By: Kerry Gustafson, LAT, ATC, LMT, Kerry Gustafson is the owner and visionary of Prime Sports Institute, a multi-disciplinary sports medicine clinic focused on helping individuals maintain healthy, active lifestyles through a comprehensive approach to wellness. An athletic trainer for more than 19 years, Kerry's specialties include the evaluation and rehab of injuries, running gait analysis and screenings to identify imbalances, mobility and movement dysfunctions.
(Featured image by @whitraebro.)
Strength and flexibility play a big role in ski touring, where the athlete moves their body up and over potentially thousands of meters in the mountains. It’s not just about becoming stronger in the gym. By adding in a strength and stretching program, athletes who regularly participate in ski touring can improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injuries.
Repetition during Ski Touring
Think about all the thousands of repetitions of the same or very similar movements endurance activities involve. This repetition often results in acute inflammation of these muscles, which can be perceived as stiffness and soreness. The inflammation actually stimulates some of the adaptations to the training, and sometimes it can be too much of a good thing.
Single Leg for Ski Touring
Ski touring involves single-legged propulsion, hip and knee stabilization, plus core and arm strength. Good technique in skiing requires good hip stabilization in order for the prime mover muscles to do their job best. A strength training program should emphasize single-legged strength exercises.
Stabilizer Strength for Ski Touring
Many people want to jump right into lunges and jumping exercises; however, you first have to have stabilizer strength before doing these exercises in the sagittal plane (the forward plane). You don’t ski going in one direction, straight. Your hips stabilize your knee, ankle and foot. Be very aware of where your knee is in relation to your foot. At the same time, make sure your hips stay level and you don’t drop one hip. Some great exercises Prime Sports Institute recommends are listed below.
Leg & Hip Strengthening Program for Ski Touring
Begin with these two exercises for two weeks to help teach the brain how to stabilize the hip, knee, foot, and ankle. After Level 1, move on to Level 2 to use your new hip stability. Start with four sets of 15-20 (or fatigue) with one-minute rest between sets. Between sets, perform one set of the upper-body exercises.
Squats with Knee Band (band above the knees):
Single Leg Hip Abduction (band above the knees for more advanced):
Start with bodyweight to learn the movement. Start with three sets of 15 reps on each leg, with 1-2 minutes rest between sets. Between sets, perform one set of the upper-body exercises. Increase by adding reps each session until fatigue. When you reach three sets of 30 reps with good hip and knee control and balance, move on to Level 3.
Box Step Up (Barbell on back for advanced); Box Step Down:
Skater Squats (SLS and reach to chest height):
Once you can execute Level 2 exercises maintaining good form, progress by adding weight to the same three exercises in Level 2. Add enough weight so you can perform eight reps with perfect form. Do four sets of six reps, resting two minutes between sets. Between sets, perform one set of the upper-body exercises.
Upper Body Strength Program for Ski Touring
Perform three sets of maximum repetitions with 2-3 minutes of rest between sets. When you can do more than eight reps in the third set, increase weight or reduce the amount of assistance. For the isometric bar-hang, use a pull-up bar, and keep your chin above the bar using assistance. Remove the assistance and hold your chin above the bar as long as you can. Lower down from the bar and rest for two minutes. Between sets, perform one set of the Leg/Hip exercises. Repeat the bar-hang four times. When you can keep your chin above the bar for more than 5 seconds in the fourth set, use a middle position with elbows bent at ninety degrees and repeat the same progression.
Isometric Bar Hang—Chin above bar, and 90 degree elbow flexion for advanced:
Core Strengthening Program for Ski Touring
Begin by holding the basic front plank position for as long as you can before losing form (your low back sags or your spine isn’t straight). Based on this, begin at the level that corresponds to your assessment:
Level 1: Less than 30 seconds
Level 2: 30 seconds to 1 minute
Level 3: Longer than 1 minute
Basic Front Plank — a full body plank from forearms:
Alternating Arm Reach Plank — alternate arms reach out in front of you from full plank position:
Elbow to Knee — alternate opposite elbow to knee:
L-Sit Leg Raises
Begin in a reclined position, legs out straight, ankles flexed toward you. Engage the core, and lift the legs straight up and down, with a 1 second count up, and 1 second count down. Maintain a flat back and support your upper body with your arms.
Hollow Body V-Ups
Start by lying flat on your back. Engage your core and lift your straight arms and legs up off the floor approximately 16” and hold. Lower, rest and repeat.
The Importance of Stretching for Ski Touring
Stretching is also a key component to aiding stiff and tight muscles. A short muscle cannot be a functionally strong muscle. Stretching comes in two forms: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching is done before your ski touring and can be done when you get out of the car as well as when you begin to travel on your skis. Static stretching is best done after your workout, when you are warm.
Common Tight & Weak Areas for Those who Ski Tour
The most common tight and weak areas we see at Prime Sports Institute for those who ski tour are hip flexors, quads/knees and low back.
Stretching Program for Ski Touring
True Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel and don’t lunge. Roll your hips under as though you are “tucking your tail.” Stretch the arm of the kneeling leg side straight up to the ceiling and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat two to three times on each side.
Kneeling Quad Stretch
Kneel on one leg and put the foot of the bent knee up on a chair or couch behind you. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat two to three times on each side.
Pseudo-Pigeon Rocking Outer Hip Stretch
From a position on hands and knees, bring the target leg in front of you and across the opposite leg. Then shift your hips from side to side to target the outer gluteal/hip muscles. Perform for 30 seconds. Repeat two to three times each side.
Dynamic Hamstring Stretch
Place your heel on an object approximately 20 inches off the ground keeping the knee straight. Begin rotating the leg internally and externally like a windshield wiper. Rotate your upper body in the opposite direction of the leg and look over your shoulder. This will wind and unwind the hamstrings. Perform for 10 repetitions on each leg prior to skiing.
Standing Dynamic Quad Stretch
Bend your knee and place your foot behind you on an object approximately the height of your hips or slightly lower. Bend the knee of the standing leg and then extend it, and repeat moving up and down consistently with a two second count in each direction. Perform 10 repetitions on each leg prior to skiing.