Getting Fit for your Skiing Holiday
We are all aware how expensive skiing holidays can be. By the time you have paid for the basics such as accommodation, flights, equipment, and the unavoidable extras such as lift passes and insurance, your bank balance can be left looking rather unhealthy. Furthermore, a week or two on the slopes is a precious but all too short break from the long and depressing British winter. It is a time to spend with good friends and family and provides you with a great way to cast aside the daily worries that can plague you in the workplace and at home.
For these reasons and more, imagine how heartbreaking it must be for this experience to be ruined on just the first day. For many British skiers every year, this nightmare becomes a reality. Horror stories of skiers injuring themselves almost as soon as they step foot on the slopes are unfortunately all too common. Even if the injury is not a serious one that requires immediate medical attention, less severe injuries such as a pulled muscle can leave you unable to move and even stiff muscles in your legs can keep you off the slopes for at least a couple of days.
However, the good news is that there are ways of reducing the risk of injury. The obvious advice applies: do not take unnecessary risks whilst on the slopes and do not push yourself too hard. However, if you are serious about reducing your chances of getting injured, the hard work needs to begin several weeks, and even months, prior to your arrival at your ski resort.
There are three main areas that you need to work upon gradually.
- Firstly, you should work on improving your cardiovascular fitness and general health.
- Secondly, you should focus upon building up the muscles you use most whilst skiing
- Thirdly, you should work to improve your flexibility and balance.
After all, you wouldn’t leave the country without checking the condition of your skis, boots, and poles, so you should not even consider hitting the slopes before you have fine-tuned your own body.
Improving your cardiovascular fitness
Your heart and lungs need to be in peak condition if you are to get the most out of your skiing holiday. Working on your cardiovascular fitness will ensure that you have enough stamina to last you an entire day on the slopes. Many skiers end up injuring themselves as they become more and more tired. Fatigue makes skiers (and indeed all sportsmen and women) careless.
Skiers who are not as fit as they perhaps should be, may feel mentally strong enough to tackle the slopes one last time late in the afternoon. However, their bodies are simply not fit enough to cope with this extra expenditure of energy. This inability to match mental and physical capabilities can prove disastrous on the slopes.
In order to get the most out of your exercise, you should aim to start any regime approximately six weeks prior to your departure.
In and around the home
There are many things that you can do around the house to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Try, as often as you can, to perform activities in such a way that will leave you slightly out of breath. For example, walk up the stairs as quickly as you can without running the risk of injury. Always be mindful of your body, even when you are performing the most mundane of tasks. Jog on the spot whilst waiting for your potatoes to boil and walk quickly (but safely) on the spot whilst doing the ironing or the washing-up. You might feel rather foolish and doubt that this could make much of a difference but, perform these movements regularly throughout the day and you will soon notice a real improvement in your overall fitness.
If you have a spare ten or fifteen minutes during your day, take a brisk walk around your local area or step up and then down on your lowest stair repeatedly for as long as you can. The most efficient way to improve your aerobic fitness is by exercising for a relatively long period of time at a pace that is manageable for you. It is no good walking so fast that you have to stop after two minutes. Ideally, at the start of your exercise regime, you should try to run (or walk at a fast pace) or cycle for approximately twenty minutes three times a week. As the weeks progress and you notice a change in your fitness and stamina levels, you can increase the intensity of your exercise.
When you leave the house, take every opportunity to exercise. Walk, rather than drive, to the shops. Carrying back a few bags of heavy food shopping will work wonders for your heart and lungs. Always walk up stairs rather than taking the lift and on escalators, carefully walk up rather than choosing to stand still.
In the gym
If you have access to a gym or fitness centre, there is plenty you can do to improve your cardiovascular fitness. The usual machines such as the rowing machine and the running machine, will allow you to accurately time your initial twenty minute target. However, the gym is also good for helping you prepare your body for anaerobic sport. Whilst skiing, you will generally be working so hard that you need more oxygen than you can inhale. Your body will then be able to rest whilst you sit in the cable car or on the drag lift before you set off on the slopes once again.
