By Peter Schmaus, MD
As the weather gets cooler no doubt we are thinking of the upcoming ski season. Many of us pay more attention to our equipment than the most important equipment of all-us! Many ski injuries and overuse syndromes can be prevented by preventative maintenance. While sharpening your edges and waxing the skis are smart, even more important is a musculoskeletal tune up -on yourself!
I have said many times that stretching, core strengthening and flexibility may be overused words in fitness but not when it comes to pre season ski conditioning. This approach integrated with interval training, comprised of short bursts of cardiovascular exercise make for the ideal pre-season program and lend themselves to the particular demands of snow sports, be they skiing or boarding. And the beneficial carry over to the spring and summer cannot be overstated.
Stabilization and core, are buzz words frequently used in the fitness field. For snow sports the word cannot be repeated too often. Fitness trainers, therapists, and physicians refer to muscle groups that are core stabilizers at the center of the body. These include the rectus abdominus external and internal obliques, the back extensors and the pelvic floor muscles. These are your natural weight lifting belt and lumbar support. They stabilize and support the spine in all planes and a strong core provides balance and the force required to carve a turn or navigate a field of moguls. Think of a barrel. Without the straps you would find yourself with a pile of wood slats. Apply a tight ring above, middle, and below and you have a solid structure. Core muscles even support your spine when pulling off your boots at the end of the ski day. Exercise methods include Swiss ball, back extension, modified crunches, various planks and supermen. All can be done in the home without elaborate gym equipment. And do not forget the simple push up and proper squat.
We frequently refer to the posterior chain, which includes the gluteal muscles, the hamstrings as well as latissimus, and back extensors. Regimens can include lunges, modified dead lifts, squats, kettle bells and burpees. If your bodyweight does not provide sufficient resistance, add some lightweight. Simple flat plates, kettle bells or even resistance bands will suffice. A weigh lifting bar with no weight is over 40 pounds alone. Then move on to side-to-side exercises, which simulate ski motion. Remember we move in all four planes: front, back, side to side, and in rotation. Keeping that center of gravity well centered is the physics behind a good day on the mountain.
Be mindful that snow sports, while not overly aerobic do require bursts of speed and therefore increased cardiovascular activity. That is aside from the long walk uphill though the parking lot with all your heavy equipment. Think interval training, short bursts of maximum output, (provided you are cleared by your physician for strenuous cardiac activity.)
Also important especially as we age are balance exercises on a balance board. Stand on the balance wobble board while holding two light free weights. Go through your regimen while remaining balanced on the board. It is not easy in the beginning but the benefits of enhanced balance and stability are crucial on uneven terrain. These techniques are applicable to everyday activities. In fall and winter: shoveling snow raking leaves and negotiating an ice covered sidewalk.; and at home the slippery bathtub and bath or kitchen floor.
Constructing a preventative exercise program well in advance of that first day on the mountain will reduce the risk of injury and make those days on the mountain more enjoyable and injury and pain free. Ski and board safely and enjoy the upcoming winter.
Peter Schmaus MD