Physio: Base of fitness required for safe ski season

All of your strength workouts should have this kind of pattern of warm-up: a circuit of exercises, active cool-down, and stretch.

If you ski or snowboard, I imagine you were as happy as I was to see the white stuff falling onto the hills in the past week. With Big White and Silver Star set to open soon, many people are dusting off their winter gear.

Snow sports are a great way to keep fit during the winter months, stave off the seasonal blues, and enjoy the great outdoors. However, alpine skiing and snowboarding come with risks of injury, either from macro- (such as falls) or micro- (overuse injuries) trauma.

As you perform your seasonal maintenance on your skis and board, also remember an important factor in having a safe and fun winter—your physical fitness.

Just like the hill needs a good base of snow for a great day, your body needs a good base of fitness to be able to keep you injury free and on the slopes.

To help get in peak form for ski season, hit the gym, exercise group, or work out at home to get conditioned. The goals of pre-season training are to get you back to your previous level quicker, reduce injury, and even reduce post-activity soreness, especially on those first days back. The pre-ski regime should include cardiovascular, strength, agility, balance and flexibility exercises.

Consider beginning with general conditioning: snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are good cardio, strength, and sometimes balance, activities, while not typically being as aggressive as downhill sports. Warm-up at a slow pace, gradually build, then cool down at a slow pace again, and finish with stretching. Cardiovascular exercises should be done three to five times per week.

All of your strength workouts should also have this kind of pattern of warm-up, a circuit of exercises, active cool-down, and stretch. The exercises may start general and then progress to activity specific. A lot of focus will be put on balancing the muscle groups of the legs, as the lower extremity is more commonly injured. Having a strong core will also help prevent injury, as this will improve your stability of your body. Aim to strength train at least 3 times per week, but give rest days to allow for recovery. After sufficient strengthening has been met (this varies person to person depending on physical condition, or any previous or current injuries), agility exercises can be added. Agility is especially important to train for downhill sports, as you need to be able to make quick, precise and controlled movements.

It is best to design a program that is the right fit for you, you body’s needs, and your goals for the season. A physiotherapist can help assess strength, flexibility, function and any imbalances to build an individualized exercise program. This is especially important if you have any prior or current injuries to work around and to rehabilitate.

Many injuries can occur in the first days back on the hills, when expecting or trying to perform at the same level as you were on the closing weekend of last year. Even with your exercise regime, and staying fit over the other months of the year, start slow. Take breaks, and listen to your body when you are fatiguing. Remember to warm-up before headed down the slopes, before you slap on the skis or board. A good warm-up helps to prevent muscle strains by improving their ‘extensibility’ – that is, their ability to elongate. You may need to do this for a little longer on those particularly cold and windy days. Opening weekend is a very exciting time, but by going easier and slower on these days, you will be more likely to be in top form to enjoy the powder days later in the season!

Have a fun and injury-free season.

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