Ski season is here again, and it may be time for you to venture out on the slopes! And after a slow start, it looks like the snow is here at last! But before you start packing, it’s really important to make time for a few pre ski exercises.
Are you ski fit?
Winter sports are looked forward to by millions of people across the world. But unfortunately, a fair few of them will suffer some aches and pains while out. Sometimes, it’s just down to that almost inevitable fall you will have (most embarrassingly right in front of the lift queue), but for others it will be because you haven’t prepared properly before you go.
Work, family life and Christmas all have their part to play in disrupting preparation, but a couple of short sessions a week could pay dividends on the slopes.
Some core activities
Some people keep relatively fit through the year, some have other priorities. But even if you are in the gym 5 times a week, hitting the slopes can use muscles you forgot you even had! One of the key areas for skiers and boarders alike is your core: those muscles in your stomach and waist that not only give you an Arnie-like six pack on the beach but help to keep your back supported as well.
It doesn’t have to be crunch time
Why is this area so important? First, we have to understand a little of the anatomy of the area. While most people will concentrate on crunches or sit-ups to work the core, the muscles in this area actually wrap all the way around into the lower back, and act as a support for the abdomen and spine.
From the bottom of the ribs to the top of the pelvis, it’s an all-important supporting muscle, so working only the front with crunches won’t necessarily lead to good core strength.
On the slopes, the main area of concern related to the core – for skiers and boarders alike – is rotation. When you’re hitting those moguls, quick turns are a must! And if you fancy throwing a few 540s in the park, strong rotation helps with control and accuracy. Rotation of the lower back and pelvis is driven and controlled through your core. Now you can see how the core helps bring out the best in your riding!
A balanced reaction is a must
Balance and posture are also influenced by a strong core, and if you’ve hit the bumpier, afternoon slopes with any speed, you’ll know exactly how important balance is. Maintaining a good posture keeps your weight even and helps keep you upright and in control.
It is also a key area to support the lower back. The majority of the core abdominal muscles wrap around your stomach like a thick belt, helping to keep weight evenly spread, and holding your spine in the right position. Without help from these muscles, weight and the forces related to movement are directed through the spinal column alone, which can lead to fatigue and discomfort in this area – not what you need when your holiday is all about being active!
But it’s not all about strength
Without mobility through your spine and hips, all that strength isn’t going to reach its full potential.
But unfortunately, modern life is not suited to keeping your core strong. Desk jobs, travelling in cars and nice comfy sofas all help to weaken those important muscles by robbing you of proper posture, and relaxing the muscles involved.
Ski exercises to do at home
So what can you do? Well, the first thing is to look at mobility. When thinking of lower back and core mobility, it is also important to think about legs and hips, as they can influence each other, and restrictions in one area can affect the others.
The simple stretch
Targeting the major muscles of the legs and hips 4 to 5 times a week with suitable stretching exercises can increase flexibility noticeably. So, a good place to start is with these three simple stretches:
Stretch 1. Stand with a chair in front of you. Lift one foot onto the chair. Keep your toes pointing straight up, and with a very slight bend in the knee, lean forward from your hips and reach towards the raised foot. You should feel a good stretch in the back of your thigh. Repeat on both sides.
Stretch 2. Next, stand up straight and hold on to the chair with your right hand. Lift the left foot up behind you and try to pull it into your buttocks. Don’t worry if it won’t quite reach, just go as far as you can. Keep your knees together as you do it. You should feel a stretch into the front of your leg.
Stretch 3. Lastly, stand facing the chair with one foot on it. Turn your body and hips away from the raised foot, and you should feel a nice stretch in the inside of your thigh. Try and keep your feet in the same place, rather than turn them.
For each stretch keep your position static, or just gently increase the stretch if you feel it easing off.
Two key tips for getting the most out of your stretches: hold for at least 30 seconds, and don’t be tempted to ‘bounce’ during the stretch!
Time for a lie down
Stretching is often easier if you do it lying down, as this takes tension out of the muscles, and relaxes them before you start working on them.
Now you’ve loosened your legs, it’s time for the core and hips. This takes a bit of imagination – the muscles run in many different directions, and they all have to be involved!
Lying on your back, bring your knees up to your chest. Try to keep your legs relaxed and allow space to breath normally. Hold for about 30 seconds, or for 3-4 nice deep breaths. Repeat three or four times. This works through the lower back, stretching the deeper muscles.
The rotating stretch
Next, still lying down and with your knees bent, drop your legs out to one side to rotate through your hips and lower spine. Hold for about 30 seconds. These stretches will affect the larger core muscles. To hit the smaller ones, while standing try to slide your hand as far down the outside of your thigh as you can comfortably get. Hold for a few seconds before returning, and then try the other side.
Working those lateral fibres
To build strength, the muscles need to be engaged in a specific way to use all the fibres. Crunches – the most popular core exercise – won’t engage the side of the muscles enough, and that is where your hard-carving turns will come from!
To make sure all the muscles are used, this simple exercise can help you identify and focus on those important, lateral fibres.
Lie down with your knees bent and your feet flat on floor. You need to fit this exercise to your breathing, and not the other way around. Take a few deep breaths, and while breathing out, think about squeezing your stomach in towards your spine. Don’t let the muscles relax – keep them tight.
If you touch your waist, you should notice the muscles under your fingers are tight, and these are the ones we want to focus on. It may take some experimentation to get the right feeling for this so try 5-10 repetitions to start with. When the movement and rhythm are feeling natural, try for around 5 minutes at a time. Introduce this activation of the muscles to any core exercises you want to do.
Don’t forget your breathing
For most people, these muscles will be much weaker compared to the rest of the core. Using breathing during abdominal exercise is the first step to help engage these key muscles and improve your overall core strength.
A little extra help
Luckily, we also have a few more excellent exercises to help engage and tighten this area, although we don’t have space here to fully explain them all! At Mid Sussex Osteopaths, we look at muscle strength and joint mobility, to make sure you are in tip-top shape before you hit the mountains.
Using osteopathic principles and techniques to maximise flexibility and movement, coupled with an intimate understanding of exactly how your muscles and joints work, we will tailor an approach to you, finding what will help you get the most out of your holiday. I have 20 years of winter sports experience and ski exercises, so whether you have a week to go or are planning ahead a few months, we can help to get you mountain ready.