.
Sport-specific training allows you to develop the skill and motor control necessary to perform your sport well. This is typically done in the few weeks prior to starting the season, but can be incorporated throughout the season.
What does Sport-Specific Training look like?
Preparing for ski season like a pro includes sport-specific training, which includes:
- Single-leg exercises- AKA: tasks that replicate the demands of skiing. Examples include:
- Single-leg balance
- Lateral hops, bounding
- Split squats
- A gradual increase in volume – Performing the task (or a similar task) and gradually increasing the training variables over time (such as duration and intensity. Pro Tip: It is best to increase one variable at a time.) Examples include:
- Roller skiing or skiing on snow for shorter periods of time and building to a longer duration.
- Skill Training: Nordic skiers may practice drills such as legs only or balancing on one ski, while downhill skiers might perform balance and edging drills.
How much General vs Sport-Specific Training should you incorporate into your training plan?
When thinking about how much of general or sport-specific training you should do, look at the graph below to help you know how much of your training should focus on general or ski-specific training at different parts of the season.
Check your equipment
Check Your Equipment
In both downhill and backcountry skiing, injuries are often traumatic (ACL injuries are common) and are more likely to happen with certain boot fits and bindings.
Research suggests that a proper boot fit and well-maintained equipment can reduce your risk of knee injuries in particular. So do yourself a favor:
- Make sure you have a good boot fit – less aggressive setups might put you at lower risk for injury.
- Get any repairs your equipment might need
- Make sure you are getting any routine maintenance done before you start the season
When it comes to getting ready for the season, the sooner you can start, the better. We covered a lot in this blog! Keep in mind, preparing for ski season like a pro does not have to be complicated. Here’s a recap:
- Give yourself at least 4-weeks before the season to start a strength program, building up to at least 10 sets per week of quad, hamstring, calf, and glute strength training.
- Incorporate aerobic training and build up to the length of time you anticipate skiing over 4-6 weeks
- Incorporate sport-specific training in the few weeks before the season, or take your time practicing and building up slowly once the season has started
- Make sure your equipment is well-maintained and ready to take you on some epic adventures