Ready for the slopes?
As snow sport season approaches, it is always a good idea to set some goals. Typically, our goals reference a midseason date … for instance, “By February I would like to be able to ride the East Bowl at Heavenly;” or “by Jan. 1 I want to ski Squaw’s KT-22 without falling.” Depending on your abilities, these may be good goals; however, we seldom set these goals before the season.
The things that we do or don’t do immediately prior to a snow sport season usually determine the type of season we will have. Most of us use the first few months of a season to get in shape. We accept the fact we may not be at our best and we may actually experience some initial discomfort. Unfortunately, this type of attitude can jeopardize our health in fairly significant ways. Consider professional sports … have you ever seen a baseball season start without spring training? Has there ever been a football season without the ever-exciting preseason? Do marathon runners simply show up in Boston and try to run 26 miles without training for months? These elite athletes are usually in better shape than the average person in the first place. So if they need to prepare, then so should we.
The idea is simple. Set aside time in the months preceding a given season to prepare your body and mind to be at your best for the entire season, not just the past two months.
Another reason to prepare for the season is to prevent injury. Studies have shown that initiating a training program prior to any new sport is significantly beneficial to help prevent early to midseason injuries.
The key is “new” sport. We take it for granted that because we were skiing or snowboarding just seven or eight months ago or have been doing this for years, that it is not a new sport. Actually, our bodies don’t have that good of a memory. Starting in November or December, whatever snow sport you enjoy will feel like a new sport to your body.
As trends in snow sports change, so do the types of injuries. With the onset of shaped or parabolic skis, a greater number of people can now ski into terrain that previously may not have been accessible. With snowboarding’s movement to the mainstream, more people are trying it. Generally, as sports increase in popularity, so do the injuries. These are just two examples of many, but the underlying theme is that a new activity or a new level of activity can lead to an increased injury rate. The key to prevention is preparation.
Even the most prepared individuals run the risks of injury related to technique, so it’s important to understand some common mechanisms for injury, especially with skiers.
According to the Vermont Safety Research Study done in 1997, the following pertains to skiers — they traditionally suffer the most knee injuries — specifically to the anterior cruciate ligament — of all winter sport activities. After analyzing more than 14,000 skiing injuries, doctors Robert Johnson and Jasper Shealy and Carl Ettlinger came up with the following situations that can lead to ACL injury: Attempting to get up while still moving after a fall, attempting a recovery from an off-balance position, and attempting to sit down after losing control. They also came up with a profile of a common ACL injury scenario termed, “Phantom Foot.”
It involves the following: Uphill arm back, skier off-balance to the rear, hips below the knees, uphill ski unweighted, weight on the inside edge of the downhill ski trail, and upper body facing downhill ski. Obviously, it would be difficult to always know how your body is oriented, but just being aware of this profile could be helpful. By focusing on maintaining balance and control, keeping your hips above your knees, and keeping your arms forward, danger can be minimized.
Another area of concern that applies primarily to skiers is what is termed the Boot Induced ACL. This essentially occurs during a hard, unbalanced landing after performing an aerial maneuver. In addition, minuscule injuries can occur at this time due to improper landing techniques. Obviously, this can be avoided by not jumping, but for those who need to feel the “wind beneath their skis,” it can be minimized by knowing where and how to land, all the while keeping your knees flexed and ready to absorb impact.
Unfortunately, snowboarding is still too new to the population to have any extensive research done about injury mechanisms and injury types. To date, most snowboarding injuries involve the wrists and shoulders. However, I would anticipate that an increase in hip and back injuries across the country are likely to occur, given the normal type of falls associated with snowboarding.
Effective preparation involves establishing timely realistic goals that focus on three key areas: agility, flexibility and strength. These are listed in a generalized order of importance, but all three are interrelated. That is, leaving one out can affect the other two.
A preseason program is difficult because the benefits may not be realized for two to three months, but if you are able to visualize that first perfect powder day of the season, just imagine how much fun it will be to attack the mountain in your normal mid-to-late season form.
— Author Chris Proctor is a physical therapist at Emerald Bay Physical Therapy
Once you’ve covered agility and flexibility, strengthening occurs naturally. Generally, endurance strength is the key. The exercises indicated here are a good starting point. Wall slides or sits are easy, but effective. Try squeezing a play ball or pillow between your knees while lowering. If you’re doing an isometric wall sit, see how long you can do it before “sewing machine leg” sets in. Single leg bridging helps strengthen our backsides.
Flexibility is by far the most overlooked aspect of training. As with agility, limited flexibility has been linked to more frequent injury rates. In general, skiers should strive for improved flexibility in their hamstrings , quadriceps and hip musculatur. Snowboarders should be flexible in those exercises mentioned above and in their upper extremities: Wrists and shoulders. Regardless of your particular snow sport you should strive to maintain flexible spines.
In modern-day training, it is often overlooked. By definition, agility
encompasses flexibility, strength and balance. In most dynamic situations it is the loss of agility that causes the injury. Generally, agility is our ability to keep our bodies upright while undergoing challenges to our balance. It is the awareness of our body’s position in space during movement. The exercises indicated here can be performed at home and are very effective at improving agility; Telemark lunges, trampoline work, etc. Line jumping is sport-specific and very helpful with agility. Single leg balancing is good for balance and strength. At home, fold a pillow in half and try to balance. If you happen to have one of those mini-trampolines that were going to revolutionize the jogging craze, they are great for balance activities … use your imagination. If these are easy initially, the progression would be for longer hold times and trying single-leg exercises.
A general rule of thumb would be to start these exercises now and try to perform them twice a day every other day. Ideally, you should combine this routine with some type of cardiovascular activity. Of course, flexibility could and should be done daily.
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