Fit to ski? Walking, biking, help to physically prepare for skiing, snowboarding

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

It's not easy and not always convenient, but there are benefits to taking a little walk or climbing a few stairs, among them a better ski or snowboard season.

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It's not easy and not always convenient, but there are benefits to taking a little walk or climbing a few stairs, among them a better ski or snowboard season.

Being better fit is one of the things a skier or snowboarder can do away from the slopes that can help improve turns on the slopes.

And, consensus is, even a little exercise before the season is better than none.

Simple exercises like walking or biking or stepping up a few stairs involve ski- and snowboard-specific movements that can improve endurance, strength and balance, key elements in the sport.

And, the stronger and more fit an individual is, the longer and less tired he or she will be and less likely to suffer an on-hill injury.

"A lot of injuries happen when a person is fatigued and the muscles are not working right. By being stronger and more fit an individual won't get as fatigued as quickly and will be able to ski longer and harder without risk of injury," said Alex Moore, head strength and conditioning coordinator for the U.S. Ski Team.

Skiing is, indeed, a very specific sport and a very unpredictable sport. Injuries do occur, often later in the day when the skier or boarder is tired and the are muscles less likely to respond. That's why conditioning is so important.

It is suggested, of course, that before beginning any fitness program that an individual first get advice from his or her doctor.

As for what exercises to do, it has been shown that the simplest of exercises can do wonders for the body. These would include walking, biking, climbing stair or even stepping up and down a single step. Sit-ups or pushups or pull-ups also help, as will core conditioning.

Strengthening the core or center of the body is something new to many. Heretofore, ski and snowboard conditioning focused on strength and endurance, like running, and weight training.

The core, defined as those muscles between the hips and shoulders, is responsible for balance and stability, both important requirements for skiing and snowboarding.

Core strength involves the deep and superficial muscles that stabilize, align and move the trunk of the body, which is where much of the movement in skiing and snowboarding originates.

Many of the core exercises, noted Jaron Krause, fitness manager for Gold's Gym, "Are things people can do most anywhere with their own body weight, things like lunges, planks and body-weight squats, things that you don't need a lot of fancy equipment to do.

"Why is it important? The core is basic to all human movements, whether it's reaching forward and taking the TV remote off the coffee table or rolling over in bed or performing a turn while skiing."

Which is why there is more and more emphasis on building the core muscles.

What happens, said Moore, is if skiers or snowboarders are weak through the core, "they can get themselves in a bad position or they won't be able to hold a position, say in a turn, which puts them at greater risk of injury or not being able to execute the turn as cleanly as they should."

Strengthening the core involves more than doing a few sit-ups, as some may believe. The core consists of many muscles that run the entire length of the torso and make it possible to stand and shift weight for skiing and snowboarding.

A core workout doesn't need to take much time or equipment, but can work all the basic core muscles. Here again, working with a trainer or taking a pilates class is a good introduction to the best core strengthening routine.

There are, of course, those who chose to do their conditioning when the season begins — on the slopes — which is an approach Krause advised against.

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