With so many `unknowns` in the foreseeable future, it Is hard to say for sure when we will next be on the slopes. in the meantime however we can ensure that we are in the best possible shape for for when we do get back out there with a few simple home exercises that require no specialist equipment. Here are our top 3 at home exercises to keep you ski fit during the off season.
1. Plank hold
While so many ski related exercises focus on the lower body, it can be easy to neglect the upper body. Let’s not forget that when we achieve upper and lower body separation in our skiing, it our core that is `holding it all together` and putting us in the strongest position for skiing. Think of the lower body (hips down) as your shocks – working hard to absorb everything that happens underneath your skis and protecting the upper body from too much instability. Your upper body in turn works extremely hard to remain balanced and centred, allowing your legs to work most effectively. Both your upper and lower body are allocated different roles, but both working together and towards the same goal; strong skiing. As well as having a working core, it is advantageous to be familiar with the associated muscles, and how to engage and relax them, and how it should feel like when they are working.
A basic plank is an excellent way to get to know your core muscles, and can be scaled to any athletic level through the length of holding and by being on your forearms & knees or hands and toes. An easy way to get started is by holding yourself on your forearms and knees whilst maintaining a straight line (plank) with your body for 20 seconds. As your muscles become stronger you can extend the time and graduate to your hands and knees, before going onto your toes and hands – such as a basic press up position. If that doesn’t challenge you enough, try adding weights onto your back to increase the amount that your core is supporting. Do try to focus on your midsection and feel how and when the muscles engage. Remember to keep your bottom down as not to break at the hips.
Again, nothing complicated about this common workout movement but no shortage of benefits when it comes to linking this back to skiing. Working the core and quads, a deep squat will extend and flex our three lower joints – hips, knees and ankles – with each repetition. In skiing, our Flexion & Extension is the idea that we extend our lower body on every turn initiation, and then smoothly flex those same joints as the turn progresses, bringing us closer to the snow. Squats will build up the muscles surrounding these joints – providing them with better support and minimising the risk of injury. Our quads will also be well worked with each squat, giving us more stamina once on the slopes; strong quads and supportive muscles around our lower joints are extremely advantageous when it comes to skiing.
A basic squat looks as if you are about to sit down onto a chair behind you, keeping your knees behind your toes as you go down. Outstretching your arms in front of you will assist with balance, and do remember to keep your chest up and shoulders back. Adding weights to squats is the easiest way to scale to your ability as your body strengthens, and this can be done is numerous ways. Holding a kettle bell with both hands at chest level is a good way to start adding weight to your squats.
3. Side to side jumps
Once the first two have been mastered try introducing some side to side jumps. These translate so well into skiing for a few reasons; firstly, our lower joints are continually moving through a flex and extend pattern – exactly what we want to see in our skiing. Secondly, we rely on our core to keep the upper body engaged and balanced whilst the lower body is working (upper & lower body separation), reinforcing the ability to separate. We also introduce some rhythm and timing, another skill that we should be seeing in our skiing in order to provide consistency and fluidity through our turns. As we speed this expertise up it become reminiscent of short turns, and encourages our legs to become increasingly reactive and responsive.
An easy way to create this at home is to place a flat object on the ground to the left or right of us – approximately 1 foot in length – and then jumping sidewards over the object, and back again. As you improve, the separation will become more natural and your upper body will move from side to side as your legs work hard underneath you. Try to keep the jumps consistent on each side in size and timing, and as you improve you can increase the pace, the height of the jumps and the distance from one side to another.
4. Wall sits
Similar to the plank in that this exercise is deceptive in its simple appearance, and yet demands a lot from us physically. As well as focusing on your lower body and core, it is also a great static exercise for training our gluteal muscles. This group of three muscles ( (Gluteus Minimus, Medius and Maximus) work together to stabilise the pelvis, enable external rotation of the legs, support the knee and hip joints and allow for leg extension. It stands to reason then that these muscles should not be neglected, and the stronger we can build them – the more performance we will get from our skiing.
To do a wall sit, simply stand with your back to the wall, ensuring that your hips, back and shoulders are in contact with it. Slowly walk your feet forward as you slide down the wall until your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Hold the position with your hands by your side or on your hips, and push down through your feet. This can be easily scaled by increasing the amount of time that it is held for, and how low down the wall you go. If it is your first time doing a wall sit you may not be able to come down to 90 degrees, so you can start higher up and hold it for shorter periods of time.
5. Ankle raises
This one is great for skiers and even more so for snowboarders as it focuses primarily on the calf muscles and ankle joints. Building up stability and strength in and around these areas once more creates favourable odds against injury and increases endurance on the slopes. Another over looked and under used joint among skiers is the ankle, with most of us not flexing as much as we should be. This could be for subconscious reasons, like somehow feeling that we don’t need to move it inside a snugly ski boot, or that we shouldn’t be moving it because a boot is so rigid. In reality we should be flexing and extending our ankle in the same way that we would our knee and hip joint to get maximum performance and efficiency from our skiing. The same flex & extend movement is also a key component in snowboarding, along with lots of work from the calves.
An ankle raise is going from a flat foot up onto the balls of your feet and toes, before coming back down without letting your heels touch the ground. This can be repeated according to your fitness level, and if you are a beginner then 20 repetitions would be a great place to start. This is done simultaneously on both feet, and if you need to steady yourself for balance you can place a hand on a nearby wall. If you do this, try to avoid transferring any weight onto your hand as it will detract from the work you are doing on your calves and ankles.
While skiing may feel like a long way off from where we are now, these easy to do home exercises are of huge benefit to our every day strength and fitness and cover a huge range of movements and muscle groups. As an added bonus they will surely set us up to get the very most out of our next ski trip so we need not spend precious time on the slopes catching our breath and resting tired legs.
Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan.