Throughout the off-season, it’s hugely common for even the most skilled skiers to forget just how challenging a day or two, or a week at the mountain is on the body.
While skiing, we rely on a number of muscle groups that don’t necessarily get the same level of attention day-to-day.
So to help you get ready to step into those boots feeling fit and confident, we’ve pulled together a series of some of the best exercises to incorporate into your pre-season ski workout.
Why is establishing a pre-season ski workout routine so important?
All six exercises included in this routine are aimed at improving your skiing by targeting various muscle groups in different ways. Some focus on muscle endurance; others work on strength and stability, and some are designed to train your proprioceptive system (we’ll explain what that one is in a minute).
By performing a combination of classic exercises alongside exercises that simulate the action of skiing, you'll improve your overall performance on the mountain.
You can practice these ski exercises one at a time or combine them to make a circuit. Performing the routine as a circuit will increase the cardiovascular intensity while performing one at a time will focus the intensity on the particular muscle groups activated in that exercise, building strength.
Ski exercise no. 1 – the wall hold
This exercise focuses on strengthening muscles associated with skiing and increasing their endurance. And the best thing is, all you need is a wall to start training.
When you’re skiing you spend a great deal of time in a quarter or half squat position generating a lot of power from side to side to control your momentum making turns on the slope.
The wall hold targets your quads, strengthens your hips and the stabilising muscles in your hips and core as well to help control your turns and maintain balance. Your larger leg muscles (quads and glutes) act like shock absorbers as you ski down the mountain, taking the hits and generating power into each turn.
The wall hold is a great way to test your leg muscle endurance and build up strength and stability.
Muscle groups worked: you’re going to feel the burn in your quads after a few seconds, but also your glutes (gluteus maximus and medius), and core (transverse abdominis, obliques, quadratus lumborum) are working to maintain stability and good posture throughout the duration of the exercise.
Sit down with the wall supporting your back, feet hip-width distance apart.
Make sure that your ankles, knees, and hips are all at 90-degree angles, and your spine is in a neutral position. If you were to stand up straight your spine should be in the same position as it currently is supported against the wall.
Keep the back of your head touching the wall creating a line between your ears shoulders and hips.
Wall hold variations
If it’s too hard to get into a 90-degree position at your hips you can sit up higher. Just make sure you maintain that right angle at your ankles and keep your back in the neutral position with your head against the wall.
To make the wall hold more difficult, simply hold the exercise for longer — you should never drop past 90 degrees at your hips and knees.
Start by aiming for 30 seconds and work your way up to 60 – 90-second intervals. When you can confidently hold for 90 seconds, consider the one-legged approach or add this exercise to your circuit to get the heart pumping.
Common mistakes people make performing this exercise
Positioning feet too far forward or too far back. This puts pressure on your knees, your hips and lower back.
Rounding at the shoulders.
Collapsing at the core, compensating with other muscles.
Letting the head fall forward.
To make it even more difficult, you can also do this exercise on one leg, however you need to make sure that you are not adjusting the position of your back, hips, or knee. If you cannot maintain good technique, stick to the basic version of the exercise.
Ski exercise no. 2 – side step-ups
When you’re skiing, a great deal of force is directed laterally from side to side as you make turns on the snow.
Rather than doing a simple step-up, we’re going to step-up to the side to try and simulate that action, engaging the muscle groups that we use while making turns on the mountain.
Muscle groups worked: we're working similar muscles to the wall hold – your quads, gluteus maximus, and core – and your calves are activated as you lift and lower as well. You gluteus medius is stabilising through your hips, while your core keeps you upright, supporting your back. This exercise is also good for improving proprioception through your ankle as well.
What the … is proprioception?
Sometimes referred to as the human body’s sixth sense (that’s right Haley Joel Osment, you’re not alone), proprioception can be thought of as your physical awareness in space. It’s what enables your muscles to make quick adjustments without having to think about it first and without visually confirming that your movement is accurate within the space around you.
Put simply, improving your proprioception is going to make your lines cleaner and your reactions quicker.
How high should the step be?
You want to try and choose an object that is comfortable to begin with. It doesn’t have to be a park bench, it could be a step on your staircase at home; the higher the step is, the more challenging this exercise will be.
You want the exercise to be challenging, but you never want to compromise form. So if the step is so high that your hips are at an odd angle and you’re having to throw your whole body into the movement to make it upright, you’re losing the focus of the exercise and potentially causing injury in the process.
