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I get it, I’ve been there. You’re on your dream ski vacation, you sleep in a little knowing the lifts don’t spin until 9 AM, enjoy coffee and breakfast, maybe a hot tub and a quick stretch or two before you step into your boots for a day on slopes. But how many of us do a proper warm-up? You probably wouldn’t consider engaging in a hard gym workout or difficult climb without some sort of movement. Why would you expect your body to perform from a cold start on the ski hill?
Skiing requires an interesting combination of static and dynamic strength. If your ski boots aren’t dialed in to the correct angles, you’re also dealing with a less-than-ideal structural stance. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, your muscles face a high-demand day. Asking my body to perform well and prevent injury is a gamble I’m unwilling to take.
Before we get into the actual warm-up, I want to quickly discuss the difference between flexibility and mobility. In physical training we define flexibility as the ability of a muscle to lengthen passively to the end of its range of motion. It’s easy to think that this is what we do when we stretch. But muscles do their work in contraction. So take the next step and focus on mobility, defined as the ability of a joint to move actively through its range of motion. This implies that the muscles on both sides of the limb are alternately lengthened passively and shortened dynamically. Being flexible is great, but over lengthening muscles can be problematic. Now we’re focused on full movements rather than isolated muscles – nothing we do in life asks our muscles to work in isolation. We also focus on moving through the full range of motion with stability and strength, limiting the vulnerable positions we may find ourselves in while skiing. Yoga, Pilates, and functional durability practices are the answer here. That doesn’t mean go to yoga once or twice before ski week. Make one of these practices part of your lifestyle, a long-term investment in your functional health and performance.
Most of us think quads when we think about the primary muscle involved in skiing, but this is due to how easily we “cheat” and force our quads to compensate for weak, tight, or inactive glutes and hamstrings. Additionally, core strength is critical to balance and posture (I define core as all the muscles groups of the abdomen and back that provide the stable platform for your extremities to perform). Lastly, don’t neglect the shoulders! One misguided pole plant with your arm extended can lead to devastating injury to the small muscles of the rotator cuff, labrum and bicep.
So how do you get all of the parts moving, warmed up and ready to go without compromising your spot in the lift line for those coveted first tracks?
I’ve developed, or borrowed from other coaches, a variety of what I call hotel room workouts – things I can do in a hotel room with limited or no gear, not get myself kicked out for making too much noise, and not damaging anything in the room. From that library, I’ve pulled together a quick series of bodyweight movements that should take no more than 15 minutes and leave you ready to put boots on and be out the door ready for your day.
Now grab your yoga mat (a hotel bath towel works too) or just grit it out on the floor. We will perform things in a sequence borrowed from yoga and the gym. Start with movements designed to stretch and open the body, and finish with a few things to get the heart rate up a bit and some blood flowing to the legs.
Article by Jake Hutchinson
This article was written for the Wagner Journal by Jake Hutchinson. Jake has spent more than 25 years working as an avalanche professional. He is currently a lead instructor for the American Avalanche Institute, an avalanche dog handler and trainer and an avalanche safety consultant to the resort and rescue communities. Off the snow, Hutchinson is a Certified Instructor and former Head of Instructor and Seminar Development for Gym Jones in Salt Lake City. He is currently involved in private personal training with an emphasis on high level functional fitness for mountain and military athletes.
Photo: Lisa Boshard, Gym Jones LLC.