Monday Medical: Get fit for the slopes

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— Antsy for Opening Day, you close your eyes and imagine carving turns and floating on powder. You’re probably forgetting the tight tender muscles that will make it hard to sit and walk the next day.

Monday Medical

Monday Medical columns publish weekly in the Steamboat Today's Yampa Valley Health section. Read more columns here.

It’s not too late to begin a fitness routine that will get you into shape for skiing and snowboarding and help you prevent injury and maintain performance throughout the winter.

After a summer of activity that has kept us healthy and strong, ski-specific exercises are important to retrain our bodies to sustain the unique and powerful demands of the sport. A dynamic routine that includes strength, endurance, balance and flexibility training will help you ski relaxed and in control on long runs and variable terrain.

Good fitness also helps prevent fatigue, which can cause sloppy technique and injury.

“If you don’t have good strength and flexibility in every major muscle group, you are setting yourself up for injury,” said Frederica Manning, a physical therapy assistant at SportsMed at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Manning and physical therapy aide Craig MacDonald helped develop a SportsMed video demonstrating creative ways to incorporate ski fitness into your exercise program. Stretching before and after activity lengthens muscles for better flexibility. Before stretching, briefly warm up with jumping jacks or by walking or running in place. Gently stretch muscle groups starting in the legs and lower body and moving up.

Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, biking and other aerobic activities get your heart pumping and boost endurance needed for challenging runs and a full day on the mountain. Strong core muscles in the abdominal, pelvic and back area are important because they support good posture and balance. Crunches, plank exercises and Pilates are among ways to strengthen your core.

Regular resistance and agility training keep muscles strong and responsive on changing terrain and snow conditions. Outside the weight room, you can improve your strength using your own body weight as resistance and inexpensive tools such as BOSU balls and stretch cords. Leg exercises using a resistance band around the ankles, for example, strengthen often-forgotten foot and ankle muscles that guide us through rotational movements on the slopes.

Lateral side steps, squats and lunges are excellent exercises to prepare hardworking leg muscles for countless ski runs.

“You can’t do too many lunges for skiing,” said MacDonald, who is also a member of the Steamboat Ski Patrol.

Aggressive skiers who want to improve their speed and power can add plyometrics, or exercises involving explosive jumps and movements, to their routine, he said.

No one wants to get hurt training, so correct technique is important. Ski fitness classes at SportsMed and at other gyms and studios provide guidance under the supervision of an instructor. These classes are winding down, but there are many good options year-round for practicing yoga, Pilates, balance, strength training and stretching in beneficial, small-class environments.

Good fitness is among important tips for preventing ski injuries including staying hydrated, wearing a helmet and gear that fits properly, skiing terrain appropriate to your skill and stopping when you're tired or in pain.

Check in with your doctor or a physical therapist if you are just starting to exercise or are recovering from an injury. SportsMed offers a $10 brief screening with a therapist who will assess your injury and make recommendations for follow up and precautions.

To view the ski fitness video, go to www.yvmc.org and visit the SportsMed page. For more information about injury screenings and fitness classes, call 970-871-2370.

This article includes information from the American Academy of Orthopeadic Surgeons, www.aaos.org; and the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, www.mayoclinic.org.

Tamera Manzanares writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center and can be reached at tameramanza@gmail.com.

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