One way I cope with February is to plan an annual trip up north for skiing. This time, I had a moment of doubt as I recalled day two of last year’s trip, when my quads were so sore I had trouble getting down the stairs at the motel. Once-a-year ski trips leave us Cape Codders at risk of injury, too. But since I believe that exercise is the solution for just about every problem, I pushed past the hesitation and started researching workouts for skiing.
Skiing has a specialized set of physical requirements. I knew a good program could help me tune up, but ideally a sport-specific training regimen would start eight weeks before the season. Still, I did find ways to ease into my trip quickly. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only last-minute type headed for snow.
The keys to skiing fitness are mobility, leg strength, and balance. It’s possible to make some gains on these in one or two weeks by focusing on exercises that change the efficiency and coordination of muscle contractions. This translates into feeling better on the slopes and going longer before heading to the lodge for après-ski beers.
Brushing up on balance is crucial, too, for being ready to negotiate irregular terrain and staying upright on snow and ice.
Here are my top picks for the eleventh-hour tune-up that will help you get the most out of each day of skiing:
Wall sit: (For your quads.) Lean your back against the wall, with your feet 12-18 inches away from it. Slide down into a sitting position, thighs parallel to the floor. Start with 2 reps, “sitting” for 30-45 seconds, and gradually increase to 2 minutes for each repetition.
Single leg deadlift: (For hamstrings, glutes, and balance.) Balance on one leg, with the other leg extended behind you, toes on the ground. Now keep your back straight as you lower your chest and raise the back leg, then return to starting position. Just like a “drinking bird” toy. Do 2-3 sets of 12 reps on each side.
The clock drill: (Improves balance.) Stand on one leg, with knee slightly bent. Imagine you’re at the center of a clock and reach your free leg forward to tap your toes at 12 o’clock. Now move to 3 o’clock, tap, then 6 o’clock, and around towards 9 o’clock. Then back to starting position. Do 3 reps, then switch to the other side.
There is one more thing I think is worth adding to your pre-ski routine. It requires buying a simple piece of gear — a foam roller. Rolling up and down along the muscles and the surrounding connective tissues improves myofascial mobility, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a great way to warm up and increase flexibility.
Here’s how to do it: sitting on a mat with your legs out in front of you, support yourself on your hands and place both legs on the roll. Shift forward and back to move the roller along your calves, then hamstrings, quads, and glutes, 5-10 times for each muscle group. Stay on muscles; don’t roll bony areas. This will be uncomfortable in the same way as a deep massage but shouldn’t be excruciating.
If you have questions about your ability to exercise, consult your health care provider before starting a new routine.