Fitness and Injury Prevention for Skiers

Fitness and Injury Prevention for Skiers

The last summer holiday flights are only just touching down, but already the European ski season is getting ready to start. Snow is falling in the mountains, and there are hopes of a bumper season with excellent conditions. If you have a ski trip booked, or are thinking of booking one, it is also time to start preparing to make sure that you are fit enough to enjoy it.

With only a week on the slopes, and with the knowledge that it is an expensive holiday, most people want to make the absolute most of their ski trip. For those who can already ski, that means being in the lift queue as early as possible, and trying to cover as much ground as possible. For those who are learning, it means time in ski school and learning to deal with heavy boots, carrying skis and all the muscular demands of this new sport. Like all active holidays, there are big bonuses; not just the escape from the office and the wonderful scenery, but also being able to eat all that you want in the knowledge that you will burn it off. You should come home fitter and slimmer than when you left!

To make sure that this happens, preparation is vital to avoid injury. There is a small chance of a serious crash, but for most recreational skiers this can be managed with common sense, adherence to the ski ‘highway code’ and remembering that skiing drunk is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Skiers should be just as concerned with preventing less serious injuries, which can still wreck a holiday and possibly mean that there will be no more skiing.

With modern releasing bindings, correctly adjusted, the number of leg fractures caused by skiing has dramatically reduced. The biggest risk now is damage to the knee ligaments, usually caused by poor technique or a badly managed fall.  The human body did not evolve for skiing, and strain on the knees is part of the sport – but there are ways to reduce the damage. Here are some hints.

·         Always warm up before skiing – get the blood flowing to the leg muscles. Remember to warm up again after any long stops or long lift rides, and do some gentle stretches at the end of the day.

·         Make sure that boots and bindings are correctly fitted and adjusted

·         Wear the right clothing – layers ensure that you stay warm, but not overheated. It can be surprisingly warm in Alpine sunshine, and if you get too sweaty you risk becoming chilled later. Cold muscles and ligaments are vulnerable.

·         Know your limits – the ‘just one more’ run is the one that may well cause the injury that will end your skiing for the week. Learn to recognise when your body has had enough.

·         Similarly, don’t give in to peer pressure to ski beyond your ability. Study the piste map and make sure that there is a way down that is within your limits. The time to push yourself to improve is not at the end of a long day with the light going and the ski patrol behind you.

The most important thing that you can do to protect yourself from injury is to be fit enough to cope! A ski fitness programme should be started three months before your holiday, and longer if you are not used to exercise. Most gyms offer ski fitness classes, which will build up your cardiovascular fitness and concentrate on the particular muscle groups that will be working hard during your holiday. As always, any kind of movement is good to build up your endurance, but there are some exercises that will be especially good for skiers. These include the following – as always, if you are new to fitness or have health concerns, check with your doctor first.

·         Cycling: great for aerobic training and leg muscles. Wrap up warm and make sure you are visible on the road.

·         Ice skating or rollerblading; these sports work the muscles in a similar way to skiing. Look out for the temporary ice rinks that appear in some wonderful places in the UK as Christmas approaches!

·         Leg stretches and lifts; can be done any time you have a spare few minutes, and doesn’t need any equipment. Flexibility is very important to reduce the chance of injury in the inevitable fall, so take some advice on stretching without damage.

·         The old favourite (if sometimes controversial) ‘ski sit’ – back against a wall, feet parallel, football between the knees and slide down on to an invisible chair.  Keep those lower legs vertical!

Even if you don’t normally visit a gym or leisure centre, doing so to attend some ski fitness classes will pay off for your holiday.  Take every opportunity to get moving before your trip, eat healthily to help your body get in peak condition, and most importantly – enjoy your skiing!

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