The best way to prepare for this kind of activity is with interval training. This involves short bursts of activity followed by a short resting period with this routine being repeated for as long as you can manage. One machine that you will find in the gym which is particularly good for interval training is the cross-trainer. On this piece of equipment, you can manually change the effort level required whilst you are exercising. Set yourself a very difficult effort level for two minutes and follow this with a resting period (during which time the effort level should be very easy) for one minute. Repeat this routine for ten minutes and you will soon reap the rewards.
Many fitness clubs offer special ‘ski fit’ classes during the build-up to the ski season. These are often run by personal trainers who have some previous experience as ski instructors so they are certainly worth attending. During the sessions, you will be shown exercises designed specifically to improve your cardiovascular fitness in preparation for a hard week on the slopes.
Alternatively, most fitness clubs offer a ‘circuits’ class throughout the year. This class is great for interval training. The studio, or large hall, at the gym will often be split into different sections, or ‘stations’, which offer various activities. For example, one section will require you to jog quickly on the spot whilst the next will see you using a skipping rope. The next station may allow you to take out your frustration on a punch bag. Generally, you will spend about two minutes working as hard as you can at each station and you will be given a short break whilst moving between each section.
Classes usually last for about an hour but can be as long as two hours. They are very demanding but if you really want to improve your fitness in preparation for your precious time on the slopes, there is no better option.
Building up your ski-specific muscles
To help you ski to the best of your ability and for as long as possible, you will need to work on building your ski-specific muscles. Important muscles that need to be in peak condition when you hit the slopes include your quadriceps, calves, and gluteus maximus. However, your body’s core (which consists of your stomach, back, and sides) also needs to be as strong as possible, to ensure a good range of movement.
In and around the home
For those of you who do not have access to a gym, you are in luck. Many exercises that will work wonders for your ski-specific muscles can be done at home. Hamstring curls are one such example. Lie on your front and gradually pull your heels up until they touch your buttocks. This exercise will help to strengthen the back of the leg and, crucially, it will reduce the chances of you suffering a knee injury (one of the most painful and irritating injuries a skier can experience).
Squats are a great way of strengthening the muscles in your legs and buttocks. Simple squats can be done whilst you watch television in the evening. Start in a standing position and slowly crouch down, keeping your back straight and allowing your knees to form a right angle before standing up straight again. To make sure you are doing this exercise properly, always ensure that you can see your toes, even when you are crouching. During a simple squat, your knees should never go beyond the line of your toes. Try to do 20 squats before taking a break and repeat this regime a total of five times per day.
Incorporate lunges into your exercise regime as soon as possible. Once again, they can be done in front of the television or when you have a spare five minutes whilst cooking dinner in the kitchen. Stand with your feet together before stepping forward with your right leg. Bend down so that your right leg forms an accurate right angle and allow your back knee to drop almost to the floor (but do not let it actually touch the floor). Return to a standing position with your feet together and repeat the action with your left leg. After 20 lunges, have a short rest. Then, repeat the regime four more times.
Improving the strength of your core whilst at home is easy. Start with some simple sit-ups. Many people think that they are experts at performing sit-ups but they may actually be doing their bodies more harm than good. Lie on your back on the floor, keeping your feet flat and your knees bent at a comfortable angle. Position your hands on either side of your forehead. Do not place your hands behind your neck and try to yank your neck up and down whilst performing the exercise. This will only give you a sore neck the next day.
To perform a sit-up properly, use your abdominal muscles to move your body upwards, so that your elbows can touch your knees. Lower your body gradually back down to the floor and repeat the movement 20 times before taking a rest. To help you keep your neck straight and ease any tension, try keeping your eyes focussed on a particular part of the ceiling throughout the exercise. Focus on keeping your abdominal muscles contracted throughout the entire movement.
To really push your core to its limits, lie flat on your back on the floor, keeping your feet flat and your knees comfortably bent. Before you move your legs or any part of your body, imagine that you are trying to put on a pair of jeans that are a size too small for you. Try to replicate the movement of pulling in your stomach as you desperately try to do up the zip. Keep your stomach pulled in tightly in this way whilst slowly extending one leg at a time. Whilst moving your leg, keep your foot a couple of inches off the ground and repeat this action 20 times before resting. You should really feel this exercise working both your stomach and your sides.
