For me, one of the worst reasons to miss a good day or skiing or riding is because of an injury I could have prevented. I don’t mean from taking a hard fall but from not having the strength, mobility and stamina to prevent an injury from overuse or bad position. How many times have you or someone you know missed a good powder day from lower back or knee pain? Even if you did make it out on the mountain have you ever cut your day short only because your body couldn’t perform any longer?
With some hard work and the right functional exercises, we can make sure to keep our bodies strong where it counts so we don’t miss out. Here I’ve put together this list of my five favorite movements to help you build strength and endurance, maintain mobility and posture, prevent injuries and keep you on the mountain longer.
These exercises will be targeting the key muscle groups you’ll be using on the hill and putting them into a variety of movements and variations. Make sure to check out the accompanying video’s to learn how to perform each movement safely and effectively.
Functional Fitness has tons of benefits for your body. By performing exercises that mimic movement that you would do out in the “real world,” you target multiple muscle groups and reap full-body benefits in less time. -Michele Borboa, MS
#1 The Deadlift
The quintessential weightlifting exercise that will give you the biggest bang for your buck and my absolute personal favorite. If you could only perform once exercise in your life to stay fit and injury free the deadlift should be it. This lift engages all of the major muscle groups in your lower and upper body; hamstrings, glutes, lower back, core and arms. Few compound and functional exercises hit them all as good as a well-performed deadlift.
Building strong glutes will transfer to better endurance and power on the slopes and nothing targets your body’s largest muscle (the gluteus maximus) like the deadlift. Think of your rear-end as the engine that drives your machine and to control that engine the deadlift will work your core from the spinal stabilizers to the lower back.
Don’t let the myths of the deadlift being an injury related exercise keep you from performing this essential movement. To the contrary injury prevention is at its core. To learn a proper deadlift follow the steps in this video by Onnit’s Joe Defranco.
#2 The Squat
Your quadriceps are possibly the hardest working muscles while skiing and snowboarding. This makes the squat an essential exercise to improve performance and keep you on the mountain longer. It’s not to mention the easiest way of building strength in your legs because like the deadlift the squat will also be working your hamstrings and glutes. Just about every gym will have a squat rack or some version of one. If you’re not a member of a gym you can take advantage of body weight squats or squatting with just about anything heavy you own as long as you can keep proper form.
A very common reason I see riders off the mountain is due to knee pain. Research shows that when done properly, squats will improve knee stability, strengthen connective tissues and promote mobility and balance consequently building legs of steel capable of handling the abuse you put them through on the hill.
There are many different types of squats you can take advantage of in the gym or at your home. The front squat, overhead squat, back squat, body weight squat or the advanced pistol squat. Learning proper technique will help you with all of these variations, which is explained perfectly in this video.
#3 The Reverse Lunge
A holy grail in injury prevention to skiers and riders is the reverse lunge. This exercise is easy to perform and you don’t need much space at all. Like the lunge, this will target your hips, glutes, thighs, and quads in one simple motion.
The benefit of the reverse lunge is its ability to create stable knees in a safe movement. With a regular lunge, most of your weight moves to your forward leg causing added knee pressure and a higher risk of falling off balance or putting strain in unwanted areas. Changing direction to a reverse lunge will put less weight transfer on your knees, which is a much safer option.
When the lunge becomes too easy grab a set of dumbbells to up the intensity and build more strength. Easy to perform, no space needed and a quality exercise to prevent injury this movement should be part of your daily routine. Learn more about proper technique in this video.
#4 The Plank
No exercise can lay that core strength groundwork better than a Plank and it’s many variations. Riding hard requires a rock solid core for every movement whether it be throwing backflips, bashing gates or jumping cliffs. If none of those things seem fun to you at least you’ll have a great looking stomach for the après ski hot tub session.
Planking will help build your deep inner core muscles and lower back without any equipment needed and you can plank just about anywhere, as we’ve seen on YouTube in years past. Try sets of 1 to 2 minutes of a standard plank before moving onto variations such as the side plank, stability ball plank, planks with extensions and the rocking plank. When these get easy up the time while still holding a perfect form.
In addition to having the best six-pack abs on the hill, planks will work to promote proper posture working additional muscles in your back, chest, shoulders, and neck. Planks also play a key roll in reducing back pain and lower back-related injuries, which are extremely common in the ski and snowboard industry.
“Because the plank exercise requires minimal movement while contracting all layers of the abdominal fascia, it is an excellent way to strengthen the core, which, in turn, helps reduce low-back pain.” -American Council on Exercise (ACE)
A solid core is the foundation of a solid body. Watch this video and start planking. Also, 500 gnar points for a 2 minute plank in the KT22 liftline.
Maybe sleep shouldn’t be categorized as an exercise but none of the movements we’ve discussed will make difference in your performance if you don’t get the proper hours of sleep for recovery. These exercises are developed to put stress on your body’s muscles and nervous system so when we repair ourselves we rebuild a bigger and stronger body. You must give your muscles the time they need to repair themselves with sleep.
While you may be able to “ski just fine” with only a few hours of sleep the truth is your performance and overall health will be highly improved with a proper 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Add in the benefits of a healthy nervous system, higher mental function, lowering your risk of health problems like heart disease and Alzheimer’s, less stress and improved mood sleeping should be on the top of your list of things to do.
“It is in your best interest to avoid sleep debt, otherwise be prepared to pay both the DEBT and the INTEREST!” -Stan Jacobs, The Dusk And Dawn Master: A Practical Guide to Transforming Evening and Morning Habits, Achieving Better Sleep, and Mastering Your Life
There you have it, five foundational movement exercises that are sure to make you a stronger and higher performing athlete on the mountain and keep you there longer. Go get to work.