Summit County ski conditioning: Re-program your brain-body connections
To properly execute your powder turns or improve your agility on the bumps, you might need to retrain your brain.
“As adults, we’ve all developed muscle imbalances that cause some muscles to be tighter than others, and as a consequence, we compensate by using any muscle we do know how to activate,” said Marika Page, fitness and facility coordinator at the Breckenridge Recreation Center.
For example, she said, many people, both men and women, use their quadriceps instead of their glutes for any squatting motion.
“Over time, the quads get overused or overtight and start exerting forces on the surrounding joints that can cause hip, knee or back pain,” Page said. “We then start making other compensations to relieve the hip, knee or back pain, and pretty soon the muscles are firing out of sequence and we are just ‘getting by’ instead of maximizing our efforts.”
Page shared a handful of exercises that can help re-program our brain-body connections. The focus should be on using core muscles, she said, which means everything between your shoulders and your knees, not just your abs.
“These exercises, ideally, will train the muscles to fire in the order they were designed to fire,” she said. “With repeated practice of these sequences, the neural connections between your brain — telling the muscles to fire — and your muscles — actually doing the firing — become stronger, more natural and more ‘automatic.’”
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,” Page said. “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?”
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.
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