By Stuart Davis, M.D., Urgent Ortho
Winter has arrived! Skiing, snowboarding, sledding and all of the winter sports are calling. With weather experts declaring an El Niño season bigger than anything we’ve seen since 2010, your skis and boards will be spending more time under your feet than in the garage. By season’s end you’ll be in FANTASTIC shape, but that might not be the case as the season’s beginning takes shape. Before you head out to enjoy the slopes and trails, make sure your body is prepared to meet the demands of your wintertime playground.
Skiing and boarding demand balance, coordination and stamina. Few of us will be content to stick to the bunny slopes. As the fun factor goes up, so do the chances for injury. Being in shape and protecting yourself before running up the mountain will help make sure you get the most from your season pass. The last thing you want is to have to forfeit a run down in the ‘pow’ for a ‘toboggan’ ride down to the Patrol clinic (or a ride down the mountain in an ambulance) all because you neglected to get into shape before carving some turns. Don’t let injuries put you out on the sun deck watching others enjoy a super huge season. Torn knee ligaments. Torn Achilles tendons. Ankle and wrist fractures. MCL sprains. Bruised tailbones. Back spasms. These are among a list of common winter sports injuries that can be mitigated by proper preparation.
If you put in just a “titch” of time and a “scosh” of sweat, you can prep for the slopes and minimize the chance of getting injured. Here are a few tips to help. You should first consult with your PCP to be sure you can tolerate the rigorous program outline below:
1. AEROBIC FITNESS: Running, mountain biking, cycling, or hiking can help you build up endurance for long days on the slopes and trails. When you’re trying to get in one last run, when you’re tired, you are more prone to injury. Better endurance, better conditioning means better reactions in ever-changing conditions and less chance of getting injured.
2. ANAEROBIC FITNESS: Daily anaerobic exercise (1-3 minutes as hard as you can go without rest, in sets of 3, with 5 minute rest intervals) of high-intensity agility plyometric drills will build up the headwall-to-headwall burst endurance. Favorites drills include shuttle runs (sprint back and forth in an area that is 40- to 60-feet long such a gymnasium), high-intensity skipping, bounding, hopping and lateral movements.
3. STRENGTH: Train the large muscles in your legs for strength and endurance. Throw on a heavy backpack and climb high, steep and fast for about 5 minutes. If you can’t get onto a trail to do this, try flights of stairs, the stair-master or an elevated treadmill.
4. TRAIN YOUR CORE: Working on low back and abdominal muscles with movements that require stability and strength between the upper body and the lower body will enhance stability and balance. Exercises like planks, ½ squats (full squats increase risk of meniscal injury and should be avoided), seated twists, etc. increase core strength.
5. TRAIN FOR BALANCE: Use of a balance or wobble board, slack line, balance beam or lines on the floor will help improve you balance. Intensify the workout by doing single-leg balance drills and single-leg ½ squats while standing on dyna-discs or towels are great ways to advance your skills. Try these drills both barefoot and with your ski/snowboard boots on.
Finally, we all know the importance of wearing a helmet. For both skiers and snowboarders, helmets can protect from concussions or other head injuries during impact with the ground or a tree strike. For snowboarders, wrist protection is also a great idea. We see far too many wrist injuries every ski season from snowboarders who could have prevented the injury with some protection. The alternative may be cruising down the slopes with a cast on for the remainder of the season.
One of the best ways to reduce your need to visit Urgent Ortho is through regular exercise and sport-specific training. Learn it, love it. Spread the shred. Have fun! Be safe!