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Ski Fitness

Ski fitnessThe signs that winter is creeping in are everywhere and this change in weather historically prompts a mass exodus from the treadmills of your local health club to the ski slopes of Europe! In this little offering I would like to discuss the dynamics of skiing and the physiology of balance in order for us to better condition our often under-prepared bodies for the unpredictable mountain that lies ahead. By Jason Anderson, GIM-uk Ltd. Director.

One example is the good old-fashioned ‘Ski-sit’. Prescribed by fitness trainers to create strength in the thighs and to acclimatise the client to fatiguing lactic acid.


The law of specificity states that the body will only adapt to the stimulus that is put upon it. So even though the ski-sit ‘resembles’ skiing position making the rationale behind that exercise sound, it has a marked difference. The difference being that your centre of gravity (dotted line), and therefore the direction of stress placed onto the thighs, is very different from the actual position of skiing. So simply put, the strength increases that you receive from this exercise cannot be carried over to when you are speeding down the slopes.

Specify of Training

In order to condition the body for a particular event or activity like skiing, we need to replicate the environment, the movements and speeds of movements as closely as possible to get the best effects. All of this needs to be performed in positions that also get all of the major joints (ankle, knee, hips, spine, shoulder) ‘talking’ to each other so that the body can replicate this musculo-skeletal harmony on the slopes.


Good balance plays a huge part in skiing as it helps to keep you on your skis as you react correctly to the multitude of positions that you find yourself thrust into.

There are 3 systems involved in balance:

  • The vestibular system - in the ears
  • The proprioceptive system - in the muscles
  • The visual system – the eyes

Vestibular system

The vestibular apparatus in the ear provides internal feedback on the position of the head. Hence, your balance is affected when you have an ear infection.

Proprioceptive system

Your proprioceptors are little sensory organs in your muscles and they respond to changes in the muscles (length changes and speed of length changes) providing feedback to the nervous system about your body’s position. This allows your muscles to contract appropriately to maintain your balance by acting as a kind of ‘mobile adaptor’ between your head and the floor.

Visual system

The eyes allow us to make informed decisions about the surrounding environment.

So in summary, the proprioceptive and visual systems gather information from the environment (i.e. position relative to other objects, stability of surface etc.) and the vestibular system provides an internal reference, providing information about the head’s orientation in space.

So the most important thing that allows us to perform accurate and coordinated activities is the ability of the body to maintain a level head (and gaze)!

Note: Try catching or hitting a ball with your head tilted to one side!

You will need the ankle, knee, hip and trunk stability that maintains a head position that allows accurate information to be relayed to the nervous system. This will enable your body to react effectively with the unpredictable environment that is the mountain!

Ski Conditioning

So when we start to put a ski-training programme together we will need to consider:

  • The environment
  • Movement patterns
  • Speed of contraction

The Environment

White, slippery and on the whole pretty unpredictable! So we will need to adopt an element of unpredictability and instability into our training. This can be achieved with the use of various training mediums like the BOSU ball, Stability Ball and Wobble Boards or simply standing on one leg.

Movement patterns

Skiing is based upon a series of key movement patterns. Considering this we will need to focus our training towards:

  • The squat – to cover all of that bouncing up and down
  • One leg dominant - due to the asymmetrical nature of skiing, most of your weight will be always placed onto one leg
  • Rotation – coupled with a weight shift always comes a twist!  

Speed of contraction

A sport, especially skiing, is extremely power orientated. Power can be defined as “The ability to accelerate, decelerate and stabilise all at the same time at speed”. It could all go horribly wrong if we cannot get the body producing, reducing and stabilising the forces present during skiing in a blink of an eye! However to ensure exercise safety we will need to start off with slow repetitions to promote motor learning and facilitate good exercise technique. Only then working towards increasing the speed once the exercise has been mastered to improve our reaction time.

Exercise suitability

Muscle imbalance and weakness have become major considerations for programme design. We cannot expect to move from a sedentary environment, with little or no activity, to an unpredictable and powerful movement-based environment without any adverse structural effects or injuries!

It is imperative that if you are new to exercise or skiing for that matter you start with a programme that is specific to you.

In our workout section, you can choose a ski programme to meet your needs and goals.

Top tips for Before, During and After Your Skiing Trip

Here are some great suggestions that you might want to take into consideration when planning your Skiing trip.

  • Make sure you prepare physically.
  • Start some Ski Specific Fitness Training (use the programme on this site).
  • Be prepared; start your training well in advance of your trip to maximise the results.
  • Visit a dry ski slope and get some lessons.
  • Make sure you buy the correct equipment and seek advice from a skiing expert. Warm clothing is also essential to avoid hypothermia from exposure to any harsh conditions.
  • Do some research about your destination before hand so that you are prepared for what lies ahead.
  • Familiarise yourself with your environment when you get there.
  • Make sure if you are new to skiing you book an induction course before you go out alone.
  • When you first hit the slopes, take it slowly. Give your body time to adapt to its new environment.
  • Try to stay in a group or make sure there is always someone around to communicate with.

Other Advice

Rest and Recovery
When your muscles are fatigued you are more likely to cause injury to your joints. Take regular breaks so that you allow your body to rest and recuperate. Also have a stretch at the end of the day. This will prevent muscular aches and pains by helping to release toxins built up from all of that activity.

Stay Hydrated
Similarly to rest, hydration can all too easily be neglected so focus on hydration, as your body will thank you for it. Fluid loss of as little as 2 percent of your body mass can result in a 20 percent drop in energy and performance – in addition to symptoms of fatigue, nausea, headaches and irritability should be enough to make sure you drink properly!

The Effects of Alcohol
Do not go on to the slopes if you have had too much drink the night before. Alcohol stays in your system for up to 24 hours and may affect your balance, coordination and judgement all of which are imperative, especially if you are new to skiing.

After your Skiing Trip
To ensure that that you don’t lose your hard-earned fitness gains on your next vacation, simply keep it up when you get back. You should make exercise, nutrition and hydration all part of your everyday lifestyle.

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