Seat height is a good guide to start with when working out what height is right for you.
Step up nice and controlled, stand up straight and tall.
Keep your shoulders back.
Head up looking straight ahead, focus on one point to maintain your balance.
Your core is engaged the whole time supporting your back.
Whatever you decide to do on one side, make sure you repeat on the other – the exercise should be balanced across your body.
Always start on your weakest side before switching over to your stronger side. If you always start with your dominant leg, you’ll train that leg to do more repetitions / time, while your weak leg struggles to keep up.
You can do this exercise to time:
- 30 seconds on one side to start; 30 seconds on the other.
Or you can do it in reps:
- 8 on one side; 8 on the other side.
Leaning on your knees or using nearby by objects for. You want to try and keep the movement isolated to the muscles in your leg, making them do the bulk of the work.
Wonky feet – keep your stepping foot facing forwards so that your entire body is working in a straight line as you lift off the ground. Pointing out to the side, or rotating mid-movement has the potential to cause stress on the supporting muscles and ligaments in your ankle.
Exercise no. 3 – speed skaters
This exercise is great for working on your proprioception before stepping back into those bindings.
Speed skaters train your balance and positioning in space and build on your stability through your ankles, knees and hips. As you get more confident at the action and start to increase the pace it becomes a great cardiovascular exercise.
Muscle groups worked: all the muscles through your ankle are helping you to stabilise, your calves are working to generate movement and power, and your quads are supporting your weight. But the gluteus medius is the muscle we are primarily targeting here. The glute medius is one of the primary stabilising muscles used while skiing, so it’s really important that we strengthen both the left and right sides.
Correct positioning and technique
Start your speed skaters slow and work up to speed, checking your form before ramping up the intensity.
The further you can kick out that back leg, the harder this exercise is going to be, but again, you don’t want to sacrifice form for that extra movement.
Make sure you are nice and stable and not falling from side to side.
Reach your hand right down touching the ground on each repetition.
This is a good exercise to do to time. Start with 30 seconds and then progress up to a minute or longer as you become stronger and more confident.
Collapsing at the core, rolling the shoulders.
Trying to move to fast, too quickly.
Exercise no. 4 – hip braces
We’ve worked on our legs a lot so far, it’s time to shift the focus to our core, one of the biggest muscle groups we use while skiing.
Hip braces are a great exercise for skiing because they target, not only your core but strengthen you quadratus lumborum, the muscle that sits either side of your lower spine helping to support your upper body and encourage good posture in the crouched position.
This is a great strengthening exercise for anyone who suffers from lower back problems as well.
Hip Braces are a unilateral exercise like the side step ups, so again, we are going to start with our weaker side first.
Muscle groups worked: hip braces are primarily targeting your QL (quadratus lumborum), your obliques, and your core. The stronger and the better the endurance of these muscles, the better you are going to be able to maintain good form on the snow over longer periods of time.
Dynamic vs. static movement
With each hip brace variation that we will show you, you have the option to perform it as a static movement, or a dynamic exercise. It’s a good idea to switch up your training sessions, focusing on the static version one day and switching to dynamic the next to keep your muscles guessing.
We’re going to first show you the most basic variation on your knees before demonstrating some more challenging options.
Correct positioning and technique
These steps apply to all variations of the technique, regardless of whether you have your legs on the ground, or one leg up in the air in the advanced pose.
Elbow sits under your shoulder creating a stable platform for you to support your upper body. We don’t want your elbow sitting up towards your head or further down towards your hips because this will just place extra pressure on your joints.
Make sure you extend your hips forward so that there is a straight line between your ear, shoulder, hips, and knees.
From there, push your hips up towards the ceiling. You can either keep them along that line or push them up as high they will go using your QL to support you.
For the most basic variation, hold that position, core tight, QL activated for 30 seconds and extend the duration as you get stronger.
Top left: start on your knees. Top right: hips are raised high, keeping in line with ears, shoulders, and knees. Bottom left: extending the legs. Bottom right: work up to raising the top foot.
Hip brace variations
As we mentioned earlier, this exercise can be either static or dynamic, that is, you can either hold the position for a set amount of time or add movement to the exercise by raising and lowering your hips to gently touch the ground (don’t rest!) in a controlled manner.
