Ladies and gentlemen, Colorado ski season in well underway. If you’re like me, that means you’ve already been on the ski slopes this year, and you’ve already experienced the complete leg exhaustion that comes with skipping leg day a few too many times. Do not worry, it’s not too late. You can start working in some ski conditioning exercises, and it will make a world of a difference. Trust me, being in ski shape will make a huge difference in your season (regardless of if your snow prayers are answered).
Skiing involves four mains skills that we can train for; muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance and agility and balance. While skiing does incorporate most muscles, it primarily works the legs and core (unless you’re cross county skiing, then you’ll incorporate the arms too). By focusing on training these skills and muscles, we can condition ourselves for the season! To help you prepare, here is one exercise (the lunge) that you should incorporate into your workout routine.
Quick disclaimer, it’s best to see a doctor and work with a personal trainer when starting an exercise program. This post contains general advice and is not intended to be an individual exercise prescription.
Lunges are one of the best lower body exercises because they incorporate so many of the leg muscles. The lunge’s primary movements are flexion and extension at the hip and the knee. These movements, and the muscles they work, are very important for skiing. Additionally, there are many different ways that lunges can be modified to specifically address the training components of strength, endurance and balance and agility skills for the ski season.
Strength & Lunges
Addressing muscular strength is best accomplished by incorporating overload into your training. Overload occurs when muscles are subjected to progressively heavier training loads. Overload is required for physiological adaptations and improvements (like increased strength) to occur. I am a huge advocate for lifting (heavy) weights, especially when one of your goals is to improve strength (like it should be during ski conditioning). However that should be done using the proper skills or under the proper supervision, neither of which I can provide in a blog post. Instead, I’ll just address how to do different types of body weight lunges. That being said, if it’s appropriate for you, I’d encourage you to consider adding weight to each of these movements. During lunges it’s best to do this by holding a dumbbell in each hand and increasing the weight as tolerated, or holding a barbell (loaded with increasing weight, as tolerate) in the front rack position. If you’ve never heard for the front rack position, then that’s probably not for you. A certified personal trainer can provide excellent support and program design to help you with this!
To begin the lunge, start by standing with both feet together. Initiate the movement by lifting the left leg up so that the hip joint makes a 90 degree angle and the knee joint makes a 90 degree angle. Step forward with the left leg and lower the foot to the ground a few feet in front of the right foot, maintaining the hip and knee flexion. While you lower the left leg to the ground, bend the right leg so that hip and knee joints also make 90 degree angles. At the bottom of the lunge both hip and knee joints should make 90 degree angles. The right knee should be slightly lifted off the ground and the hips should be level. It’s important to keep your chest forward and your core engaged. From here, push upward with the left leg and rise back up to standing, bringing the right foot to meet the left foot and end a step in front of the place you started the movement. Repeat this movement with the right foot in front.
Walking lunges connect basic lunges together with forward (or backward) movement. This movement is more advanced than stationary lunges and requires more balance than stationary lunges. Be sure you can complete stationary lunges without any support or balance issues before moving to walking lunges. Walking on uneven or sloped surfaces will increase the movement’s difficulty.
Holding the bottom part of the lunge, without resting your lower knee on the ground, for an extended period of time is a static lunge. Static movements help build balance and stability, as well as strength.
To complete a static lunge, start the basic lunge movement but instead of continuously moving through the position, hold the lunge at the bottom. Be sure your knee is slightly lifted off the ground the entire time and both of your legs and core are engaged. Start by trying to hold for the position for at least 10 seconds, and increase the time as you can. Work towards holding the position for 90 seconds on each leg. Once you’ve completed the hold, then finish the lunge movement. You should end by standing with both feet together. Repeat this entire movement with the other leg, trying to hold the position for the same amount of time as you did for the first leg.
Elevated Single Leg Lunges
Elevated single leg lunges force you to isolate the muscles in one leg while completing the full movement. This is done by elevating the back leg, which inhibits those muscles from engaging during the movement. Since those muscles aren’t able to assist, it requires the muscles in the front leg to be stronger to complete the entire movement independently.
To set-up for the movement, find a bench that is at knee height or you something stable you can stake up (like plate weights) to achieve the correct height. You’ll have to play with the spacing a bit for figure out where your feet go. To do this, take a few steps forward from the bench and place your back foot’s toes on the bench. Using the front leg muscles, lower your front knee down to the ground. Rest the knee lightly on the ground as you determine if you stepped far enough forward. Your front knee should be able to skim the ground while your back foot remains on the bench. Your front leg should create a 90 degree angle at the knee, and you should be able to see your toes. Adjust your front foot placement as needed until you have the correct form. Once you have the proper foot placement, return to standing. Make note of your foot placement.
Start the movement by placing the back foot’s toes on the bench and the front foot at the foot placement you identified earlier. Initiate the movement by lowering the back knee using the muscles in the front leg. Only use the back leg for limited balance support. Engage the core to help with balance. Once you’ve reached the bottom of the lunge, complete the movement by raising the back knee by pushing upward with the front leg. Repeat the movement with the opposite foot forward.
Jumping Switch Lunges
Jumping switch lunges incorporate a polymeric, load bearing component to the exercise. While it’s not a movement that is normally done while skiing, the endurance and agility it develops are transferable to skiing. This is an advanced move so be sure you can complete walking lunges and basic jumping movements (think hopping) before trying jumping switch lunges.
Begin the movement by initiating a stationary lunge. At the bottom of the movement, using explosive force in both legs, jump upward. While you are in the air switch your legs so that the back leg lands in the front lunge position and the front leg lands in the back lunge. You should finish the movement at the bottom of the lunge again, with the opposite leg forward. Ensure that you’ve maintained correct form as you land. Your forward knee joint should still make a 90 degree angle and the hips should be level. Once you’re comfortable with your form, connect the jumping switch lunges together so that you’re continuously moving!