Summit County ski conditioning: Stay in shape during spring skiing to avoid injury
March 24, 2014
Editor's note: This is the second part in a two-part series about exercises to help maintain your strength and power through the spring ski and snowboard season. To read the first installment, visit http://www.summitdaily.com.
Being strong in last few months of ski season is just as important as having strength at the onset in November.
Unfortunately, people tend to become complacent in the spring and concentrate less on keeping their muscles firing in the correct sequence.
"At the end of the season, we often feel like we've 'skied into shape' and are less mindful of our body position and muscle tension," said Marika Page, fitness and facility coordinator at the Breckenridge Recreation Center. "Instead of just descending on autopilot, check in with yourself: Is your weight evenly distributed through your legs or do you have more weight on the outside of your skis? Is your weight evenly distributed on your feet? Are your glutes engaged?
"Engaging your major core muscles — everything between your knees and your armpits — takes pressure off the joints. Let the muscles do the work, that's what they're there for, not your bones."
If your core is engaged, it frees up muscle space in your legs to react to spring obstacles, such as icy or slushy patches or exposed rocks or dirt. It's also important to know if you are getting sore from muscle fatigue or if an injury is coming on, Page said.
"If you have a pain that's sharp, shooting or sudden, you should stop," she said. "If something is getting progressively worse as you descend a run, or worse throughout the day, you should stop."
Trauma to joints from a bump or crash often comes from the muscles around the joint being tight, tired or weak, which is why continuing ski-conditioning workouts off the slopes is so important, Page said.
"If muscles are pulling on a joint with different tension — say the muscles of your inner leg are not as strong as the muscles on your outer leg, so the tension at the knee is unequal — you'll feel discomfort in that joint, most likely toward the end of the day," she said. "Some light stretching, self massage or using a foam roller or tennis ball to work out the kinks could help."
The one "release" move that feels great for anyone who has worn boots all day, whether you're Nordic or Alpine skiing or snowboarding, is rolling a tennis ball underneath your foot.
Most muscle imbalances, whether at your shoulder, hip or knee, usually manifest on the bottom of your foot, Page said. Loosening that tissue and increasing blood flow by massaging the area often helps your whole body feel less tight and constricted.
When doing the exercises listed here, be sure to focus on which muscles are working and when to properly train your brain-body connections. The main goal is making sure your muscles are engaging in the right sequence, which makes the physical action a much more natural body response.
"If you do these exercises for a few days, you could get benefits about four days later if you are concentrating on doing them in the proper muscle sequence," Page said.
Pushup with shoulder touch
How to do it: In the plank position, drop down and then back up, followed by a shoulder touch across your body.
Why it works: The single most important thing here is that your abs should be the primary muscle engaged when you're doing a pushup. Think of someone punching you in your stomach — you immediately tighten your deep ab muscles, Page said. Those muscles are what you should be using to do a pushup.
How to do it: Standard pushup with hands on exercise ball.
Why it works: Your hands are on a moving surface. It just adds an element of instability that you have to ignore, Page said. Can you forget about the fact that your hands are on a moving ball and still fire your abs to do a pushup?
How to do it: Remove your hands and drop your chest to the exercise ball. Replace hands on ball and push back up.
Why it works: This exercise is mostly to convince people to engage their abs and take the pressure out of their shoulders, Page said. When your hands come off the ball, obviously your arms are doing nothing. Keeping your torso tight allows you to rebound off the ball and then stop your momentum at the top of the move. It forces you to work with gravity; you have to let gravity pull you back to the ball.
How all three will up your game: Working from the middle out (as when you start this motion from your abs) allows you to generate more equal power throughout your whole body. This allows the upper and lower halves to work together more efficiently.
How to do it: Standing on one foot with the other slightly raised, lower yourself into a squat position with arms outstretched. You want to stand up using your glute muscle, and the easiest way to do that is to push down with your heel. If you push down with your heel, your butt is working.
Why it works: To build off the simple balance exercise, this exercise asks the question: Can you keep your foot relaxed? You're not trying to control the exercise with your foot, page said. Most of the muscles in your leg are relaxed, which allows you to bend your knee.
How it will up your game: Getting used to being on one foot and being able to control your own momentum prepares you to react to "unexpected" weight shifts in a controlled environment.
Three-part ball crunch
How to do it: Lying supine on an exercise ball with your feet on the wall, bend forward and then back again. Lower one leg, repeat the forward crunch, and return to starting position. Repeat with the other leg. Extend both legs, rolling your back across the exercise ball.
Why it works: Your movement is creating momentum that you're trying to stabilize with your abs, so you get your abs to be the primary firer during that whole sequence.
How it will up your game: By lying supine on the ball, you are engaging your abs without your feet on the floor. When your feet are not involved, you have fewer proprioceptors giving you information about your location in space and are forced to focus your force in your middle. When your core muscles are contracting, they absorb pressure from your joints.
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