It’s a chilly morning on the hill, and I’m looking down Stein’s Way from the top of the Sultan lift at Deer Valley. This run is a good challenge because it usually hosts pretty hard snow and is quite narrow. There is a fog bank over the Jordanelle Reservoir below, and the view of the Uinta mountains to the east is killer with all the sunshine! I’m not warmed up yet having just got off the lift and skated over to this area. The cold morning air is making me feel tight, and I should have stretched more before heading up the lift. And dropping, it doesn’t feel good. Good ski posture requires a tensioned core and straight back. When turning your hips, you must pivot laterally while your core stays upright. This angulation is important when driving your ski and arcing a turn. But do it a few thousand times during a day of skiing and it can cause a lot of tightness in the various muscles around your hips and lower back. And tightness can lead to pain and inflammation! It’s important for skiers of all abilities and styles to maintain good hip flexibility for technique, power, and pain relief.
Now let’s start off with what I’m not: a doctor or a physical therapist. This article is not meant to be an answer but more a personal testimony of what I have found works after a lifetime of skiing. I’m in my mid-thirties and in pretty good shape, but every winter that goes by I definitely feel a little more stiff after a long day (or even an hour for that matter) on the hill. Since every human being is physiologically different from the next, some of these techniques may not work for you. If you’re in pain, go see a doctor or PT to address your needs.
Strong workouts that target all of the major muscle groups in the legs are very important. Eccentric workouts focus on targeting muscles as they are extending. Squats and lunges or variations of both are examples of eccentric movement. This is good for skiing as it allows you to absorb energy better and reduce the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles over a day of carving. Below is an example of a circuit that I do in the fall to prep for ski season. There are harder versions of this workout—but, due to injuries, I’ve found that by doing less reps and additional bodyweight movements, like pushups, I have less fatigue in my knees while still getting a good workout.
- 10 air squats
- 12 lunges
- 10 jumping lunges
- 5 jump squats
- Repeat 3 times (as the days get shorter I add in up to two more circuits to make it 5)
- In between leg exercises I add in pushups and other movements for a more full-body workout
Eccentric movement makes you miserably sore. And if you take a week or two off, it makes you almost as miserably sore to start again. I’ve found that doing a half or even a quarter workout three times a week is a better place to start, and then I build up to the full workout. But believe me when I say that recovering from your first few days of this workout sucks. Once you’re there though, the effects are almost immediately felt on snow. I start the season stronger and don’t have any of that pre-season burn that’s associated with your first few days back on skis.
I like this workout too as it hits all the major muscle groups around the legs. And when done properly with a tensioned core and straight back, you are working all the muscle groups used when skiing. Strength is key for hip flexibility and this is only one way to achieve it. Work with a trainer or PT to find the best way to build eccentric strength for skiing.
Alright now that we have the form and the leg strength for skiing—now we need the stretches to help us maintain flexibility. I personally do a set of four stretches to release tension in my hips and my back in addition to other ‘standard’ stretches like a quad stretch. I hold these stretches for 20 to 30 seconds each, and I may repeat this as a circuit twice depending on how tight I feel.
- Toe Touch: Yep this sounds basic, but bend your knees a little bit and reach down to touch your toes. This targets your back, hamstrings, and glutes. Personally, I love this stretch and have never found a bad time to do it.
- Cross Legged Toe Touches: Just like above but with one leg crossed over the other, this stretch targets your IT bands. These pesky tendons are known to get quite tight after a day of skiing and this stretch targets them very effectively. With your left leg across your right leg, you’ll target your right IT band and vice versa. I’ve found this one instrumental in contributing to my ski performance as it relieves a ton of tension in my hips and their lateral movement.
- Low Lunge: Lower yourself into a lunge position with your forward knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Your rear knee should be behind your butt. This stretch targets the hip flexor at the top of your leg.
- 90/90 Stretch: This one is my favorite and I never miss it. It targets a ton of hip and lower back muscles and even towards the knee. I couldn’t explain how to do this stretch myself so I found a great tutorial in an article from Healthline. Their steps are listed below:
- Sit on the floor and bend one leg in front of your body with your hip rotated out. Position it so your lower leg and knee are resting on the ground. Your leg should form a 90 degree angle, and your ankle should be neutral so your foot is pointing straight.
- Position your other leg beside you with your hip rotated inward and your shin and ankle on the ground. Bend your knee so your leg forms a 90 degree angle. Your back knee should be in line with your hip, and your ankle should be neutral.
- Try to keep your back straight, and resist the urge to bend to one side. Think about sitting into both hips equally and easing the lifted hip straight down toward the ground.
Put it All Together
Ok, that’s my strength and stretching routine. For me, it’s simple and doesn’t take more than 30 minutes. I try to leg blast and stretch two to four times per week. I pepper in other workouts like mountain biking or hiking in the fall as well. By combining strength and stretching, I maintain my flexibility.
And what does this mean for you? Well I’m not entirely sure because I don’t know you or your ability as a skier. I would recommend before embarking on any sort of fitness regimen to consult with a physician or PT to find a circuit that works for you. And as for that cold morning run on Stein’s Way, I felt a lot better by the time I got down, but it took some quick stretching back at Sultan to loosen up for the rest of the day.
By Paul Boyle, Ecommerce Manager, jans.com