Shorter days, cooler weather and the advent of rain in the Bay Area may have some city dwellers feeling grouchy, but for skiers and snowboarders, winter’s approach means snow. And they can’t wait to get to the mountains.
So right now is the best time to get in shape for snow sports. But wait, you may be thinking, I already work out, so do I really need a special conditioning program for winter sports?
Personal trainers and professional skiers agree: To be ready for the special challenges your body will face in downhill or cross-country skiing or snowboarding, it makes sense to start sports-specific training six-to-eight weeks before you hit the slopes.
Susie Ngarangad, a senior personal trainer and group exercise instructor at the Presidio YMCA, recently offered a ski conditioning clinic and often works with snow sports enthusiasts. She says, “To perform at your best, prevent fatigue and reduce the risk of injury while on the slopes, essential training strategies of preseason winter conditioning include endurance, SAQ [speed, agility and quickness] drills, balance, core, strength, and flexibility training.”
Because snow sports require a mix of muscle endurance and strength as well as balance and flexibility, it’s easy to develop a dry-land workout to get you in shape. For strong thighs, hamstrings, and ankles, necessary for both skiing and boarding, fitness experts recommend a series of squats and lunges. Single-leg lunges, with your back leg up on a chair, step, or BOSU trainer, are especially good for working on strength and balance. Lower body strength is key in preventing knee injuries.
Snowboarding and skiing both involve side-to-side movements and balance, and trainers and ski resort instructors recommend exercises that mimic these movements such as lateral shuffling and side-to-side hopping or jumping from one leg to the other. These moves can be combined with squats and lunges in short bursts, or intervals, to add cardio training, also critical for mountain sports. Other activities recommended by ski instructors include core workouts — like basic crunches — while seated on a stability ball that will also challenge your balance; and calf raises, because calves are used a lot while skiing. Walking and jogging, especially uphill, are excellent cardio workouts, and key if you plan on cross-country or Nordic skiing that involves lots of climbing hills. For maximum flexibility, stretching will round out your workout.
Ngarangad stresses, “A safe and effective conditioning program must be progressive, gradually building intensity over time. Not all training techniques are appropriate for everyone. Mastery of a new skill is acquired both through repetition and practice, but also careful attention to the details of the quality of the movement.” While she advises at least one one-on-one coaching session to develop a customized preseason workout, Ngarangad says that group exercise classes including Pilates, yoga, BodyPump, indoor cycling, and others can also help you cross train and prepare you for your best ski or boarding season ever.