Prepare me to ski
October 2, 2011 8:28 AM   Subscribe

How do I best prepare my quads for skiing this winter. I will probably only go once or twice but I'd like to enjoy both of those times. I went once last year with out doing any prep it was the first time in about 6 years. Everything was fine except for my quads, it got to the point about half way through the day I couldn't go on. The rest of my body felt fine (tired but fine). What can I do to keep my quads from hurting so bad I have to end my day short?

I have always cramped pretty easily I made sure to keep my self well hydrated. I still got a few cramps in my shoulders and calves last year but nothing that a little bit of rest and stretching didn't fix. It was the quads that put me out of commission they were not cramping they just got SORE toward the afternoon. So sore that I had to stop much earlier than I would have liked to. I'm not very athletic. I play a minimal amount of tennis in the summer and would like to ski a little more this winter but will likely only get the chance to go twice at most.
posted by jmsta to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Doing a lot of work with a muscle group that's not used to it will pretty much always lead to soreness later on. If you do some quad-centric workouts (squats and lunges) for a few weeks leading up to skiing you will probably hold up much better. Here's a page with some ski-specific exercises.
posted by ghharr at 8:34 AM on October 2, 2011

Run. Ride a bike. Lift weights. Do squats.

You can't perfectly mimic skiing, which is very tiring on certain muscles because it's constant tension/stress and literally no breaks, but the better shape you (and especially your legs) can be in, the easier it goes.

You also need energy throughout the day while skiing, in addition to the Gatorade. Eat lunch. Take breaks to rest and eat a snack.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:35 AM on October 2, 2011

Skiing is a very athletic, intensive sport. It is not something you can do occasionally without being sore the next day. There are so many stabilizer muscles that just don't get worked very often/nearly as hard. That being said, and if you aren't very athletic/work out very much, I'd probably recommend that you grin and bare it. Take some ibuprofen before you start skiing and right after you start skiing. Soak in a hot tub and drink a few beers (not too many as they dehydrate you.

However, if you are looking to make a life change using skiing as your goal to get there, work on getting a good base down. Go into your local gym and work with a trainer to set some goals. Get on an eliptical or a treadmill for 30 minutes a day 4 or 5 times a week.

Skiing is an all body workout. It isn't just the legs that you need to focus on. Your core is very important to skiing. Your legs get the brunt of the workout, but your core keeps you in good form and keeps your body focused down the hill, instead of swinging your upper body the way you turn. Separation between upper and lower body is key to good ski form, so make sure you add in plenty of core/ab exercises.

Here is a good list of muscles you work when you ski and exercises to work those muscles.

Please don't start these if you don't work out very much without consulting a doctor and a personal trainer.
posted by TheBones at 8:50 AM on October 2, 2011

Also, just a head's up, it takes me about 4 weeks of solid conditioning to get back into ski shape after climbing season is over (I am starting here in the next week or two) and I am usually still sore after the first week of ski season.
posted by TheBones at 8:59 AM on October 2, 2011

Studio cycling classes are how I always got ready for Snowboard Season. But abs are just as important.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:10 AM on October 2, 2011

You can do this while watching tv. Start with brief amounts of time and slowly work up to longer and deeper pose. And you know, all the other stuff mentioned above.
posted by getmetoSF at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2011

if my trainer's going out to colorado after having been in the city for a while, he really just adds more plyometric exercises focusing on the core down. says the best one to help him is doing rounds of side-to-side crossing jumps over a heavy bag; helps his side-to-side hip flexibility, butt, and overall quad strength.
posted by patricking at 9:20 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wall sits also help quad endurance.
posted by squorch at 9:56 AM on October 2, 2011

If it's specifically your quads that are hurting, it may be based on your technique as well. As a new/occasional skier, you're likely leaning back, which is what people tend to do because it feels safer. I always try to feel the front of my shins on the tongue of my boot and lead with my hands to get into a good position.

