It’s Montana and it’s getting cold. Looking out the window on brisk mornings we start to search for caps of snow on the Bridger’s, heightening our anticipation for the best part of the year to come.
When it’s not yet time to ski what can we do to tide us over? To get the most out of that much-awaited first run, consider devoting some time in the gym preparing your body for an injury free and high performance season.
Much has been said and written about ski conditioning. Cutting to the chase, I thought I’d go directly to my work colleagues who get to deal with the carnage that occurs when things go truly wrong on the slopes.
I asked several of our medical staff to give me the first thing they’d address when designing a ski-conditioning program.
Jason Lawn, physician assistant, suggested taking a look at quad-hamstring strength ratios when helping skiers reduce the chance of knee injuries. Jason works daily with Dr. Alex LeGrand and is witness to many ski induced knee surgeries.
To simplify this idea, think about our muscles working in pairs. When your quadriceps (your big front thigh muscles) shorten, your hamstrings (back ofyour thighs) lengthens. In an ideal situation, an optimal ratio of strength exists between these two muscle groups allowing for knee flexion and extension without damaging the hamstring.
Think about “pulling a hamstring,” something many of us have done. Generally the quad shortens faster than the hamstring can lengthen when this “pull” happens. Most of us are proportionally weaker in the hamstrings, a classic muscle imbalance.
Now think about one of the most common ski injuries, a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) that stabilizes the knee. The hamstrings aid in stabilizing the knee, keeping the tibia (shin bone) from sliding forward of the femur(thigh bone). When the contraction power of the quads is disproportionally stronger than hamstrings, it puts the knee at risk.
Almost everyone can benefit from increased strength in the hamstrings. Three exercises that will help are deadlifts, trunk hyperextension and leg curls. The last two exercises can be performed on a Swiss ball so you don’t necessarily need a gym to work on your hamstrings.
Next to pose an answer in my quest for best of ski conditioning ideas is Levi Taylor, physical therapist at BridgerOrthopedic. Levi sees plenty of patients both pre and post knee surgery. Levi’s recommendations included taking a hard look at hip stabilization.
Many skiers have poor hip stability and lack ability in controlling rotation of the femur. Adding exercises that increase strength in the adductors (rotating thigh towards the midline) and external rotators (away from midline) can help decrease the incidence of knee injuries.
Side lying exercises such as “clamshells” or straight leg abduction (side lying leg lifts) are a start to increased activation and strengthening these muscles. Progress these exercises to tube walking and single leg glute lifts, targeting the gluteus medius and minimus.
Finally I talked with Dr. Royce Payette who has traveled extensively with the US Ski Team serving as a team physician. Dr. Payette gave a nod to exercises that are not only injury preventative, but are also performance enhancing. Taking a cue from the US development team, including plyometrics and core exercises in your workouts can aid in both performance and prevention.
Plyometrics (explosive exercises) can improve neuromuscular timing, addressing the forces that need to be absorbed in both skiing and snowboarding. A comprehensive core conditioning program will increase the stability of pelvis and lower back and provide a solid base for performance in all areas of the body.
The last word, from myself, is don’t forget overall cardiovascular conditioning. We’ve all heard that it’s the last run of the day that can be the biggest catalyst for injury. Overall cardiovascular conditioning and muscular endurance will help you maintain good form and control to ski your best all day, all season long.