Monday Medical: Safeguard your snow days with ski fitness

“Don’t think you can ski yourself into shape.” That’s the No. 1 piece of early ski season advice from Sue Ring, director of Rehab Services at Yampa Valley Medical Center. With Steamboat Springs’ population of experienced skiers, how you approach the first day of skiing can make or break your entire season, Ring said.

“Skiing is a particularly muscle-specific activity,” she said. “For the best skiing outcomes, it’s critical to do muscle-specific exercises that prepare the body for skiing, even if you’re staying in shape with running, cycling, hiking, weight-lifting and other activities like so many Steamboat residents.

“If you’re 25 or younger, you might get away with just going for it, but Steamboat is filled with individuals who have played hard all their lives, and that can take a toll,” Ring said.

If you don’t want to take a class, fitness DVDs and online instructional videos abound for those who prefer to huff and puff at home. Whether you choose a class or the home-school ski fitness method, the reasons for this pre-ski season, whole-body tuneup are well established.

A lifelong skier, Ring emphasizes stretching to help prevent injuries, while you’re preparing for a great ski season and just before you head up the hill or trail.

Building strength is key, as well, but ski fitness goes beyond leg strength, Ring said. A ski fitness regimen should include core and upper body strengthening, too, to help you avoid injuries and have more fun on the snow.

It’s a fact: The stronger you become, the better you can ski. Experts, enthusiasts and occasional skiers all experience the same physical phenomena that we lovingly refer to as “training.” The more you stress your muscles, and then recover well, the stronger you become. Some people start stronger than others, but it’s important for everyone to prepare so the first days on the slopes don’t cause major problems — during or after your initial downhill or cross-country adventure of the season.

“When you strengthen your core along with major muscle groups through ski fitness exercises, you give yourself the gift of balance — so vital to skiers of any stripe,” Ring said. “By getting stronger, you also gain the endurance you need to ski longer and better.”

Ring recommends plyometrics — exercises designed to build explosive muscle strength — for skiers whose joints can withstand the impact. People who need lower-impact conditioning can do plyometric movements in the water or using a gym trampoline.

No matter how long you have been skiing or what shape you’ve achieved through other sports, you can avoid injuries by taking it easy at first.

“People who ski all day their first time out in deep powder conditions run the risk of medial and lateral muscle tears — soft tissue injuries that can take a long time to heal,” Ring said.

Hard snow brings skiers and boarders who may not have prepared adequately into the hospital’s emergency department with femur, tibia and wrist breaks, as well as shoulder separations.

“Prepare your body for skiing and don’t go out too hard at first, and you will have a much better chance of enjoying your day — and your ski season,” she said.

Ski fitness classes are available at area fitness centers.

“Our ski fitness classes are already sold out,” Ring said. “I would encourage anyone who is interested in having a great ski season to find a class or workout partners who will push you into ski shape.”

For more ski fitness information, visit www.kopsc.com/PreventSkiingBoardingInjuries.htm.

Patricia Moore is a marketing and communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She has written about health and wellness for numerous hospitals, wellness and health product organizations.

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