Updated: Feb 20
Between the cute kit, ample gluhwein, and REAL hot chocolate it’s easy to forget how tough a workout skiing and snowboarding can be. The thrill of flying down a snow-covered mountain at speed, often means that injuries are common. This means that preparing your body in the weeks before you hit the slopes can help you avoid injuries and make the inevitable falls just that little bit safer. It can also improve physical performance and give you a better style when skiing. Pilates is particularly incredible at preparing the body for this movement. It will give you that hard-earned core strength, flexibility, balance and control that will help you move in style.
Flexibility and mobility
A good range of motion at the spine, hip and ankle is essential for skiers and snowboarders. In skiing and in snowboarding most bending occurs at the knees, ankles and hips. Equally important is the mobility of the upper body and the spine. Without a doubt a mobile – as well as stable – spine will avoid the stresses and fatigue that often come from hours of skiing. Good skiing technique means facing down the mountain at all times with your upper body however, this requires you to dissociate from your lower body to achieve those ultimate turns. To allow your body to do this, you need to rotate from the thoracic spine. Pilates for skiers is ideal for achieving spinal rotation. Having a mobile and flexible body when skiing has another advantage: it can protect you from injury if you fall. Having a good range of motion will help you cope better if you do end up face down in the snow, or if you twist suddenly to avoid another skier.
Pilates is by no means a match for global strength training like gym work or other forms of muscle building. There is not a huge amount of focus on big global muscles and the strength that comes along with this type of training. Having said this, Pilates for skiers is perfect for strengthening the stabilisers which are equally important (and sometimes even more important). All Pilates exercises work the full range of a muscle making it longer and stronger. Pilates is especially good at strengthening the skiing muscles which include the core: obliques, abdominals, back extensors and hip extensors and adductors. Having a strong and stable trunk is imperative. When you ski, the trunk needs to stay relatively stable while the movement happens in the lower limbs. Unnecessary movement of the trunk uses up more energy making you less efficient and compromising good form on the slopes.
Plyometric and powerlifting exercises are often what people gravitate towards when preparing for skiing. This is great to increase speed on the slopes, however, misalignment can prevent good performance, and efficiency and may even cause more damage than good. Pilates teaches stability of the pelvis and neutral spine during dynamic exercises. Learning a neutral spine and maintaining it during the skiing motion is important. This is because either sticking your glutes out or tucking them under can prevent the muscles at the hips and pelvis from activating correctly and it will cause misalignments both up and down the body. This is not good for skiers as the side-to-side action of the hips during skiing requires strong lateral hip muscles. It is even more important that the gluteus medius, which is located on the side of your hips, works optimally. Pilates exercises such as the side-lying gluteal series and standing reformer exercises are ideal to target these muscles. Proper alignment of the lower body is also imperative for skiers. Knees need to be positioned centrally over feet – without them, skiers won’t be able to carve through the snow. Poor knee alignment will also make snowboarders feel unstable. All the Pilates exercises are designed to improve alignment, and many specifically focus on the relationship between the foot, ankle and hip.
Exercises to make you a stronger snow goer:
Focus: Flexibility and mobility of the spine and joints and to challenge balance and proprioception
Examples of exercises:
Roll down on one leg.
Roll down on one foot’s toes and the other foot is just balancing on the toes.
Jumping in different directions.
Standing on squishy and going down with one leg at a time.
Standing on one leg and catching a ball (add challenge and stand on a squishy).
Lateral flexion with the upper body.
Rotation with the upper body.
Balance on a ball or foam roller.
Anything that requires coordination.
While your core muscles control ski-specific balance, your foot-and-ankle muscle group takes responsibility for the edging, pressure and rotational movements used in skiing. Your feet have intrinsic and extrinsic muscles. The intrinsic muscles include the plantar flexors, which point your toes toward the ground, and your dorsiflexors, which curl your toes toward your shins. Dorsiflexion is more common in skiing because it helps you keep your shins pressed into the tongue of your ski boot. It is important to note that the knees are particularly vulnerable to injury and tears to the knee’s ligaments are common.
Standing footwork - parallel toes, baby V, wide V (you can balance the challenge of balance by standing on a squishy or Bosu ball)
Solus strength - In lunge position with the front foot on squishy and lift and lower toe to work the soleus
Theraband around foot and point and flex and inversion and eversion.
Jump board work on a reformer.
Use a magic circle in a mogul position, and rotate toes and hips to mimic riding a snowboard. Exhale as you press the carriage away, keeping the core engaged.
The focus: To give the skier and snowboarder a stronger core. Both isometric and isotonic exercises should be included. The core muscles include your transverse abdominal muscles, your multifidus, your internal and external obliques and to some extent, your superficial rectus abdominals help you maintain balance, which is the most essential skiing skill. These muscle groups work as a unit to stabilize your pelvis and spine while maintaining an upright posture while moving down the slope.
Single Leg Lift (and Leg Changes).
Holding onto a big ball and moving legs in and then extending leg up.
Over roller to get a beautiful extension to release the upper back and work abdominals.
Chest lifts (add Rotation).
Spine Twist Supine.
Hundreds prep, Hundreds, Double Leg Stretch, Single leg Stretch, Criss Cross.
The focus: To release tightness and tension in the hips and specifically the gluts which work hard to stabilise the body and propel movement down the slopes.
Reformer Hip Work Series over the foam roller or over a big ball.
Leg circles standing.
The focus: To release the lumbar spine and the upper back.
Pelvic curl (beginner).
