Skiing and snowboarding tend to be once or twice a year hobbies. Generally speaking the movements and positions you put your body through during your time on the slopes will not be something your body is used to. Muscle soreness and fatigue at the end of a days skiing is extremely common and increases the risk of injuries.
POSTURE AND TECHNIQUE
As the ski season approaches I notice people typically increasing the squat and plyometric components of their workouts. This is a good way of increasing your speed and fitness however these exercises alone are unlikely to maintain your posture and technique on the slopes which is key to avoid muscle and postural compensations so that injuries do not occur. As an avid skier and a Physiotherapist, I strongly believe that Pilates can be a way of improving your form and endurance on the slopes as well as most importantly preventing injury.
A healthy musculoskeletal system requires muscular strength, neural control and flexibility of soft tissue. In all sports, good movement starts with optimal alignment of the body and alignment/ posture is a key principle taught in Pilates. Despite your feet being fixed on your skis or board it is essential to have a good stance over the arch and ball of the foot and range at your ankle joint. The ankles, knees, hips and shoulders should then be stacked up on top with your weight in the centre of the skis/ board. Postural and global muscle strength and control is required to maintain this alignment whilst going down the slopes to avoid over-loading areas like knees and backs.
By focusing on correct core muscle engagement Pilates strengthens the deep postural muscles of the spine improving the stability of the pelvis and spine during dynamic activities. Pilates helps a skier/ snowboarder focus on allowing the movement to start from the centre of the body outwards. Research has shown that muscles work in conjunction across the body in muscle slings to stabilise our pelvis.
Pilates exercises work on these specific muscle slings highlighting any areas of weakness making your programme more specific and aiming to regain muscle balance which will enable you to generate a more powerful line of energy into your skis/ snowboard.
Pilates exercises on the mat and particularly the reformer can be performed in a way to help improve muscle recruitment and timing by exercising in a closed chain position (foot is in contact with the floor, platform, strap or bar). This allows the exercises to be more ski/ snowboard specific and will strengthen the muscles in functional positions appropriate to your sport.
Two common areas of injury in skiing are the knees and back. Here are some examples of how Pilates can help avoid injuries to these areas.
A common area for injury in skiers is the knee. Tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the meniscus can take months to recover from.
Pilates can work on dynamic and full knee range of movements required for skiing including the endurance of the muscle groups controlling the knee. Areas of focus are strengthening of the hamstrings and inner thigh (adductor) muscles. Improving your hamstring strength can help balance overused thigh muscles (quadriceps) as well as support the ACL. Strengthening your adductors can help you to better control your skis under the body including improving your recovery from those times that you catch the edge of your ski, decreasing the stress on ligaments such as your MCL.
Other key muscles are the gluteus medius and vastus medialis oblique (VMO) both of which help to control the position of your patella (knee cap) and the hip during dynamic movements and prolonged postures. Despite the foot ankle being supported in your boots it is also important to ensure that there is good range of movement at the ankle joint with optimal calf length. If there is a restriction in allowing the ankle to flex in the boot it can contribute to knee injuries.
Lower Back Injuries
Another common complaint or injury from skiers is the lower back. This is normally secondary to fatigue and poor core stabilisation of the spine and pelvis.
Imagine your pelvis as the centre of your body, if the centre is moving whenever your upper or lower extremities are moving it will increase the stress on the spine and can cause unnecessary muscle imbalances. It is also not energy efficient therefore contributes to fatigue and decreased performance.
In Pilates we focus on correct abdominal recruitment to help gain control of your centre and therefore improve the efficiency of the other large muscle groups which is vital in the postures of skiing and snowboarding. Down the slopes you need strength at your core to enable yourself to manipulate your skis or board in a controlled but also efficient way to avoid fatigue or injury.
As a skier I love challenging myself and my clients with ski specific exercises and classes during the winter months to get them and myself ready for those weeks on the slopes.