There’s an upside to winter’s dark, chilly days: ice skating, skiing and snowboarding. The crisp air and soft, powdery snow (or sheets of smooth ice) provide the perfect mood boost — and a reason to get outside. Plus, the thrill of speeding down the slopes and pirouetting on ice adds a sense of adventure to your workout routine. But since these winter sports make you move in ways your muscles aren’t used to, you often fatigue faster and are at higher risk for injury. Before you hit the slopes or the rink, a few balance and lower-body strength exercises will help you glide by and get into gear.
Linda Vernon Scholl, PT, DPT, and ski fitness class instructor at the University of Utah Orthopaedic Center, says, “The main type of training for downhill skiing and snowboarding is jumping and building a strong base in your legs and lower-body.” That means you’ll want to squat more (and deeper!) and practice plyometrics and side-to-side movements. This will condition your body to absorb the force involved in winter sports.
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How to Better Your Balance
No matter what winter sport you choose, increasing your VO2 max with plyometric training, mastering a variety of functional movements and improving your range of motion will help you look like a winter pro. But while ice skating calls for strengthening similar muscle groups, Scholl says it requires a bit more stability. “It’s important to get used to all your bodyweight on a thin blade. So you’ll need strong ankles, knees and hips,” she explains.
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According to Scholl, our bodies use three different approaches to find balance: visual field, body’s contact with the ground and the vestibular system (inner ear).
To improve balance, Scholl recommends three drills:
- Stand on one leg with your eyes closed for at least 10 seconds.
- Stand on one leg with your standing foot on a pillow or BOSU ball for at least 10 seconds.
- Lastly, stand on one or two legs and look behind you from left to right at the same time. Alternate your gaze as fast as you can while trying to stay stable.
When skiing, knees tend to come together, but they should be hip-distance apart with equal weight on each side. They should also be bent to help absorb force, so it’s important to develop solid individual glute and leg strength. Scholl recommends doing inclined squats, with heels on a folded exercise mat and closing your eyes to add a balance challenge (because all winter sports take some stability skills). Snowboarding requires holding a deep squat for balance, so practice transferring weight from your heels to your toes when you’re in that low squat position. Ice skating involves a lot of head turns, so Scholl recommends balancing on one leg as you turning your head from side to side.
“If each leg is able to carry its weight and do its job without compensating because of strength deficits, you lower your risk for injury and improve your technique,” Scholl explains.
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Balance Exercises to Win at Winter Sports
Hit the slopes feeling strong or power through laps around the rink by following this HIIT routine, designed by Scholl. Take a 15-second rest between each circuit. Do the routine three days a week, for six to eight weeks to build strength, improve your skills and slip seamlessly into winter sports season.
1. Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
How to: Stand on your right leg and place your left leg behind you. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing you (a). With a slight bend in your right knee, hinge at the hips. Keep your back straight as you lean toward the ground (b). Tap the dumbbell to the floor or hover it by your ankle. Allow your left leg to lift behind you, raising it to about hip height (b). Rise back up to the starting position, engaging your glutes (c). Repeat, then switch sides.
2. Single-Leg Glute Bridge
How to: Lay on your back with your knees bent. Make a T with your arms on the floor, palms facing down for stability (a). Lift your right foot off the floor and straighten your leg so it’s about perpendicular to the ground (b). Raise your hips and butt off the floor, engaging your glutes and pressing into your left heel. Hold for two to three counts without dropping your hips or butt (c). Lower your leg, butt and hips back down (d). Repeat, then switch sides.
3. Jump squats
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart (a). Push your hips back and lower your butt towards the floor, keeping your knees over your toes and weight in your heels (b). Explode up by driving your hips forward and jumping off the ground (c). Land softly back on the ground with knees bent. Shift weight into your heels and sink back into a low squat (d). Repeat.
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4. Plyometric Lunges
How to: Start standing with your feet staggered, right foot in front and arms by your sides (a). Lower your hips to the ground, so both knees form a 90-degree angle. Your back knee should hover just over the floor and your front knee should stack over your ankle (b). As you lower your hips, lift your right arm straight overhead, keeping your left arm by your side (c). Explode out of the lunge and scissor-jump your legs, bringing your left foot forward. At the same time, switch your arms (d). Land back into a low lunge, left foot in front and right foot behind you. Your left arm should be raised overhead. (e). Continue alternating jumps and arm raises.
5. Speed Skaters
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart (a). Balancing with your left foot, jump laterally to your right side (b). Push your hips back and land softly on your right foot with your knee bent. Your left leg should extend diagonally behind you (c). Repeat the same motion, jumping laterally to your left side (d). Continue alternating.
6. Box Jumps
How to: Stand behind a box with your feet shoulder-width apart (a). Bend your knees and explode up to jump onto the box, landing with on both feet (b). Stand up straight when you reach the top of box (c). Step back off the box one foot at a time or hop off with both feet (d). Repeat.
7. Side Planks
How to: Laying on your left side, place your left hand under your shoulder, stack your feet and lift your hips. You should be in a straight diagonal line from shoulders to ankles (a). Reach your right arm towards the ceiling (b). Keeping your core engaged and hips lifted, hold the plank for 15 seconds. Then switch sides (c).