Rollover (intermediate) - the neck must stay in line with the spine. This exercise is for a healthy spine.
Swan Dive Prep (advanced).
A snow-goer is typically strong globally but also tight. Having a full range of motion through the muscles allows optimal firing of the muscles.
Glutes - cross one leg in front of the other in a seated position or lying supine.
Shin/foot stretch - Dorsiflexion stretch sitting on feet and lifting the knees off the ground, then sitting on feet (plantar flexion) and lifting up knees. This stretch is not for someone with sore knees.
Calves (both gastroc/soleus) by putting hands on the wall and one leg back (extend this leg bend the knee and move from side to side).
Quad stretch - standing and holding one foot
Upper back/rhomboids/neck - “Thread a needle”, arms parallel up against a wall and reach the arm up and over, back up against the ball and reach the arms up to the ceiling and then back down
Lateral flexor stretch - standing perpendicular to the wall and the arm furthest from the wall lifts and reaches for the wall.
Full Body Integration 1
The idea is to work the whole body, usually with a shorter lever compared to Full Body Integration 2.
Cat stretch - to stretch lower back and work upper back.
Supermans (balance boosting) - in a cat stretch position take the opposite hand and leg back.
The Focus: To stabilize the upper body or use the arms to be functional to steer and balance.
Chest expansion using a theraband - Keep the head aligned with the spine all throughout this move, which strengthens your chest, shoulders, and upper back.
Kettlebell swings - explosive - improve endurance and balance.
Plank and hold position.
Full Body Integration 2
The focus: To challenge stability and strength to improve endurance on the snow.
Shoulder Bridge Prep into Shoulder Bridge - helps the imbalances of being quad dominant and not as strong in the hip extensors.
Front support - builds strength and muscular endurance.
Burpees - a great way to get the heart rate up.
Burpee - one leg and jumping out and back in and curling up on the same leg.
Over big ball/bosu hip flexor strength with theraband around the feet.
The extrinsic muscle groups used in skiing are in your lower leg, which is divided into three compartments. The anterior compartment, located in the shins, assists in dorsi flexion, whereas the posterior compartment, located in the calf, assists in plantar flexion. The lateral compartments hold particular importance because they control eversion, which turns the sole of your foot outward. You perform eversion every time you put your skis on their edges. Knee flexion and extension, otherwise known as bending and straightening of the leg, controls pressure and helps absorb the ground-impact forces of alpine skiing. Your hamstrings, located in the backs of your legs, take on the important task of bending your knees. When your hamstrings perform properly, they protect your anterior cruciate ligament. Your quadriceps straighten your legs, stabilising your knee joint and preventing excess knee rotation. Your gluteal complex is a powerful muscle group in the hip area, as well as one of the most essential muscle groups used in skiing. These muscles act as stabilisers and assist in flexion and extension. Your gluteal muscles also assist in external leg rotation, which helps perform the rotary movements that steer you.
While nothing beats time skiing or snowboarding to make you a better skier and or snowboarder; it is also this reason that a snow-goer is most probably already suffering from tightness in the legs. Protect your knees on your skis. It is important to stretch the legs well to avoid injury and equally, we want to make the legs stronger.
Hips, quads, and hamstring work - Lunges (can add a challenge with stability).
Quad work - Double leg jump on the box, Leg on the ball, and explosive jumps.
Explosive power and building bone density - Jump squat.
Glutes and hamstring work - Pelvic curl, Shoulder bridge prep, and shoulder bridge (can add elevating the leg onto a box or a wobble cushion to add another element of the challenge).
Hips and hamstrings - Single leg deadlifts (works legs independently checking in on imbalances) - Dumbbell Deadlift.
Hamstring work - Standing on a box with an ankle weight - pulling the leg back and laterally taking the leg out to the side.
Three-step squat - right leg back, middle, left leg back.
Glut med - Purple discs for curtsy, Sumo walk, Gluteal side-lying series, Gluteal series on hands and knees with a band around ankles/ankle weights.
Quads - Stepping up and down onto a box/stair with weights in the hands to add load.
Laterally stepping up on the box with the leg closest to the box and then the other leg laterally lifts and lowers back down. Have weights in your hands.
Lateral lunge with overhead press
Calf work - Calf raises, progressing to single leg calf raises.
Lateral flexion and rotation
Main focus: Stretching the lateral flexors and strengthening for stability. Skiing requires twisting from the waist, but many times that rotation is mistakenly transferred to the knees. Especially once larger muscles are fatigued, the knee joint takes on excessive pressure that could result in a tear of these ligaments. To prevent this, it is recommended to do exercises that strengthen the obliques, back extensors, and of course, the legs in our Pilates workout for skiing. The most common injuries we see from skiers are ailments to the tissues surrounding the knees, specifically tears of the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), MCL (medial collateral ligament), and meniscus. This is also why it is important to strengthen and stretch all muscles around the knees.
Side plank with bent knees or straight legs.
Main focus: Stretching the front line of the body and strengthening the upper back. Skiing demands a series of complex interactions between your upper- and lower-body muscles and your central nervous system. As a snow-goer it is important to be well-balanced in all muscle groups to allow for edging movements, adding pressure and rotational movement.
Basic Back Extension.
Swan Dive Prep.
Pilates also will benefit you as a snow goer by improving your mobility, flexibility and stabilising strength as well as improving your alignment and posture (when skiing and off the slopes). This ultimately reduces the effects of fatigue and the risk of injury while you benefit from good form and technique on the slopes.