How to Enjoy an Injury-Free Ski Season
With winter just around the corner, how prepared are you to hit the slopes?
Skiing and snowboarding are both athletically demanding. As a Physiotherapist, I feel responsible for helping you to prepare you for your time on the slopes.
According to ACC statistics, skiing and snowboarding result in some of the most common sports-related injuries in New Zealand. Here are some of the numbers:
- Last year there were nearly 17,000 new ACC injury claims for skiing and snowboarding.
- We saw an 18% increase in injuries from the previous year, marking a new record in snow sports injuries with a total cost over $31 million!
- August is the busiest month of the season, and the time you’re most likely to be injured. There were almost 5,000 injuries recorded last year in August alone.
Prevent that niggle turning into an injury on the slopes.
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There are lots of practical ways to help minimise your chance of injury. Most importantly, you should ride to your limits or get a lesson if necessary. It’s equally important to take breaks, especially when you feel fatigue building and your legs start to tire.
Other ways to reduce the risk of injury include having the right safety gear. Helmets are essential but also consider wrist guards. The wrist is one of the most commonly injured body parts when taking a fall, especially among snowboarders.
Be sure to seek expert advice to ensure that your equipment is set up appropriately for you – especially your bindings. Failing to configure your bindings for your height, weight and ability could spell disaster the next time you wipe out or have a fall. If you do take a tumble and your bindings don’t release, you may hurt more than just your pride. No one wants to cut a ski holiday short for a trip to the emergency department.
It should come as no surprise that the knee is the most likely body part to be injured while skiing. There were 3,450 ACC claims for knee-related injuries last year alone. These numbers make a lot of sense when we consider the body position demanded by the sport, along with the extra load it places on your hips and knees when carving up the piste.
Optimising your body so that you stay injury-free will take a little time and preparation in advance. An excellent place to start is with the strengthening routine laid out below. This routine is for your core, hips and knees and should be performed three times per week in the 6-8 weeks before your next trip.
Here are five of the top exercises to get you ready:
Squats are one of the best value exercises for your time and effort when it comes to strengthening. They work your entire body from the torso down, particularly your glutes and quadriceps. Squats also replicate the body positions essential to skiing and snowboarding.
- Stand with both feet hip-width apart and facing forward.
- Slowly lower your body into a squat position (knees 90° if possible), while keeping your back straight and your knees roughly aligned with your second toes.
- Lean slightly forward, just like you were sitting in a chair, keeping your heels on the ground.
- Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to come back to standing.
- Repeat 15 reps, 3 times.
2. Squat Jumps
Take your squats up a notch with squat jumps to add even more cardiovascular benefits. The power needed to get lift-off and muscle control when you land will also help get your hips, knees and ankles more accustomed to higher impact and load. As a result, you will further strengthen the muscles in your hips, knees and ankles, while building greater resilience in your tendons and joints.
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart in a comfortable position.
- Bend your hips and knees down into a squat position then explosively jump up to a maximum height using your arms to assist.
- Land in the same starting position with soft knees then repeat until you start to feel the burn in your thighs.
- Rest for one minute and repeat 3 times.
3. Split Squat
Split squats will make your glutes, quadriceps and core muscles work much harder. This exercise is also a great way to develop better strength, coordination, control and balance on one leg.
- Elevate your back foot on a bench, box or chair.
- Bring the back knee toward the ground to initiate the movement and lower as much as you can without the lower back going in extension.
- Keep the torso upright at all times.
- Push through your heel and squeeze your glutes as you straighten your knee to come back to a standing position.
- Aim for 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each side. Take a 60-second break in between sets if you need it.
4. Cross-Over Step-Up
Here’s another exercise that packs significant value for helping you prepare for ski season. Cross-over step-ups is one of the best exercises in terms of maximising your time and effort. This exercise helps you to develop the muscles on the outside of your hip (gluteus medius) that help to control your knee when making turns. This one’s great for runners too!
- Step up on the box, crossing the opposite leg.
- Lean forwards slightly, then squeeze your thigh and glutes to straighten your knee and hip as you step up.
- To make it a little more challenging, aim to balance on one leg for 3 seconds at the top of the movement, before slowly stepping down and repeating.
- Aim to repeat 3 sets of 15 cross-over step-ups on each side. Weight is not required to begin with.
5. Side Plank
Side planks are great for working your glutes, obliques and other core muscles around your lower back and hips. These work overtime when you’re skiing or snowboarding, especially when you are turning or taking on more technical terrain.
- Lie on the side with the elbow positioned under the shoulder.
- Prop yourself on the elbow to go into a side plank position and hold, keeping the torso, hips and feet in a straight line.
- Hold for as long as you can but aim for 30 seconds. Swap sides and repeat.
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These strengthening exercises have the potential to significantly reduce your risk of injury when you’re on the slopes. However, a certain level of cardiovascular fitness and flexibility will also go a long way in helping you to make the most of your next trip up to the mountain.
Whether you’re walking, running, cycling, taking a yoga class or just keeping active with a cardio workout, anything that replicates the movement of skiing and keeps you flexible is a good thing. Not only will this help to reduce the chance of achy limbs the next day, you’ll also have more energy left over for the all-important après ski.
Alex Omerod is a Physiotherapist at Habit Health in Upper Hutt
Special thanks to Eleishah Hodson for demonstrating the exercises in this story. Eleishah is a Physiotherapist at our Habit Health & Fitness Club in Wellington.