If you plan to take a ski or snowboard holiday, you should begin preparing for it at least 8-12 weeks before you go. That's where the pre-season training can really make a big difference.
Prepare your body for winter sports and reduce the chance of injury
There are several benefits to pre-season training:
- You'll be able to ski or board longer and harder each day
- You'll perform better
- You'll be less fatigued at the end of each day (and ready to enjoy the après ski!)
- And most importantly, you'll dramatically reduce your chances of injury
Horror stories of skiers injuring themselves almost as soon as they step foot on the slopes are unfortunately all too common. Even if the injury is not a serious one that requires immediate medical attention, less severe injuries such as a pulled muscle could leave you unable to move and even stiff muscles in your legs could keep you off the slopes for a couple of days.
Injury is the curse of winter holidays, with the most common injuries being damage to the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the knee. This is an injury that can incapacitate you for months, and accounts for up to 40% of all injuries to skiers.
The good news is that there are ways of reducing the risk of injury. The obvious advice applies: do not take unnecessary risks whilst on the slopes and do not push yourself too hard.
However, if you are serious about reducing your chances of getting injured, the hard work needs to begin several weeks, and even months, prior to your arrival at your ski resort.
So how do you get in shape for winter sports? You need to work on three key areas:
Strength training should focus on your legs. Exercises such as squats, leg press, lunges and calf raises will help build the muscles in your legs most effectively. Leg extensions and leg curls can also help.
Endurance work is often ignored by people preparing for winter sports - after all gravity does all the work, right? But the truth is you will be on your feet for hours every day, working hard at high altitude - endurance is a must.
Exercises where you are on your feet are best - running, stepping, cross trainers, and cycling will also help to build up the all-important muscles around your knees.
Aim to include one longer cardiovascular session per week to supplement your regular shorter ones. Simply add five minutes per week to one of your 20 minute workouts, and within eight weeks you'll be doing an hour's workout.
Increasing flexibility can also reduce the chances of injury - you should include stretching as a regular part of your cool down, or consider including an activity such as yoga or Pilates to your fitness programme.
Injuries can damage your proprioception (the sense by which you instinctively judge where your limbs are in space); balance work will help you regain that awareness. Therefore balance and co-ordination exercises should also be included into your ski fit programme.
So what should your programme look like? A good balance would be:
- Strength training - two to three times a week
- Cardio training - two to three times per week
- Flexibility training - after every strength or CV training session
- Balance and co-ordination training - three times a week
Even though the techniques used to snowboard and ski are different, the same principles apply to a snowboarder as they do with skiing in terms of fitness. Strength, cardiovascular fitness, endurance, balance and flexibility are all important.
Depending on whether you ride goofy or regular will depend on how much you work each leg as you will find your leading leg will be stronger, but it is still important that you strengthen and work each leg.
Knee injuries are less common in snowboarders than skiers due to the fact that the feet are strapped into the board and are generally facing the same way. However, common injuries to snowboarders tend to be upper limb injuries and this is usually caused by falling on to the outstretched hand.
The risk varies with experience as well - the highest risk group being beginner snowboarders (especially those on their very first day!). The risk becomes lower for those with between 4 and 8 weeks experience and then climbs again amongst more experienced boarders - usually because they are boarding faster, attempting jumps and tricks etc.
Here is some general information for staying safe on the slopes and helping you to enjoy your winter holiday.
- Warm up and down properly. Do some easier runs first rather than heading straight for those black runs!
- Take it slowly for the first couple of days, your body will need to work harder in the mountains due to the altitude.
- The cold can hinder your performance. Make sure you are wearing adequate clothing, preferably in layers.
- Recognise when you need a rest. Most injuries occur when tiredness sets in.
- Make sure you eat and drink regularly.
- Have your own equipment regularly checked. Make sure any hired equipment fit’s properly – the staff should make time to help you out.
- Try to avoid being persuaded to attempt speeds or slopes beyond your level of ability.
- Consider wearing a helmet and/or other protective wear.