Skiers need to stretch and strengthen year-round
DR. DWIGHT CHAPIN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Skiing is generally considered to be a high-risk sport, independent of age. Although advances in equipment design, such as multidirectional release bindings, have reduced the number of injuries on the slopes, the knee remains vulnerable. A third of all skiing injuries are related to the knee joint, with ligament injury being the most common. Thumb injuries also frequently occur when a skier falls on an outstretched arm while still gripping the pole.
Slow twisting falls, or when beginners hold a snowplow position for too long, can put the ligament that supports the inner knee, the medial collateral ligament, at risk. A fall backward as the lower leg moves forward, or simply “catching an edge,” can result in injury to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, of the knee.
Skiers of all ages face these risks. But older skiers need to devote greater attention to their pre-season training and cool-down rituals if they are to maintain the balance, flexibility and strength that the sport demands. Bone density is also something that older skiers can have tested to appropriately manage the risk of fracture that may occur with a fall.
Strength-train during the off-season
Skiers who pay attention to pre-season conditioning with an emphasis on sport-specific movements will improve their performance and delay muscle fatigue that often contributes to ski injuries. The following muscles are particularly important:
- Quadriceps. These large muscles that make up the bulk of the front of your thigh help hold you in a skier’s position, as you make your way down the slope. The quads also provide protection to your knee. Try squats and lunges to build strength.
- Hams and glutes. Hamstrings and gluteal muscles help stabilize your flexed position when skiing. Try step-ups, deadlifts, bridges and hamstring curls using an exercise ball.
- Abductors and adductors. These outer and inner thigh muscles also provide stability and will help you with your turns. Try side lunges, monster walks and side-lying leg lifts.
- Calves. With your knees bent as you ski, your calf muscles help you stay upright. Try standing calf raises.
- Spine and core. In order to maintain a neutral spinal posture and avoid a back injury, your core must be conditioned. Try bird dog, plank, side plank and superman.
- Shoulders and upper back. Use of your poles to move across flatter terrain will require good arm and upper-back strength. Try bicep and tricep curls, push-ups and reverse rows.
Remember your après-ski stretches
The goal of the cool-down is to promote recovery. With vigorous activity, muscle fibres and other soft tissues may be damaged, resulting in waste products building up in your tissues. This will make you feel stiff and sore. The cool-down will assist your body in its repair, reducing the effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness.
A cool-down should include gentle stretching movements targeting the muscles listed above. This is not the time to be working on your flexibility with aggressive stretching. The goal is to gently lengthen the muscles that you have been working. Recreational skiers should reserve 10-15 minutes to cool down following a day of skiing before warming up by the fire.
Dr. Dwight Chapin, B.Sc(H)., D.C., is the clinic director of High Point Wellness Centre in Mississauga, team chiropractor for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and on-site clinician for employees of The Globe and Mail.