As with any sport, the fitter you are, the more fun you’ll have. You’ll also perform better, improve faster, and reduce your risk of injury. Obviously, the best way to train for anything is by doing it. Unfortunately, slowly building up our fitness on the slopes isn’t usually an option for South Africans. We need to maximize every minute of our precious ski time! Here’s how to get fit for your ski holiday so you get the most out of it.
If you’ve done absolutely nothing all year but walk from your desk to the coffee machine, your body’s going to take serious strain when you try to ski every day for a week. Likewise, if you embark on an intensive last-minute get-fit regime, you’ll end up sore, stiff, and demotivated. Don’t leave it too late, and give yourself enough time for a gradual increase in activity. Most experts recommend a minimum of six weeks of pre-ski training to get in shape, but eight to 12 weeks is better. Ideally, you should exercise for about an hour three times a week, so build training time in to your schedule as soon as you book your ski trip.
Tailor your workout
Even if you’ve got a good basic level of fitness, doing ski-specific training is important. Skiing and snowboarding use different muscles to the kind of exercises we normally do, like running and cycling. For example, although cycling strengthens your quads, it doesn’t work them sideways the way you use them on skis or a snowboard. Skiing and snowboarding also use much larger ranges of motion than most other activities.
Strengthen your thighs
Your thigh muscles usually work the hardest when you ski or snowboard, as they have to hold you in position and protect your knees. If your thighs aren’t rock solid before you start, you’ll be ready to cry after your first day skiing. Squats are one of the best quad exercises around. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and push your hips back as you bend your knees until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Stand up and repeat. To make it harder, hold weights in your hands or do jump squats.
Lateral jumps will help to strengthen your outer thighs, which are going to be working like crazy to keep your body stable and help you steer. Stand next to a bench, and jump over it with your feet together. Keep your jumps as quick and light as possible. If this is too tricky, try jumping sideways onto and off a step. Start with a low step and gradually make it higher.
Take care of your core
Because you’re in a flexed, bent over position, your core – which includes your abs, waist and lower back muscles – has to work extra hard on the snow. A strong core will support your spine and protect it from injury. Planking is a great core strengthener. Do a push up and keep your hips raised to shoulder height for 30 to 60 seconds. (Remember to breathe!) Side planks will also help build up your waist muscles. Turn sideways from plank position onto one hand, keeping your feet stacked and your hips in line, and hold for 30 seconds before changing sides.
Be more balanced
Clearly you need to have good balance to spend all day on a slippery slope without falling over. A simple way to improve your stability is by practicing tree pose every chance you get. Standing on one leg, press the sole of the other foot firmly against your calf or thigh, turning the lifted knee out sideways. Aim to remain in this position for at least 30 seconds before switching legs. Once you get good at this, try closing your eyes, or standing on a cushion to make it more difficult.
Loosen up your hamstrings
Flexible hamstrings are crucial for skiing and snowboarding and can prevent the common calamity of an ACL injury. Doing seated forward bends will stretch your hamstrings, but a dynamic stretch can be more effective. Try doing toy soldiers: Standing with one arm stretched out at shoulder height, kick the opposite leg up without bending your knee and touch your hand with your foot. Repeat with the other leg and arm.
Cardio is king
Lastly, don’t forget good old cardio. Most ski resorts are at high altitude, which makes everything feel like much more effort. Improving your cardio fitness by running or going for some spin classes will help counteract this.
Last minute ski fitness hacks
Even if you’ve only got a week or two left before your ski holiday, any preparation is better than none. If you seriously have no spare time to train, try these three hacks:
1. Squat against a wall while watching TV or reading. Press your back flat against the wall, lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your feet directly below your knees. Hold for as long as possible.
2. Strengthen glutes and quads by taking the stairs whenever you can – two at a time. And when you walk downstairs, do it two at a time as well, taking care to do so in a controlled way.
3. Work on your balance while you brush your teeth by standing on one leg and closing your eyes. Stay near the basin so you can grab it if you start to fall over.
Once you hit the slopes
After all your training, don’t forget to warm up before you ski. Activate your muscles when you climb off the ski lift by jogging on the spot, doing a few squats and a couple of stretches. Then, after a session on the slopes, warm down with 10 or 15 minutes of long stretches and enjoy a lovely soak in a hot tub.