Start with 8 and increase over time. Before progressing to more challenging variations, you should be able to either hold the brace for 60 seconds or perform 15 reps on each side.
To make the hip brace more challenging: extend your feet, that they are in line with your ears, shoulders, hips, and knees. This will increase the load on your elbow and shoulder, so it’s important to focus on good form if trying this for the first time rather than attempting to hold it for longer.
The next step is to move from your elbow to your hand increasing the distance between your torso and the floor. Make sure you maintain good form.
And to take it a step further, we can begin to raise the top foot, greatly increasing the intensity felt in the core, your QL and through the hip closest to the ground. Again you can hold this position, or try performing reps with your leg raising and lowering, smooth and controlled.
Sticking your butt out, losing the alignment between your ear, shoulders, hips, and knees.
Position your elbow too far forward or too far back.
Dropping the hips as towards the end of the set.
Exercise no. 5 – medicine ball twists
It’s time to take some of the pressure off the legs and really fire up the core.
In this exercise, although you are fixed and stable, that rotation from side to side simulates the action of planting your ski poles as you turn.
Note: if you don’t have a medicine ball, you can substitute for something reasonably heavy lying about the house like a 2-litre bottle of water, for example, but even the movement on its own without weight is going to work well.
Muscle groups worked: the medicine ball twist focuses attention on your obliques, generating the movement from side to side. It’s also going to train your hip stability and shoulder stability as you hold and control that weight throughout the rotation. Your QL and the other muscle groups in your core (transverse abdominus and rectus abdominus) are engaged as well. So it’s a really great exercise for working both your internal and external core muscles.
If you imagine you were standing up straight, maintain the same neutral spine position throughout the medicine ball twist.
Sit down on the floor ensuring that your spine is in a neutral position.
Sit up nice and tall, shoulders back, chest out, looking forward, holding that position throughout the movement.
Start rotating from side to side, nice and slowly and controlled to start, with the option to speed up the pace to increase the cardio intensity.
It’s a good idea to start with 30 seconds performing as many controlled reps as you can before working your way up to 60 seconds or increasing weight to make it more challenging.
Rounding the shoulders and leaning forward.
Increasing weight before correct technique has been learned.
Exercise no. 6 – medicine ball slam
The medicine ball slam is designed to simulate and greatly exaggerate the movement of planting those poles during your transition from ski to ski.
We’re taking the medicine ball twist and ramping up the cardio and muscular intensity.
Straight away by standing up, the muscles in your ankles, knees and hips are getting a workout, your core is getting a workout and we’ve increased the distance that the ball needs to travel, again making it harder recruiting more muscle groups.
Muscle groups worked: as we lift the medicine ball, our shoulders and upper body are engaged. As we rotate our obliques and external abdominals are activated. And as we are standing all of our stabilising muscles are working though our hips, knees and ankles as well.
Slamming the ball into the ground activates your core (rectus abdominus) muscles which are working to pull the body forward, while your biceps, lats, and chest are working to increase the speed of the ball as it travels through the air. Your legs are the driving force behind the movement, generating the bulk of the power.
This is a great exercise for burning off some steam after a hard day.
Slam the medicine ball down on one side, lift it up above your head, and slam it down on the other side.
You don’t want to be gentle with this exercise. You want to be generating as much power as you can slamming the ball into the ground.
Once you are comfortable with the movement, you’re going to increase the pace as well making it more challenging.
Start with 30 seconds, and build up over time. But make sure that as you increase the time, the intensity doesn’t drop; there’s no point doing an extra twenty seconds if you lose that intensity.
Allowing the ball to drift towards the centre, rather than slamming to the side.
Losing intensity in exchange for extending the duration of the exercise.
Form comes first, speed comes later
We’ve mentioned the importance of maintaining correct position and form throughout these exercises, but why exactly is this so important?
A number of issues arise when your body drops out of correct alignment during exercise. Not only is there a chance of injuring yourself, but the muscles those exercises are designed to target aren’t going to activate, instead being replaced by nearby muscle groups to compensate for relaxation in form. Make sure you always maintain good posture throughout the exercise to get the best possible results from your hard work.
Get out there this season confident that you have the legs to get you through the day, and the strength to get back up in the morning for round two.
Adam Kavanagh is a qualified myotherapist and fitness professional with over 10 years’ experience within the health and fitness industry.