Are you ski-fit and does it really matter?

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Ski fitness – what is that and is it important?

By Mike Davis, Physiotherapist

So there you are, four weeks away from the start of your ski holiday – and you’re in a bit of a panic……

You haven’t done any work on your ski fitness!

Does it matter? Yes… I’m afraid it does. Skiing is an intensely physical activity, and it’s one you’re planning to do for several hours a day, at altitude – probably for six days in a row. And very little of your 21st century life – sitting in traffic, wheeling a shopping trolley around Tesco, arguing with your kids about their homework – will have prepared you for its challenges.

Fortunately, even two or three weeks of exercise can make a difference. In an ideal world, we’d recommend following an 8-12-week exercise programme before you go skiing but two- or three-weeks’ work will bring benefits, depending on how consistent you are and what kind of exercises you do.

You shouldn’t expect a big increase in muscle strength in a fortnight, but research shows that even from short term strength training (i.e. less than two weeks) the body can make neural adaptations which improve the co-ordination, timing and speed of muscle contractions.

This alone can provide a skier with improved balance and stability, and reduce the risk of injury.

Here is a two-point plan to improving last-minute ski fitness – and making the most of what fitness you’ve got once you’re on holiday.

1.Work on Your Cardiovascular Fitness

Building cardiovascular fitness will help you ski for longer, and with more power – as well as recover more quickly from your exertions. But you won’t get very far unless you pick an activity you enjoy. “The most important thing with exercise is that a person engages with it and is consistent, and they’re not going to do that with something they hate,” says CHHP’s Rob Madden.

If someone already jogs and enjoys it, then running makes sense. Or if they’re not comfortable with running they could go for some long brisk walks.” There are in fact several free “Couch to 5K” running programmes available online (such as the one from the NHS), which will help you make the transition between walking and running.

You also could do something like spinning or circuit classes where you work on an interval basis, increasing your heart rate to a higher level and then easing off. Ideally try to work out three times a week, and – whatever you do – try to vary the intensity of your workout to mimic the on-again, off-again nature of skiing.

Tabata training is a form of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) where you do 20 seconds of intense effort followed by 10 seconds of recovery and repeated eight times. It means a total of only three minutes of high intensity work: but a proper course of Tabata over two weeks can bring significant benefits – although you need to leave at least one day’s gap between sessions

2.Boost Your Stability, Strength and Coordination

Skiing is an inherently unstable sport. You need good balance, and to move you weight very quickly from foot to foot, and so improving your stability is an important preparation for the slopes.

With this in mind we have put together a series of exercises which focus on the muscles in the core and the legs. It’s designed as part of a seven-week pre-ski fitness plan which also includes work on your strength and power. But if you’ve only got two or three weeks we would suggest focusing all your energy on the stabilisation exercises, working on them for 20-30 minutes, three times a week.

1. Plank: start by getting into a press-up position. Bend your elbows and put your weight onto your forearms and not on your hands. Your body should be in a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Hold your stomach in for a few moments and you should feel the burn!

2. Squats: perform these whilst standing on the squashy side of a BOSU (this piece of equipment looks like a cut-in-half Swiss Ball). If you don’t have a BOSU, then begin with normal squats and progress to one-legged squats.

3. Isometric squats: deep bending of the knees with your back straight against the wall.

4. Swiss ball: Lie on a gym mat with a Swiss Ball under your feet. Roll the ball backwards and forwards – try to control the ball with one foot at a time.

5. Lateral hops: keep both feet parallel and skiing width apart. Try to keep your hands still whilst doing this exercise and do 20 reps of this one.

 6. Dynamic lunges, which increase the work capacity of your hamstrings and glutes. Alternating lunges with good alignment of shoulders, hips and foot – and with the knee bending cleanly over the foot.

So don’t neglect that ski fitness training as you will certainly feel the benefits on the slopes! Just remember to listen to your body-most injuries happen when your body is physically and mentally fatigued so it is often towards the end of the ski day. So listen to your body and maybe think about finishing your ski day a little earlier than you planed on day 3 or 4 when your muscles will be feeling the effects of the first few days on the slopes.

To help you properly prepare for the slopes, we are running a 6-week strength and conditioning and mat-based Pilates course in our Chiswick clinic. This will be one hour a week for 6 weeks and will aim to properly prepare your body for the slopes. The course will be led by Hollie Maskell and will be £90 for the whole 6-weeks and will be every Tuesday evening at 6:30pm starting on Tuesday 2nd November! Be sure to get in touch with the Reception team to find out more and book your place!

Enjoy your trip and stay safe!

Leslie Abrahams