When it comes to building the important muscles located in your lower back, the plank is a very effective exercise. This exercise will also strengthen your abdominal muscles so it is a great one to incorporate into your exercise regime. Lie face down on the floor before raising yourself up on to your elbows and forearms. Keep your elbows directly in line with your shoulders at all times. Lift your body on to your arms and toes, ensuring that your shoulders, buttocks, and heels are kept in a straight line.
Keep looking down at the ground. If you try to look up during the exercise, you will only succeed in straining the muscles in your neck. Hold this position for as long as you can. Initially you should aim to stay in the plank position for approximately 30 seconds but you can extend this time as the weeks progress. Make sure that your abdominal muscles are tightly pulled in throughout this exercise. Once again, it may be useful for you to imagine zipping up a pair of jeans that are too small for you.
In the gym
As well as having numerous cardiovascular machines, gyms and fitness centres offer plenty of machines designed to help you build your ski-specific muscles. The leg press is a good example. This machine targets muscles including your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and gluteus maximus. Whilst preparing for a skiing holiday, you specifically need to build up strength endurance without focussing upon increasing your strength for the sake of it. As such, only ever work at 70% of your maximum. Do not make the machine’s load too heavy as this will prove detrimental to your overall targets. Do approximately 20 repetitions on the leg press before moving on to the next machine.
Whilst in the gym, remember to avoid the knee curl machine. You do not want to place strain on your knees prior to your departure. For more advice on which machines to use and which ones to avoid, ask a member of staff.
Improving your flexibility and balance
If there is one sport which requires good flexibility and balance, it is skiing. Flexibility and balance are fundamental features inherent in the skiing movement as you progress down the slope. The more flexible you are, the safer you will be whilst on the ski runs. Flexibility basically refers to the ability of your muscle-connective tissues to extend without compressing your joints and potentially causing real damage. The tendons and ligaments that surround your joints need to be strong and flexible if you wish to avoid injuries whilst skiing.
In and around the home
Many exercises that are great for improving both your flexibility and balance can be done in the comfort of your own living room. The one-leg-squat-and-reach exercise helps you to improve your balance and promotes flexibility at the same time. Furthermore, it will build your abdominal and gluteal muscles. Firstly, place an object (it does not matter whether this object is a medicine ball or a can of baked beans) on the floor approximately 3 feet in front of you and slightly to the left of where your left foot is positioned.
Balance on this foot, keeping your right foot raised. Gradually bend your left knee, lowering your body as you do so. Extend your right hand and try to touch the object on the floor. To help you stay balanced, try extending your right leg. Make sure that your left knee always stays over your left foot. Once you have managed to touch the object, pause for a few seconds before returning to your starting position. Repeat this exercise approximately 10 times before taking a rest. Try to complete this regime a total of 4 times per day.
In the gym
Most gyms have a large, open area that comes complete with exercise mats and various pieces of equipment such as exercise bands. These bands are great for improving your balance and the strength of your core. Stand on your left leg and gently bend your knee. The aim of the exercise is to grip the band with your right hand, ensuring that your elbow is fully extended. Pull the band quickly towards you in a downward direction, maintaining control throughout the movement. Repeat this exercise 20 times before changing legs. Repeat this regime 4 times overall.
Another piece of equipment that you can often find in the gym is the wobble board which can be used to enhance your physical balance. It is also great for improving your reflexes. There are numerous exercises that can be carried out whilst standing on a wobble board. The most common exercise is simply standing on the board and moving back and forth without allowing the sides to touch the ground. However, as the weeks progress and you start to notice real improvements in both your flexibility and balance, you can try to incorporate exercises with weights.
Most gyms and fitness centres offer Pilates classes. This type of exercise can dramatically improve both your balance and your flexibility. It also increases the coordination and strength of the abdominal muscles and helps protect the muscles in the back against wear and tear. The classes focus upon flowing, natural movements that allow your muscles to lengthen, improving flexibility. Being forced to move slowly will also demand you to focus upon your balance.
If you follow these useful tips and work hard on improving your cardiovascular fitness, building your ski-specific muscles, and ensuring that you have great balance and flexibility, you will give yourself the best chance of avoiding injury whilst on the slopes. Furthermore, if you are unlucky enough to suffer an injury, you will be able to recover far more quickly than a skier who has not put in the hard work prior to leaving the UK.