Helping others increase fitness for winter sports is the lion's share of my job.
My email inbox is often bombarded with messages asking what the best exercises for skiing/snowboarding are, as well as the most effective means to staying injury free. Implementing effective means of training is essential to success, whether I am assisting an Olympic athlete or weekend warrior.
Here's why skiers and snowboarders need to strength train.
Demands of the Mountain
When writing a program for an athlete or client, I first analyze the demands of their sport. The needs of a competitive 16-year-old female alpine skier will vary greatly in comparison to those of a 40-year-old male who snowboards recreationally on the weekends. That being said, both individuals will require absorption and transfer of large eccentric and isometric forces on the hill. This means that mobility, stability, strength and transfer of force are top priorities.
Although programming will vary greatly between individuals, the first and perhaps most important area to address is mobility. A great deal of dorsiflexion is needed throughout each turn and movement for skiers/snowboarders, thus the ankles should consistently be tended to.
The Banded Ankle Dorsiflexion exercise, as demonstrated here, trains the ankle movement required to flex and apply major force through the ski or snowboard boot:
Additionally, the knees, hips, shoulders and thoracic spine must all have adequate mobility to ensure proper body alignment for each turn or jump taken. A Thoracic Rotation Exercise can combat the repetitive internal rotation found in alpine skiing:
Next, stability throughout the "core" is absolutely essential. I put "core" in quotations because there is a lot of confusion about how to properly train this area, or what even comprises the "core."
The core provides stabilization and transfer of force, and in my opinion, encompasses nearly everything from the shoulders to the glutes.
Directly related to skiing, a strong core or high level of core stability aids in the upper-lower body separation needed to execute precision turns. Adding movements such as Paloff Presses, Bear Crawls, Turkish Get-Ups and Loaded Carries will assist in improving core strength and stability.
Above is an example of a Turkish Get-Up, a full-body exercise challenging stabilization and mobility of the shoulder, hips and core.
Moving on from mobility and stability, strength is of absolute importance when it comes to performance on the hill. Specifically, unilateral strength and antagonist strength of the muscles most utilized while skiing or snowboarding. Bending the ski to make a sharp turn requires loading a large force on one side of the body at a time. Training modalities should be aimed at strengthening the body in a similar fashion and destroy any asymmetries that may exist.
The Single-Leg RDL is a fantastic exercise to challenge and build unilateral leg strength and stability:
Strengthening the posterior chain is another priority, as most ski and snowboard movements heavily load the anterior portion of the body. Strengthening the glutes, hamstrings and lower back will aid in injury reduction. Glute Ham Raises, Reverse Hyper Extensions, Nordic Hamstring Curls, Deadlifts and Barbell Hip Thrusts are all examples of exercises to add to your program for increased posterior chain strength.
The Glute Ham Raise, displayed below, is a fantastic way to strengthen the posterior chain and bulletproof the glutes/hamstrings:
Lastly, training for winter sports should include movements throughout various planes of motion. A common error I see is programs that only work through the sagittal plane, meaning the program includes very little side-to-side or twisting movements.
Winter sport athletes don't just move perfectly forward and back or up and down. Effective programming must include movement through the frontal, sagittal and transverse plane. The Singe-Leg Med Ball Rotational Toss challenges single-leg stability while developing power through multiple planes of motion:
Winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are extremely unique. Thus, they require a blend of both unique and conventional strength training modalities. Give some of these exercises an honest shot and watch your performance on the hill increase substantially!
Photo Credit: miodrag ignjatovic/iStock