PRE-HOLIDAY SKI FITNESS PREPARATION
Updated: Sep 29
Summer is over, the kids are back at school and a chill is creeping into the air. It means just one thing - winter is on its way!! And with it the opportunity to do all things skiing & sliding related. If you have already booked your trip or are starting to make plans for your mountain get away the make sure you also start thinking about how you are going to prepare yourself physically for the slopes. There’s no point in thinking about your ski fitness a week or two before you head to the slopes. Start now, get your pre-holiday ski fitness preparation in early and use the off season to get/keep ski fit for your next mountain adventure - it really will make all the difference to what you can achieve.
You might be really physically fit, but you might not be sport specific ready. Skiing is not a predictable sport - combine a slippery slope with gravity and an ever-changing surface and you won’t simply be doing a squat in one perfect & repetitive motion. You need to have control over multiple joints at the same time, which is hard to mimic.
Add in the altitude, fresh air and hours spent on your feet (depending on what you dream holiday consists of) and you can see why skiing can really take it out of you.
So, no, you can’t do wall sits for days and call it quits. Although, as an aside, if you love a wall sit I highly recommend you try one of Caroline Girvan’s wall sit challenges here
A proper program is going to tick a lot of boxes: strength, agility, flexibility, balance, and cardio. Each time you train, choose a manageable number of exercises from each area, and you’ll be well on your way to flying effortlessly down the slopes. But remember, that your fitness programme should begin weeks, not days, before you hit the slopes!
So let’s think about what is involved in skiing…
Let’s first consider the muscle groups we use in skiing.
QUADS: Quadriceps are probably the most used muscle group in skiing. These muscles hold you in position as you ski and provide protection for your knees.
HAMSTRINGS & GLUTES: When skiing downhill, you typically hold your body in a flexed position, leaning forward from the hips & ankles. This requires great strength from your hamstrings and glutes as they help stabilise your body.
ADDUCTORS & ABDUCTORS: Your inner thighs work like crazy to keep your skis together. Your outer thighs keep your body stable and help you steer.
CALVES: Because your knees & ankles are flexed as you ski, your calves help you stay upright so you don't fall over (your boots will also help too).
CORE & BACK: As you're in a flexed position, your back has to work to hold your body in that position. To protect your spine from injury, your core must be conditioned. Your core is extremely important to help with balance, especially as you ski over varied terrain. If you’re sloppy in the core, you can’t expect the rest of your body to respond how it should down the chain.
ARMS: Your arms should be slightly raised as you ski, which engages the arm and shoulder muscles. In addition, there’s pole planting as well as pushing along any flat sections - along with your back, arms help push off with your poles while stabilizing your shoulder joints.
In strength training, there are two main goals. First, ensure there are no imbalances between the same muscle groupon either side of the body, eg in each leg. And second, eliminating major discrepancies between muscles groups within the same body part. In this way we can ensure that we don’t have, eg one leg or one muscle group overworking and trying to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere.
Great exercises for the quadriceps include squats and lunges.
HAMSTRINGS & GLUTES
Work your hamstrings and glutes with Romanian deadlifts, hip thrusts, glute bridge and hamstring lifts. Throw in a pilates or Swiss ball for an added challenge.
ADDUCTORS & ABDUCTORS
Some great exercises are side lunges, pilates ball squeezes for the inner thighs, using a glute band to push knees out, inner and outer pushes on the abductor and adductor machines or sliding side lunges using disks.
Heel raises and any exercise where your heels are elevated.
A staple exercise to strengthen the core is the good old fashioned plank, of which there are numerous variations that can help engage other important muscle groups. It’s important to try and work around the entire core, not just the “six pack” but also the deep abdominal musculature, which holds you upright and supports dynamic movement. Think about twisting exercises for the obliques, such as bicycle cruches & pulley system wood chops, as well. The use of free rather than fixed weights for a variety of exercises will engage and strengthen the core at the same time as strengthening other muscle groups.
All of the above suggested exercises can be performed either body weight or weighted.
For strength training I cannot recommend Caroline Girvan's channel on YouTube highly enough. There really is a workout for everyone - body weight, dumbbell, kettle bell, every body part is covered, 10 min sessions to hour long sessions and well thought out programmes of 1 week to 10 weeks in length. Check out her over 600 videos here.
