Get Your Ski Legs

As this issue is all about winter sports, I figured now would be an appropriate time to address the most popular of winter sports, and common mistakes often made in preparation for them.

Many people make the mistake of waiting until the week before they go skiing (or snowboarding) to start training, or, they don’t train for it at all and end up paying for it with unbearable leg fatigue the first few days on the slopes.

This year, let’s prepare the right way, because no one wants to be the guy who’s too sore to keep up on the second day of a ski vacation. And don’t wait until the last minute!

There are a few key ways to getting your body ready for skiing, the first being endurance, and not the kind that you build running on a treadmill. The reason why your legs are so sore the day after skiing isn’t because your legs are weak, but rather because they’re not adapted to spending the amount of time under tension that they do on the ski slopes. Your leg strength, as well as your balance and core strength/stability, needs to be addressed in order to help prevent you from getting injured.

Alpine skiing requires a combination of power and endurance known as anaerobic endurance. A ski run generally lasts several minutes, with limited rest and a combination of turns and terrain that require quick, powerful movements. By increasing the anaerobic endurance of your legs, you can decrease the effects of fatigue and continue skiing to your highest ability for a longer period of time. Oh, and you also won’t feel like you need to sit down and slide down the stairs for breakfast the next morning, which is definitely a plus in most people’s eyes.

The Program: Do full-body workouts every day (rather than isolating body parts), choosing 6-10 exercises per day. Superset (pair) an upper-body exercise with every lower-body exercise so that the muscles you’re using during one exercise are resting during the other.

Work the following exercises into your program 3 days per week. The lower-body exercise for each day should be the first exercise performed (again, paired with an upper-body exercise) and the core exercise should be paired with another core exercise of your choice at the end of the workout.

Day 1:

Barbell Squats – 4 sets of 12 reps

How: In a squat rack, place your hands evenly on a bar. Step underneath the bar and situate it across your shoulders. Stand up, lifting the bar off the rack, and take a step back. Maintaining a forward gaze, upright chest, and flat feet on the ground, squat down as low as you can without rounding your back (hopefully until your thighs are parallel to the ground). If you can’t go quite that low yet, practice by standing in front of a bench and squatting down  (but not actually sitting), using just your body weight for a few warm up sets.

Why: Squats are a great full-body exercise, stressing everything from your quads, hamstrings and glutes (to create power), up through your abs, obliques and back muscles to maintain a solid core. Both areas are extremely important in skiing. Squats should be done as the first exercise in the workout to make sure that proper form is maintained. If you aren’t sure what proper form is, seek advice from a professional.

Stir The Pot – 3 sets of 10 reps, each side

How: Place your forearms on a stability ball and hold your body in a plank position.  Be sure to tighten your abs and glutes when you start. Draw 10 counter clockwise circles and 10 clockwise circles with your elbows. To make the exercise more difficult, make the circles bigger and/or do them slower. You should feel this in your abs, not your back.

Why: When most people think of core, they think of their abs.  While the abs are important in this exercise, you’re also relying on your obliques, hips, and shoulders to keep you stable while you move the ball.

Day 2:

Pistol Squat – 3 Sets of 10 reps, each side

How: Stand on one leg in front of a bench and hold the other leg straight out in front of you. Keeping your foot flat on the ground, squat all the way down until your butt touches the bench, then come back up. If you can’t maintain control all the way to the bench, do the best you can to lower yourself down slowly until you are fully seated on the bench. Then, rock your upper body forward slightly to create momentum to help you up.  Do all 10 reps on one side, then the other.

Why: Another great all-around leg exercise with the added benefits of balance, lateral hip and knee stabilization, and hip flexor strength on the straight leg.

Side Plank – 3 sets, work up to 45 seconds each side

How: Laying on your left side with your feet stacked on top of one another, place your left forearm on the ground directly under your shoulder. Lift your entire body off the ground until you have a straight line from shoulder to foot, and hold as steady as possible. Your right arm should be flat on your right side, and your right shoulder should stay directly above your left shoulder. Start at 15 seconds on each side and work your way up to 45 seconds for each side.

Why: Lateral stabilization is generally overlooked by most people, but it’s very important in the way that we move, especially in a sport like skiing. The side plank engages the entire lateral aspect of the core, including the glutes, TFL, obliques, and shoulder stabilizers.

Day 3:

Super Legs – Start with 1 set, work up to 3 sets

How: Perform these 4 bodyweight exercises in succession, as fast as possible with no rest between exercises: 20 squats, 10 lunges per leg (alternating legs every rep), 10 step-ups per leg (alternating legs every rep), and 10 jump squats. Remember that you want the forward foot to be flat in both the lunges and step-ups, and the feet should be flat for the squats. To perform jump squats, simply squat down and jump as high as you can. The key to this series is, in the jump squats, don’t just jump to get off the ground. Jump as high as you can on every single rep!

Why: This exercise will increase your anaerobic endurance, making your runs easier and longer. It is the key to preventing that crippling second-day soreness, so you can go back for more fresh powder!

Russian Twist – 3 sets of 15 reps, each side

How: Holding a small stability ball, medicine ball, or metal weight, sit up tall with your knees bent. From here, lift your feet off the ground and begin turning to your left until you can touch the ball to the ground. Then, turn and touch it to the ground on your right. Continue until you have touched the ground 15 times on each side. Keep your feet off the ground the entire time and don’t cross them.

Why: There is a ton of rotational movement in skiing when turning on the terrain. This movement will help reinforce counterbalancing in the movements of the upper and lower body, and it will also strengthen the muscles that perform these rotational movements.

Stick to this program for the next 8 weeks and I promise you’ll be better prepared for the slopes than you ever have been before!


Steve Zarriello B.S., CSCS, TPI Certified is the Owner of The Way HPI located in Cranston, RI. He has been training people of all ages, ability levels, and training goals for almost 10 years.

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