It's not too late to begin ski conditioning

January 19, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Despite good intentions, most people never get around to doing the exercises that can make skiing easier and safer.

Although the ski season is under way, fitness experts and doctors say even a modest training program now is better than doing nothing at all.

They caution, however, that people should consult their physicians before they start, and those with medical conditions, knee injuries or back problems should be sure they are able to do exercises without further injury.

"How many people are not in shape when they get here?" asked Kirk Schamberger, director of the Sports Club at Bolton Valley, Vt. "I'd say about 99 percent are not ready for skiing."

Even though they are not prepared, once at the ski area, Mr. Schamberger said, people can help themselves by stretching in the morning before going out to ski. When muscles are warm and loose, they are less prone to soreness after a strenuous day of skiing, and flexibility can prevent injuries when falling.

Mr. Schamberger's pre-ski-day recommendation is to start by stretching the quadriceps (muscles at the front of the thighs): while standing, pull the heel to the buttocks. Then, stretch the hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thighs): while sitting on the floor with legs out straight, slowly lean forward. And work the midsection by bending sideways with hands raised above your head.

At home during the ski season, Dr. Robert Israel, a New York York City sports medicine orthopedic surgeon, said the first thing to do is build endurance.

"You can ski more aggressively for longer periods of time with less fatigue if you are aerobically fit," he said. "Use a stationary bike, a stair climber, rowing machine or take brisk walks to improve cardiovascular fitness."

To prepare for the constant up and down movements required in skiing, Dr. Israel recommends half-squats to a sitting position so the thighs are at a 90-degree angle. This exercise strengthens and improves the coordination of the thigh muscles. Start with three sets of 10 repetitions and build up to as many sets as possible.

To simulate skiing's lateral movements, he suggests jumping, with legs together, from side to side. Do three sets of 10 repetitions and eventually try to do side jumps one leg at a time.

Strength training is what many skiers need, according to Jonathan Bischof, a ski instructor and fitness coach at Stratton Mountain, Vt.

"Your ability to get better at skiing is dictated more by strength than anything else," he said.

"A lot of people think they can ski themselves into shape. You not only can't do it, but it can be dangerous."

The most overlooked muscles for Alpine skiing, said Mr. Bischof, are the hamstrings and the buttocks.

These muscles help skiers flex forward at the knees and ankles instead of the hips; to control the tips of the skis, skiers must have the strength to get up and forward over them.

Mr. Bischof said hamstring exercises are difficult to do and people try to avoid them, contending that they need a specialized exercise machine. But Mr. Bischof said leg curls can be done at home by lying face down on a bed with knees just off the edge and legs extended. Bend one leg at a time toward your buttocks. At first do this wearing sneakers and gradually wear heavier shoes until you can do the exercise wearing ski boots.

Start with three sets of six repetitions and gradually increase the number. The abdominal muscles, needed for good stance and balance in skiing, are also often overlooked in training.

"You can never do too many sit-ups or crunches," said Mr. Bischof, "but start off easy and work up to as many as possible so you won't experience soreness."

A balancing exercise recommended by Dr. Daniel O'Neill, an orthopedic surgeon in Plymouth, N.H., is to close your eyes, and, standing on one foot, concentrate on holding this position. "This is particularly good after knee surgery," he said. "It takes a long time to get confidence back so you can balance on the leg that was injured."

Also for balance, Dr. O'Neill advocates one-legged quarter-squats. Standing on one leg, bend to 20 degrees or a little more -- not to a half-squat sitting position at 90 degrees. Do these every day for one to two minutes on each leg.

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