To some, "skiing" means hanging out in a mountain lodge sipping hot chocolate. But to many, skiing is an intense full body workout and a staple weekend activity in the winter. And with any workout, it's important to make sure your body is prepared to move and perform well.
Coach Yvette Lenhart (Strength & Serenity Retreat) is not only a knowledgeable and effective Pilates instructor, she is also an avid skier. One of the most important things she discovered when she first starting skiing was that the more she learned to relax and use her muscles properly and efficiently, the easier it felt to ride the slopes.
Before she skis, Yvette does a series of warm-up exercises that have helped her become a better, more relaxed skier. Read on to see the moves that will keep you nimble this skiing season.
When I first started, I was trying to control every movement with my legs and didn’t realize how stiff my upper body was. I think utilizing your spine the way it’s designed, as the shock absorber for your body, is key. And of course, having a strong core and proper alignment helps stabilize the pelvis, reduces impact on the back, hips, and knees, and ultimately makes a skier more energy efficient. Pilates Mat work can strengthen not only all of the dominant but also less dominant muscles used as a skier in simple, efficient and effective exercises. Try these:
1. Standing Heel Raises
Works on balance, alignment, and becoming more aware of your center which can help prevent you from leaning too far back or forward on your skis. Also, this move strengthens the ankles which can help you keep your weight over the center of your foot, and it stretches the bottoms of your feet and strengthens the arches (which is especially good if you tend to try to balance by gripping with your toes). And finally, it warms up the muscles in the legs all the way up to the glutes.
Stand with feet hip width apart, toes facing front, hands on hips. Raise heels without letting ankles pull out to the side or collapse in toward your center. Try engaging all of the muscles in your legs and seat each time you lift, while keeping your pelvis in neutral (hips don’t tilt front or back). For an additional challenge, try keeping your weight in the front of the foot and lower without letting your heels touch the floor. Keep going until your legs start to get warm. Hold the last lift and find your balance at the top. 3-5 sets of 8.
2. Toe Taps
Strengthens the core, especially lower abdominals, and supports lower back by focusing on stabilizing the pelvis (which can improve your stance and help you have better control of your skis).
On your back, bring legs to table top (knees over hips and lower legs parallel to floor) with feet flexed, palms down at sides. Draw your belly in, inhale, and lower one heel at a time toward the floor without bending or straightening leg (keeping knee at 90°), exhale to bring knee back over hip. Focus on opening and closing at the hip without letting your lower back pull away from the floor as the leg lowers. For more of a challenge, float hands over shoulders with palms facing in, keep upper arm connected to shoulder socket, and add upper abdominal curl. Repeat with two legs lowering together. 3 sets of one variation 8x or each variation 8x.
Not only is a bridge a nice way to stretch hip flexors after Toe Taps, it is also a great way to strengthen the hamstrings which balance out dominant quads and support ACL at knees. Also, it improves flexibility in the spine which helps in absorbing vibration and maintaining agility in changing terrain.
On your back, keep your feet hip width apart, arms by your sides. Use your exhale to tuck pelvis under and lift hips toward the ceiling. Try to keep ribcage and belly drawn in and focus on the lift happening in the hips. Slowly roll the spine back down. Repeat 4x. Next roll up, then lower the pelvis almost all the way to the floor and press right back up while keeping knees tracking over the toes. Lower and lift 8x. For additional challenge, can repeat with one leg at a time extended directly over hip. Repeat 8x.
4. 1/2 Roll Back with Twist
Strengthens obliques which help stabilize pelvis while you make turns.
Sit with legs extended in front of you, arms reaching forward parallel with floor, palms facing in. Roll back from seated position by exhaling to scoop belly in and up away from pelvic floor, laying only lower back onto mat. (If lower back feels uncomfortable, you can bend knees.) Spine is rounded and shoulders are released away from ears. Keeping legs and seat grounded to mat, twist to one side and hold for 3 rounds of breath, then switch sides. For more of a challenge, repeat but slowly circle arms overhead to twist to the opposite side, 3x each direction.
Have a safe & happy ski season!