Getting in shape key to enjoying the ski slopes

Published January 30, 2014 3:48 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tis the season to get out the skis, break out some new wax and hit the slopes. But are you ready? If only skiing was about pointing the skis down the mountain, taking a deep breath then letting them rip.

But it takes more than that to have a day one can boast.

Utah is blessed with 14 resorts, many of which offer steep grades and terrain gnarly enough to challenge even the best skiers.

So how can you look more like Bode Miller than a bonehead out on the slopes? Be prepared, starting now.

Getting in shape for the slopes would be a good New Year's resolution for any serious skier.

Concussions, whiplash, wrist injuries and knee injuries are common in the sport. While many might be caused by freak circumstances, skiers pushing past their ability or old-fashioned bad luck, others might be prevented through certain training techniques.

At the very least, a good ski training program cannot only make one a more conditioned skier who is less likely to get injured, but also a stronger one as well.

Dr. James MacIntyre, who practices at the Center of Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Excellence in West Jordan, recommends skiers emphasize training in the same joint positions, angle and muscle contraction mechanism skiing requires.

For him, this means abandoning some old-fashioned ways of training, such as wall squats, in favor of higher speed power exercises such as mini squats, with progressively greater flexion and speed like one finds on the slopes.

MacIntyre also suggests working the hip muscles with exercises such as leg raises, commonly known as the Jane Fonda style in which the athlete is lying on his or her side and simply raises the leg up and down.

"Hips are critical in stabilizing pelvis and core and allowing counter rotation necessary in skiing," he said.

Plyometric exercises such as jumps and leaps from one side to another can help build power and reaction time, both of which cannot only make a skier better but safer, too.

Balance and core exercises are a must because skiing demands the body makes minor but fast corrections in posture as the athlete covers the terrain.

Exercises that involve popular gym equipment such as TRX or BOSU balls can make for challenging platforms for skiers.

Denise Druce, a local fitness instructor who teaches yoga to the University of Utah ski team and Olympic freestyle skier Heather McPhie, said yoga can be a valuable form of training because it involves strength, flexibility, balance and overall awareness of the mind-body connection.

Poses such as the chair and warrior variations build overall strength and stamina, attributes skiers must have if they want to crank out a full day on the slopes. The boat pose is good for core while getting into tree mode is especially valuable, she said.

"It's great for the balance required for skiing because it requires shifting body weight from one foot to another," she said.

One area that often is overlooked is training the back and the neck. Having a strong neck can help prevent whiplash. The neck extensor muscles often are weak in many people, leading to more of a forward head posture that makes one susceptible to injury. Get strong by working these muscles as well as the upper back.

Skier Lindsey Vonn used what she called an "arm clap," an exercise in which she started by lying on the ground then raising her upper body off the ground then clapping her hands together in front of her head.

So can exercises keep you on the slopes and out of the doctor's office? Not always, but it can help, MacIntyre said.

"The World Cup skiers are incredibly strong, incredibly fit and incredibly flexible," he said. "The elite guys work a lot of balance core strength and functional agility." —



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