As with most things, taking a lesson can be very helpful.

That said, I agree with the above points that skiing is intensive and you're only going to be able to minimize the amount of muscle soreness etc rather than eliminate it.
posted by sinical at 10:01 AM on October 2, 2011

If your quads are hurting a lot when you ski, it sounds likely that your skiing technique is responsible, as well as your strength and fitness. Do you perhaps sit back a bit when you ski, and lean to the inside of your turns? If you learn to balance your centre of gravity over the centre of the ski, you'll be able to steer with much more precise adjustments of your balance and movements of your feet, and you shouldn't need your quads so much, at least until you get into the bumps and the steep stuff.

As well as everyone's fitness suggestions, how about getting some skiing lessons when you go? Not only will you improve your technique; the lesson should help to pace your day, since it probably won't be as physically intense as what you'd do on your own.
posted by emilyw at 10:06 AM on October 2, 2011

I agree with sinical and emilyw. I ski 6+ hours a day for several weeks spread out over the season each year (starting easy for me and ending with the challenging stuff) and I don't do anything in particular to prepare. I am always a little stiff the first day but nothing I'd describe as my quads hurting too bad to keep going. So I'd make sure you've got good boots and that you aren't sitting back into the skis. Hot tub before/after really does help as well as some stretching before you get out there.

In the offseason, I find that a good flow yoga class that works with the various low and high poses and warrior/side angle variations uses the skiing muscles effectively.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:08 AM on October 2, 2011

the two things that seem to help me are running/jogging and stairs. please note that going down stairs is just as important as going up them, and i find that the added process of using my muscles going down mimics skiing somewhat.
posted by lester at 11:22 AM on October 2, 2011

++Wall Sits. Magical exercise.

I tell this to anyone that's having a hard time keeping up with me doing n: start running. They usually laugh incredulously at me and continue to have trouble keeping up. I just shrug my shoulders and tell 'em it's what I do.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:14 PM on October 2, 2011

I am a ski instructor but I am not your ski instructor (heh.)

It sounds to me like there are a few things going on here. Let's answer your question directly and then think about the cramping, because I think it's related to your quad soreness.

First: Strengthening your quads is always good idea. Bicycling is kind of the classic summer cross-training for skiers, so do that if you can. You also want the muscles that stabilize the knee and ankle to be in shape. Running, walking and hiking with lots of climbs and descents will help those muscles out. Skating (inline or ice) combines all of the above and works the same muscles that skiing does, so if you can do that, great. More on skating below.

Resistance training helps too, but be careful to not overstress the knee. Don't let the angle of your knee joint get any smaller than 120 degrees when starting a new exercise, and decrease that angle only as you get stronger. Don't push it or you'll get hurt. I remember seeing exercise guides demonstrating wall sits with a perfect right angle between the upper and lower leg. That's great if you're a 20-year-old Olympian but if I go any less than about 100 degrees I'll hurt myself. If it makes you feel any better, I have a friend who used to race mountain bikes on the World Cup circuit who never gets down to 90 degrees, even in her own training, so don't feel like keeping your knee joint open a bit makes you a wimp.

Okay, so anyway, your quads are sore. Strength is part of that, but like emilyw said it's probably mostly a question of balance and stance. This soreness, in conjunction with the cramps in your shoulders and calves and your self-assessment as "not athletic" suggest that you're probably a cautious skier, or at least you feel more comfortable with your brakes on a little. And that caution makes you just a little anxious so you're hugging yourself a little with your arms and tensing up your whole body. I bet your toes are curled up, too. And you're probably sitting back to try to keep those brakes on. And this is what's mostly responsible for your cramps and soreness.

If you can apply emilyw's excellent tips to your skiing and solve your problem, great. If you're a natural klutz like me and most of my students, though, the best way to get your balance sorted out is going to be a) lots of lessons with b) an instructor who knows what they're doing (not, by any means, just any instructor.) I cannot stress enough how quickly you will improve if you take lessons from a good instructor.

