Winter is off to a great start with the local hills open early. Snow sports such as snowshoeing, cross-country or alpine skiing, snowboarding and sledding can be great strengthening and cardio workouts, to keep you active during the cold months. These activities, however, produce different stresses on our bodies than our spring and summer sports.
An important factor in having a safe and fun winter is your physical fitness. Just like the ground needs a good base of snow for a fun day, your body needs a good base of fitness to be able to keep you injury free and enjoying the crisp outdoor air.
To help get in peak form for the 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. Your 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 3-5 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. If your sport of choice is sledding, you will also want to strengthen your back and shoulders, to assist with the pulling and body tension produced while controlling your machine. Aim to strength train at least 3 times per week, but give rest days to allow for recovery.
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 outside, when expecting or trying to perform at the same level as you were at the end of last season. Even with your exercise regime, and staying fit over the other months of the year, on your first day remember to warm up and take breaks when fatiguing. 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. By going easier and slower your first days out, 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.