Americans love to ski. According to number crunchers Statisca nearly 15 million US residents hit the slopes for a ski trip in 2017, and there are 476 ski resorts dotted all over the US to accommodate them.
But anyone who enjoys the sport knows the "post-ski waddle" — the soreness in your glutes and thighs that leaves you hobbling around the ski lodge. But there are things you can do in the weeks leading up to your ski trip to prep your body to hit the slopes that will reduce your soreness, plus lower the chances of injuring yourself and improve your overall performance. You'll also gain more energy and stamina, allowing you to stay out in the snow longer and then enjoy your après-ski activities instead of just collapsing when you finally make it to the ski lodge.
Skiing, and its close cousin snowboarding, use different muscles than summer pursuits like swimming or cycling. Plus, as ski resorts are at a high altitude, proper breathing for the conditions is another hurdle to overcome. The following exercises will help you get your body ski-ready by improving your overall fitness, balance, posture and stamina. Try to do them in front of a mirror so that you can observe your body positioning and form and make adjustments when needed.
Unless you position your knees centrally over your feet when skiing, you'll find you won't be able to carve effectively because your uphill ski won't hold the edge. Without the right knee positioning you will also put yourself at a much greater risk of injuring your knees, or at the very least, leaving the slopes with more knee pain than you bargained for.
How can you tell if your knee positioning is right? Stand up straight, with your feet hip width apart and your hips aligned over your feet. Bend your knees. Imagine that a vertical line drops from your hips to the floor. This invisible line should land between your second and third toes, but without proper practice most people find it's closer to their big toe.
To correct this, start from the same ski position and slightly turn your knees until they are pointing forward. Next, practice bending and straightening your knees without losing that alignment. If you aim for 30 repetitions a day, you should find that after a week or so the right knee positioning almost becomes second nature.
Another common mistake recreational skiers make is that our bottoms aren't in the right position -- either it's stuck out too far or tucked it in too much, both which make it harder for the spine, pelvis and hips to work correctly. In order to prevent injury, we must get this form corrected.
To learn the proper butt positioning, stick it out as far as you can while standing in your ski position. Then, tuck it in as far as you can. Using your mirror, determine a point halfway between those two where your spine is straight. This will be the right position at which to hold your posterior while skiing.
Once you have figured this out, spend time every day — for at least 30 repetitions — doing ski movements until you get it right without thinking too much about it.
Quadriceps, the muscles in your upper thighs, are very important when skiing. These muscles are working hard to help you bend and straighten your knees as you move forward. Both split squats and regular squats are great for working these muscles. Ready to step it up and prepare even more? Slowly add weights into the equation. This could be as simple as putting books into a backpack to weigh you down, putting the backpack on and performing squats. Or you can simply hold a dumbbell or kettle bell. This will help strengthen your quads and reduce your post-ski soreness.
Your butt muscles also get a workout on the ski slopes, so strengthening them will greatly improve your form and reduce your risk of injury. A great way to get these important muscles into ski shape is the clam exercise. Get on the floor and lie on your side with your knees and hips bent. Keeping the bottoms of your feet together lift your top knee and then lower it slowly. (You’ll look like a clam opening and then closing.)
As you do this exercise, you should be able to feel the muscles on the upper and outside of your buttock working. Repeat this move for 30 repetitions on both sides every other day and you’ll notice a difference.
While you are starting to get your ski muscles in shape, you should also work on your propulsion. Being able to propel yourself better will improve your skiing performance, especially if you're more advance and want to try heading off piste.
Doing so is easier than you might think. Using a low step and keeping yourself in that perfect ski position you've been perfecting, jump on and off it sideways. Repeat 15 times per side every other day. For an extra challenge, replace the low step with something a little higher a few days in.
Heading to the ski slopes means you will be going up mountains, and the higher you go, the thinner the air will get. This means that your heart and lungs will work harder, so they need to be prepared.
Both cycling and using a stepper are good cardio workouts that also involve some of those ski muscles you are training, but if all you have time for is a little extra running, or even just walking, then that's fine as well. Aim for 20 minutes of brisk-paced cardio at least three times a week.
Yes, it's cold, but the sun is bright and the reflection from the brilliant white snow only serves to amplify its power. Wearing sunscreen is a must, including on your lips, and be aware of the fact that your eyes can burn too! Wearing your ski goggles at all times to help protect yourself from the sun.
Indulging in a heavy meal before you do any exercise isn't the best idea, and skiing is no different. You don't want a a lump of food sitting in your stomach, weighing you down and potentially causing cramps or digestive problems. You should, however, ensure you hit the slopes well hydrated. Drink plenty of water beforehand and save the booze and hearty sandwich for your après-ski adventures.
If you have prepared your body for the ski slopes, you should be able to enjoy more runs and perhaps even impress yourself with your improved ability. But people do have limits, and your body will tell you when you're reaching yours. Listen to it. Some skiers, specifically those who keep going when they really should have called it a day, put themselves at risk for altitude sickness. The symptoms of this include nausea, fatigue and dehydration. Not to mention extreme soreness you will be in for the next day. So listen to your body and know when it's time to call it quits and head in for some hot chocolate.
Stephanie Mansour is a health and fitness expert and weight-loss coach for women. She is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and Pilates instructor, and host of “Step It Up with Steph” on American Public Television.