Injury always will be a looming uncertainty when it comes to skiing and snowboarding. The stronger and more fit you are, the less chance for injury. Knee injuries are one of the most common injuries for skiers and riders, and beyond general leg strength, there are some added tips to be aware of for protecting your knee ligaments from stretches and tears.
We all know we need to be strong in order to power our way through long days on the hill filled with ample turns through sometimes deep, heavy, or wet snow. Studies over the years have shown that it's actually more important to have proportionately stronger hamstrings than quadriceps.
Why? Because the muscle on the back of the leg is what engages to recover any time we get into the ‘back seat' while skiing, explains Scott Blair, physical therapist and U.S. Nordic Combined Team trainer. A significant amount of knee injuries occur during a fall for the fact that the hamstring is not strong enough to catch us. The hamstrings are harder to isolate while strengthening than their counterpart the quadriceps. Quads get used and abused constantly, yet that is not as much the case for the hamstring. Focus on these strength tips from Blair and benefit all winter with stronger skiing and protected knees.
Straight-Leg Deadlifts engage and isolate the hamstring the best, Blair says. Start with lighter-than-you-think hand weights or a weight bar. Stand up straight with knees slightly bent. Slowly bend at the waist by pushing the buttocks back. Keep the back straight, the head lifted, and the knees slightly bent. Let the weight slowly lower to the knee region depending on flexibility. Once you're at your hamstrings end-without forcing lower-slowly start to come back upright.
Lead with your head and back keeping them in a straight line unhinging at the waist and pushing your hips and buttocks forward. Start with low weight and do higher repetitions. Complete at least three sets rotating through other lifts. Check out this video demonstration of proper form. Add a balance challenge by performing single-leg deadlifts.
Hamstring curls are another weight lift to build hamstring and gluteal (butt) strength. The proper technique for curls is much simpler for the fact that this lift is performed on a weight machine. Before getting after it, make sure that the leg portion is adjusted you're your height-especially the length from your knee to ankle, warns Blair.
You want the pad to rest comfortably on your low calf. Start with low weight and go slowly. Pull the weight and pad towards your butt with control. The more the butt rises into the air, the more you are engaging your gluteus maximus muscles to help your hamstrings do their job. Again do higher repetitions with a minimum of three sets.
One of the best hamstring builders is a decline hamstring curl performed on the floor or an exercise ball. Start by lying on your back with your feet on the ball just narrower than hip distance apart. The middle to lower calf should hit the top of the ball. Bend your knees while digging your heels into the ball. Set your balance here then begin to raise your butt off the ground while pushing your weight into your shoulders and back of the head and neck. Aim for a straight line with the body from the head to the feet. Slowly curl the ball towards your butt keeping your hips raised.
Stop before collapsing at the midsection. Return legs to straight just as slowly and controlled. Aim for three sets of 10-12 repetitions and work up from there. If the back is not happy, or the balance simply isn't there, perform the same move with your feet on the ground. Raise your hips up, and while keeping them raised, slowly straighten one leg at a time alternating back and forth. This will give your hamstrings just as much of a workout.
Transfer these moves to the slopes with good forward pressure in your boots. Bend the knees and ski from the ankles and shins more than the knees and quadriceps, Blair says. As easy as it sounds, but as hard as it is to do, think about letting yourself fall if you're going to bite the dust. Don't fight it.
Lastly, take the time to stretch your hamstrings before and after your workout. Studies prove that increased flexibility prevents injury. "The older you get the tighter you get, so staying flexible is key in preventing injuries," explains Crystal Wright. "When you crash you want to be able to bounce back." As a ski conditioning class instructor and Big Mountain ski competitor, Wright knows a thing or two about skiing, injuries, and the importance of overall hamstring heath.