BALANCE & UNILATERAL WORK
As I have said before skiing is not a predictable sport - you are on a pair of slippery planks, on an equally slippery surface that keeps changing under your feet and gravity is also helping you along your way. In addition, more often than not we are balanced on one leg more than the other & our centre of gravity is outside our base of support. And yet we need to be able to stay upright at all times! It is often said that skiing is actually just a series of linked recoveries, and this certainly has an element of truth. Core strength will help a lot, but we should not forget to spend some time working on balance & unilateral (one-legged) work.
Incorporate a wobble board or cushion to complete your strength program. For example, try doing lunges & squats with one foot on a wobble cushion. Hold a plank or glute bridge with your arms or legs resting on a Swiss or pilates ball.
Do some of the strength exercises on one leg. For example hip thrusts, Romanian deadlifts, squats, glute bridges & heel raises.
All of these variations will also engage the core, bonus!
Spinal flexibility is essential for rotational separation, which is the movement that allows you to look down the hill while your legs/feet move beneath you.
Ankle flexibility is extremely important and seriously underrated. We need to be able to flex the ankles to ensure we stay aligned, and in a strong position biomechanically, whilst still keeping our weight forwards. If we just bend at the knees we end up with our weight on our heels and often compensate for this by pitching too far forwards at the waist and sticking out our bottoms
Maintaining good flexibility will help you maintain good alignment as you move by allowing your body to move in the way that you want it to.
Helps if/when we fall to avoid injury.
Always remember to stretch after a workout (& warm up before!). Think long slow stretches - around 20-30 seconds, 2-3 times for each muscle group.
Good coordination is important as when we ski we are doing different things with each leg as well as doing different things with upper & lower body. It is important to be able to smoothly coordinate the movements involved in skiing to create fluidity & ensure we aren’t making jerky movements as we go, which could throw us off balance. Being smooth and keeping a good rhythm will ensure that one turn flows into the next keeping a good momentum as we go down the slope.
CARDIO & ENDURANCE
Who hasn’t felt the burn while flying down the slopes?
It’s important to be able to cope with the physical demands of skiing, especially if you want to ski from first to last lifts. Working on your cardio capacity will also help when you consider that on a ski holiday you will be at a significantly higher altitude than you are used to with less oxygen to help your muscles perform. If you are fatigued then your skiing is likely to get a bit sloppy and you are more likely to injure yourself.
Cardio exercises will increase your heart rate and include running, cycling, elliptical trainer, rowing. A good variation of cross training would be ideal to help maintain motivation & reduce the risks of overuse/injury - remember to choose what you enjoy, it’s not meant to be a punishment!
Ensure you have adequate strength before embarking on a plyometric programme.
Plyometrics is also known as 'jump training’ - it consists of quick movements that exert a huge force on your muscles, exercises where your muscles exert a maximum force in a very short interval of time. The idea is to increase the power of your legs, which is a combination of speed and strength.
Exercises that would be good for skiers include:
Remember to always land as lightly as possible, absorbing as much impact as you can whilst maintaining good alignment.
Squat/lunge down and touch the ground, then explode upwards as high as you can. Hopping
Try hopping side-to-side or forwards/backwards as many times as you can in 30 seconds.
Two Legged Jumps/Hopping
Try jumping/hopping as far forwards & backwards as you can go.
Try jumping/hopping as fast as you can side-to-side (use a 30cm guide on the floor).
Exactly as it sounds, jumping on and off of a chair, bench or stair.
In addition to “traditional” workouts I would recommend including some Pilates for an intense core workout, that targets even the deepest core muscles, as well as increasing flexibility & mobility.
Yoga for flexibility & mobility.
Barre for endurance & stamina training as well as coordination - these classes really really burn!!
My current favourites on Youtube are
Caroline Girvan - I am totally in love with this woman! She has a huge selection of varied workouts on her channel, literally whatever you are looking for I am sure you will find it.
Move with Nicole - a great variety of different intensity workouts, which include pilates, yoga & barre inspired moves.
There are number of different areas of “fitness” that need to be addressed when preparing for you ski holiday. This can be seen as a bonus as you can have a different focus each time you do a session and keep your enthusiasm high! Working on strength, flexibility, cardio capacity and balance are crucial. Think about skiing fitness rather than just general fitness, trying to replicate some of the movements you will be doing on the slopes. And remember to start preparing early rather than in the week leading up to your trip!
This blog post may offer health & fitness information which is designed for educational purposes only. The information in this post is not meant as an alternative to seeking professional medical or training advice. Please know that performing any exercise or programme is solely at your own risk. If you are new to exercise or planning to embark on a new fitness programme you should seek professional face-to-face advice to tailor any programme to your own specific requirements.