Ski fitness is a big deciding factor between having an enjoyable ski trip or a painful one. Poor fitness leads to increased fatigue which is cited as probably the biggest reason for injuries occurring on the slopes – but it doesn’t need to be that way. We speak to Louise Paley, a Physiotherapist at Alpine Lifestyle and Performance in the Portes du Soleil who explains how you can prepare properly for your next skiing holiday.

How early before the ski season should we be trying to get fit?

Ideally, ski preparation should start a minimum of 6 – 8 weeks before you hit the slopes.  It takes this long to start to build strength.  However, even starting two weeks before is better than nothing at all. The best thing to do is to stay fit year round and then add ski specific exercises 6 – 8 weeks before you ski.  Many ski instructors cycle during the summer and inter-seasons to maintain their fitness when they are not on the slopes.We see many injuries that occur in sedentary office workers who do nothing for 51 weeks of the year, then expect their bodies to be able to cope with the demands of skiing for a week!

Get fit for skiing

Get fit for skiing

What are the best home workout exercises to get fit for skiing?

This is a difficult question to answer.  Everyone will have individual needs depending on current levels of strength, endurance and fitness. Factors such as previous injuries, current lifestyle and hobbies, level and type of skiing that you will be doing will also need to be taken into account when planning your ski fit program. Getting ‘fit to ski’ involves functional training. This means tailoring your training program to the demands of your sport.

Some of the main components you need for skiing include (but are not limited to):

  • Strength and endurance
  • Balance and proprioception
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Plyometric (rebound) strength and agility

The type of skiing you do will also dictate your training needs.  For example, if you are a recreational skier, you will need to steadily train all of the above.  However, if you are a bumps skier then you will need to increase your focus on lower back, hip and knee flexibility along with a large emphasis on plyometric (re-bound) strength.  If you ski off piste or go ski touring, you will need good endurance, balance and cardiovascular endurance.  So you see, giving out a generic ski fit program is not so simple as there are too many factors to take into account.

However, the squat is the bread and butter of ski training.  It is a full body exercise that trains the muscles of the thighs, hips and buttocks.  Lunges, planks, side planks, calf raises and lateral bounds are also extremely beneficial exercises when training for skiing and can all easily be done at home.

The squat is the bread and butter of ski training

The squat is the bread and butter of ski training

Any training that you do, whether at home or in the gym should be progressive.  You can start just using body weight resistance and as you improve, introduce weights or resistance.  Over time, gradually increase the number of repetitions or sets that you do.  Also, try and increase your range of movement, eg. aim to squat deeper, jump higher etc.

As you introduce the concepts of ski fitness, make sure that the different components are introduced gradually. Sudden increases in training intensity, load and frequency can lead to injury themselves, therefore we recommend seeking the advice of a professional.  A great way to ensure you are introducing a variety of exercises in a safe manner is to consult a personal trainer or join a ski fit class. There are ways of preventing injuries such as a structured warm up, management of training load, pacing and correct use of equipment.

What kind of exercises/equipment would you recommend skiers use in the gym?

I think this depends on the individual and finding something that you enjoy and can stick to is the most important thing.  Although, to completely contradict myself I often advise clients that are rehabbing to do the exercise that they like the least the most!

A large focus in the gym will be on leg work.  Use of the bike, cross-trainer, leg press and using progressively heavy weights for squats and lunges are extremely beneficial.  I am planning to write a blog about lunge variations in the near future so follow Alpine Lifestyle and Performance on Facebook or Instagram to be kept up to date.

In terms of classes, I am a big fan of pilates.  However classes such as spin, kettlebells and TRx are all great for full body conditioning with a focus on the legs.  In the run up to the ski season, many gyms offer ski specific fitness classes which are designed to strengthen the body for the demands of skiing.

Classes such as spin, kettlebells and TRx are are all great for full body conditioning

Classes such as spin, kettlebells and TRx and are all great for full body conditioning

During a ski holiday what should people do if they experience painful lactic acid and cramps on the slopes?

Painful muscles and cramps often occur when the body is asked to do more than it can tolerate.  The pain is often due to inflammation or micro-trauma within the muscle tissues.   In other words, the muscles are suffering from overuse. In skiers, painful muscles are most commonly felt in the quadriceps and calf muscles.  There are not many sports where we keep going for up to seven hours a day and it is very difficult to prepare our muscles for this. To avoid this as much as possible, pace yourself on the slopes.  Factor in lots of rest stops and ski with people who are a similar ability to you. Once your muscles start to feel sore to take a rest.  Ensure you are well hydrated and stay warm.  Don’t push yourself through the pain.  If your muscles are sore, your reactions will be delayed and injures are more likely to happen.

What are some basic remedies to help soothe aching muscles after a hard day’s skiing?

Factoring in recovery strategies after a day on the slopes is something that very few people do but can make a big difference to how you feel. Firstly, think about how and when you re-fuel!  Eat at the right time; ideally within 20 minutes of finishing exercise as the timing can help replenish your muscles more efficiently.  Make sure you are well hydrated and try to eat a good balance of protein and carbohydrates.  Also, consider foods that contain natural anti-inflammatories such as turmeric, ginger and foods rich in Vitamin C.  Beetroot and tart cherry juice also have beneficial effects when exercising as they help to fight inflammation.

Eat at the right time; ideally within 20 minutes of finishing exercise

Eat at the right time; ideally within 20 minutes of finishing exercise

Stay active after you come off the slopes.  Don’t just confine yourself to an armchair for the evening.  Try and have a stroll or a gentle swim, even if you are feeling tired and achy. If your legs are particularly sore and achy, try and elevate them.   Lie on your back with your legs up the wall for up to ten minutes or as long as you can tolerate.  A massage can also go a long way in helping reduce achy muscles. Finally, get a good nights sleep.  This can sometimes be challenging when sleeping at altitude, but it is the best way to allow our bodies to repair and recover.

One thing for certain is that ski fitness is a big deciding factor between having an enjoyable ski trip or a painful one.  Being fit to ski can make a difference as to whether you can progress your skills on the slopes or whether you have a high injury risk.  Poor fitness leads to increased fatigue which is cited as probably the biggest reason for injuries occurring on the slopes.

To summarise:

  • You should start getting fit to ski at least 6-8 weeks prior to your ski trip
  • Exercise should be pain free and progressive e.g. Start just using body weight resistance and as you improve, introduce weights increase repetitions or sets
  • Increase range of movement e.g. aim to squat deeper, jump higher etc
  • Increase frequency
  • You don’t need a gym as many exercises can be introduced at home
  • Ideally try and train at least 3 times a week for the best outcome factoring in rest and recovery strategies can help you make the most of your time on the slopes.

Louise Paley
Physiothearpist
www.alpinelifestyleandperformance.com

Looking for a self-catered ski chalet in the Alps? Check out Chalet la Fontaine in the Portes du Soleil.