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If you enjoy winter sports, chances are you’re already making sure your equipment is ready for the season. While your skis are tuned and skates sharpened, there’s another element to make sure is ready for the slopes – your body. Even if you exercise regularly, skiing, snowshoeing or skating challenge your muscles in ways other activities don’t – in part, due to the colder temps.
“Exercising in the cold decreases your body temperature,” explains Kate Hemesath, an exercise specialist with the UW Health Sports Medicine Fitness Center. “Your metabolism increases to warm your core temperature. Your heart and lungs also need to work harder to warm and humidify the dry, cold winter air before it enters your body.”
She adds that depending on the sport, certain muscles may also be used more frequently compared to activities in other seasons. The good news is that most winter sports involve both cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength and muscle endurance – all of which are areas that can be trained prior to the winter season. But there are still some things to think about.
“Skiing and snowboarding are great winter sports that provide a total body workout. However, due to the short duration of the season, it can be hard on the body the first time you hit the slopes,” says Hemesath.
As anyone who has spent time skiing or snowboarding can attest, after a long day on the slopes, the body becomes fatigued. And that is when injuries are more likely to occur. Before the winter season, a regular exercise program should include exercises that get the heart pumping while challenging the entire body, such as the stair climber, elliptical or running. The intensity should vary from 20-45 minutes at least 3 to 5 days a week. As winter nears, adding a cardio workout longer in duration but lower in intensity can help increase endurance. Hemesath also offers suggestions for making sure other parts of the body are ready as well:
Whether your arms help push off ski poles, snowshoeing poles, or are being used to help pump you across the ice, your upper body will also need to be conditioned for winter sports. Examples of beneficial upper body exercises include: bicep curls, lat pull-downs, triceps press, rows and front/lateral deltoid raises.
The movement of many winter sports keeps your body in a somewhat flexed position (leaning forward in front of your hips). Think of pushing off on your skates in the rink, or trudging through layers of snow when you’re snowshoeing. Hemesath explains that this flexed position depends on the hamstring and glute muscles groups as they help stabilize your body. Examples of beneficial hamstring/glute exercises include: deadlifts, one legged deadlifts, pull throughs, leg press backs, step ups, and the leg curl machine.
When it comes to winter sports, one of the most used muscles are the quadriceps. They help stabilize your form as you come down the slopes when skiing or snowboarding. They also help protect your knees. Examples of beneficial quadricep exercises in include using the leg press, leg extension, squats and lunges.
When keeping your skis together, or moving laterally in any winter sport, you’re engaging your inner and outer thigh muscles. To help strengthen them consider including side lunges, sliding side lunges, inner thigh leg lifts, inner thigh squeezes, single leg squats, side step squats with a resistance band and leg lifts.
Ski bindings, snowboard bindings and hockey skates are rigidly designed to keep you in the flexed position and upright. As a result, your calves and ankles may also take on extra stress. If you wear an orthotic, you may also need to wear them in your ski/board boots or skates. Some examples of beneficial calve and ankle exercises include: standing heel raises, standing toe raises, sitting heel raises and resistance band work for your ankles (all directions).
Like your glutes and hamstring, your back and abdominals – or your “core” - work to keep you stabilized when you’re in the flexed position. Your abdominals also help protect your spine. Examples of beneficial core exercises include: planks, side planks, medicine ball chops, bicycle crunches and superman holds.
It’s important to remember that the cold temperatures that accompany winter sports can also cause increased muscle tightness and decreased flexibility. It’s important to warm up and stretch before beginning any rigorous outdoor activity to lower the chance of injury, reminds Hemesath. And, staying hydrated is key. “Winter athletes need to consciously drink more fluids to replace the water that gets lost via respiration. Dehydration is one of the main reasons for reduced performance in the cold,” she adds.