But okay, you're only going a couple times this year, which probably means only a couple lessons, tops. And maybe you're not going to take any lessons. Let's see what else we can do to make your skiing more enjoyable.

Speed and steepness almost always aggravate tension and sitting back. So you need to be able to control your speed. How are you doing this? If you're slowing down by making pizzas going straight down the hill you're fighting gravity, and that's a fight your quads are always going to lose. Instead, you need to get comfortable with the idea that gravity is your ally in slowing down, and you get there by turning across, and up, the hill to control your speed.

Start out heading downhill from the top of the easiest slope and make a turn up the hill until you stop. Then do the same in the other direction. If you're doing it right, you should be facing across or even uphill when you stop. Keep doing this until you are comfortable with stopping only by turning. Next, start connecting turns. Your goal here is to keep your speed in your comfort zone. If you're going too fast, start a turn. Hold that turn until you're going too slow, then start the next turn. Remember, your turns have to take you across, or even uphill, to slow you down. Use the entire width of the hill if you have to; your lift ticket paid for it. Your track should look like a series of interconnected 'S's, not 'Z's. When you're comfortable doing this, try a slightly harder hill, and keep moving up as you get more comfortable.

While you're doing this, do a little self-assessment from time to time. How's my body: tense (bad) or relaxed (good)? Where are my elbows: Am I hugging myself (bad) or are my armpits getting some air (good)? What are my toes doing: curled up (bad) or nice and flat (good)? Poles in a death grip or just kind of hanging out in my hands (good)? Etc. If you're nice and relaxed, that's good. And you're probably still sitting back a little bit, but a lot less than if you were nervous. When you make a good, relaxed set of turns remember that feeling and try to recreate it.

Now for a quick, solid physical cue to get you off your butt, try thinking about standing on your toes when you ski. In theory, this will bring you too far forward, but in reality, almost nobody ends up too far forward, and almost everybody is still a little too far back, but it's an improvement. Plus an instructor can fix too far forward much easier than too far back. Anyway, the idea is to get your weight off your heels. Skis are much, MUCH easier to turn when you have equal weight on your heels and toes. And your quads will be exerting much less effort in holding you up.

Try ice or roller skating, too. Not only do they work the same muscles as skiing but they are a lot less forgiving of sitting back too far. My best beginner students almost always have experience playing hockey.

And if you have a choice of skis to use, go with the shorter ones. Shorter skis are not only easier to turn, but also less forgiving of sitting back. If you're renting, skis no longer than the distance from the floor to your chin in stocking feet should be fine for your first time out this season. Maybe even shorter.

So, anyway, teaching yourself to control your speed by using turns across the hill, starting on the easiest hill and working up, will help you relax and help get you out of the back seat, which should relieve the tension in your shoulders and calves and also reduce the weight your quads are carrying. Going skating a few times will help you learn how to keep your balance off your heels, too.

I know I threw a lot at you, so feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions. But seriously, take lessons if you can.
posted by Opposite George at 1:34 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live on a ski mountain. The season ended on April 10th & they opened the lifts back up on Memorial day. Between that time, I spent an hour a day at the gym. Result? My legs hurt just like they did on the first day of the season.
posted by mmdei at 1:39 PM on October 2, 2011

Oh yeah, like mmdei said. I am on snow about 100 days every year, generally taking off only on Christmas (we have a short season.) I bicycle and hike all summer. I can assure you I will still be a little stiff after the first few days out. Still, keeping relaxed and on top of your skis should keep the pain away until the next day.
posted by Opposite George at 1:51 PM on October 2, 2011

The Times had this article, "Training for Western Peaks in Eastern Terrains" on Friday, which might have some information for you. It's a little light on content, but was helpful to me to think in terms of altitude, not just strength, and how your body uses oxygen.
posted by stellaluna at 10:44 AM on October 3, 2011

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