Skiing is a demanding sporting activity, requiring endurance, balance coordination, skill and the right equipment. More specifically skiing requires stability about the hips and pelvis, endurance in the buttock and thigh muscles to perform repeated short range squats, and coordinated action of the hips and leg muscles for sideways load transfer when turning.
As the ankle is rendered relatively immobile by the downhill ski boot, movement and forces are transferred from the long propeller-like ski, up the chain to the knees and hips. Knee ligament injuries and fractures of the lower leg are common following twisting falls. Here’s a few tips to help you avoid injury this ski season.
1. Check your bindings
Slow falls can be very damaging if we don’t have enough momentum to release the bindings during a fall. I found this out the hard way, hearing a snap as it looked like I had just sat down the wrong way. Make sure you get your bindings check professionally before you ski. Bindings can seize up due to infrequent use or may have altered with shared use of the skis.
2. Beware of fatigue
Many injuries occur towards the end of the day when you are tired from unaccustomed and intense activity and are trying to squeeze in 1 more run to really get your moneys’ worth. Later in the day the snow becomes and the light can be poor. Try skiing on gentler slopes at the beginning and end of the day, like a warm up and cool down period, and reserve the more challenging runs for the middle of the day.
3. Build endurance in squatting
When skiing on groomed slopes the weight is generally kept forwards over the feet with a sustained short squat. To replicate this action, stand in front of a chair. Whilst maintaining the small inward curve in your lower back, gently hollow the abdominal muscles and activate your pelvic floor. Bend at the hips as if you are about to sit down. Stop the movement just above the seat and repeat a short up and down movement.. Gradually build up the time repeating this movement continuously from 1 minute until you can get through 1 whole track on your ipod ( “can you feel it?” is a great song for this one).
You may need to shift your weight forwards or backwards to make sure you are feeling the work in the thighs and buttocks. If you are experiencing knee pain, shorten the range of the squat. If you are still in pain see your physiotherapist.
4. Train side to side motion
Practice side stepping by starting with the feet together. Step sideways on to the other leg, bending the knees and keeping the knee over the second toe. Bring the legs together and repeat for 3 minutes or one track on your ipod. Increase the speed as your coordination improves.
To stretch the muscles that have been working hard in this exercise, stand to the side of the door way, hold the door frame placing one hand above your head and one hand beside you. Place the leg furthest away from the door frame across behind the body, rolling on to the outside of the foot. Gently lower the hips away from the door frame so you feel a stretch up the whole side of the body from your foot to your hips, trunk and arms. Hold 30 seconds for each side.
5. Stretch your calves and toe flexors
Holding a turn by pressing through the balls of the feet, specially the big toe, requires much work from the calf and toe flexor muscles. These muscles can become very stiff after a day skiing and limit your ability to centre your weight over your skis, or even get down the stairs in those ski boots at the end of the day!
Stretch the calves by standing with the knee bent forwards as far as you can over the foot without the heel lifting from the ground. Support your body weight with your hands on the wall or the bench. Hold for I minute each leg. Repeat twice per day. Try doing this while you clean your teeth or talk on the phone. Before taking off on your first run, warm up the calves by see sawing your skis backwards and forwards.
Stretch your toe flexors by bending the toes up a step with the ball of the foot on the ground. Bend the knee forwards over the step, keeping the heel on the ground until you can feel a strong stretch in the calf or inside of the ankle. Hold for 1 minute each leg and repeat twice per day.