Snow sport season is upon us! Winter sports, such as skiing and snowshoeing, are excellent for cardiovascular conditioning but also require a good level of strength and mobility if you want to prevent injury and sore muscles.
Snow sports are lower body-intensive activities, which means you need strong quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips and calves. Both sports also require a strong core, a high level of stability and balance and support from your upper body muscles. You may also need a bit more flexibility than your normal range of motion. Our muscles naturally lose some flexibility as we age, so we need to make sure we’re performing regular “maintenance work” like the exercises we share here.
Lifetime Daily publisher Louisa Flinn, who is an avid cross country skier, couldn’t agree more. “Being fit for ski season is an absolute must. In addition to regular walks, runs and hikes, you should invest at least 4-6 weeks of training time, doing muscle-specific strength exercises, before ski season starts. You’ll be smiling when you’re the only in your group friends whose quads aren’t painfully sore the next morning.”
3 Best Strength Training Exercises for Snow Sports
The three exercises below will help keep you strong, stable and mobile when you hit the trails or slopes. Incorporate them into your regular workouts 2-3 times per week to improve your performance while snowshoeing or skiing, and to prevent injury and muscle strains.
1. Step Up
This classic lower-body strength exercise mimics the stepping motion used when snowshoeing. It also strengthens your quads and glutes for snowshoeing and skiing, especially when you’re walking or skiing uphill in the back country.
Hold a pair of dumbbells and place your left foot on a step or bench. Keeping your chest up, push through your left foot and bring your right foot up to lightly touch the bench. With control, lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat for repetitions. Your left foot will remain on the step for the duration of your set. Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions. I start my older adult clients with a step height of halfway between the ankle and knee, and increase gradually from there.
2. Front Squats with 3-Second Eccentric
Front squats are an excellent quad-strengthening exercise. They also train your core to keep your torso upright when your legs are bent (exactly the posture you need to adopt while skiing). By adding a slow eccentric (lowering) phase to this exercise, you’re increasing the time under tension for your quads, mimicking how they’ll need to work while skiing.
Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at chest height. Hinge your hips back and slowly squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. This lowering motion should take about 3 seconds. Then press through your feet, squeezing your glutes to come back up to standing. Keep your chest up and your spine neutral throughout the movement. Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
My clients start by performing front squats with a bench behind them for support, so they briefly sit down and then stand back up. Intermediate trainees hold one 10- to 15-pound dumbbell in each hand, and advanced clients perform front squats with a loaded barbell.
3. Glute Bridge with Band Resistance
The glute bridge is a fantastic glute activation exercise that works both as a strength move and as a warm-up movement before heading out for a day of snow sports. Here, we’re adding a small resistance band loop to the exercise to activate the gluteus medius muscle (upper, outer buttock area). Your gluteus medius muscles are extremely important for maintaining the correct leg position while skiing, and for generating lateral movement. A weak gluteus medius muscle leads to your knee caving inward while in a semi-squat position, which puts excess strain on the knee.
Place a small resistance band loop around your legs, just above your knees. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet hip width apart, and heels close to your glutes. Press your knees out against the band so your thighs remain perpendicular to each other (instead of being pulled together by the band). Brace your core and press through your heels to lift your hips off the floor. Squeeze your glutes and pause in the top position (thighs and torso should be in a straight line) for a second before slowly lowering. Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Flexibility is usually decreased in colder temperatures, so make sure you perform a thorough warm-up of your lower body and core muscles before heading out.