Getting ready to ski or snowboard often consists of trying to remember where you stashed your gear last spring. That approach may get you to the slopes, but it can reduce your enjoyment once you're there.
Skiing and snowboarding use muscles that don't normally do so much work. And high altitudes put even more stress on your body.
"Those factors can compound to create significant fatigue and muscle soreness," says Ray Browning, Ph.D., a researcher in Denver, Colo. "By the second or third day you don't feel much like skiing or snowboarding anymore." Luckily, a little preparation can go a long way.
Skiing is the most popular winter activity, but snowboarding is gaining fast. The number of skiers has dropped by almost a third since 1995, but the number of snowboarders has more than doubled, says the National Sporting Goods Association.
When done right, skiing and snowboarding are fun because "gravity does the work," says Dr. Browning. "You use your muscles to control where you go and how you move, but they don't really get you from one point to another." To control those movements, you must stick to a stance that's rare off the slopes: knees slightly bent, abdominal and back muscles engaged.
Ideally, you should start to prepare your muscles two months in advance. But as little as an hour of training a week for four weeks can get you ready, Dr. Browning says.
You should target:
The core muscles of the abdomen and lower back
The quadriceps at the front of the thighs
The gluteus muscles in the buttocks
An exercise called the "wall sit" works the quadriceps. Put your back against a wall and slide down so you're in a sitting position with your knees at right angles. Hold that position for one minute (or as long as you can, since this may be tough at first). Then stand and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat four or five times.
Walking up and down stairs is a simple way to work your quadriceps and gluteus.
Crunches or sit-ups are great for the core muscles. To start, do 10 to 15 crunches, moving slowly and fluidly. Rest for 30 seconds. Then do 10 to 15 more.
You can do an alternative exercise at your desk. Sit up straight without touching the back of the chair. Lift your feet an inch or two off the ground and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Do four or five repetitions, resting in between.
To work the lower back, lie on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. Lift your arms and legs off the ground, like Superman flying through the air. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Lower your arms and legs and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat three to five times.
After four weeks, these exercises should seem easier. If so, increase the repetitions and the length of time you hold the positions.
Although snow sports aren't hard on your heart and lungs, aerobic capacity still matters. "Most people have major fatigue issues from the altitude," says former professional skier Harald Harb, author of The Essentials of Skiing. "The better the physical condition of your heart and lungs, the better you will utilize oxygen."
You can start with as little as a 15-minute walk at lunch. Biking (especially up hills) increases aerobic capacity and works the lower body's muscle groups, Harb says.
On the slopes, make some easy runs or take a refresher class before trying advanced moves. There's a big difference, he says, between "skiing or snowboarding in balance and being in recovery mode all the time."
Wear a helmet. Helmets can prevent head injuries or make them less serious.
Dress in layers. Polypropylene underwear absorbs dampness and dries quickly. Layer with a waterproof or water-resistant jacket.
Stretch before you start. Emphasize the leg muscles. If you're snowboarding, also stretch the hips, which rotate more than they do during skiing.
Hydrate as much as you can. Bring a water bottle. But don't drink alcohol before or while you hit the slopes.
Pace yourself. Allow adequate recovery time. Take breaks every hour or so. Get enough sleep.
Find ski boots that fit well. Take your time and try on several pairs at a couple of shops. Seek help from a good boot fitter.
Pick socks with care. Thick socks do not equal warmth. Thin socks that draw moisture away will keep you warmer.
Use sunscreen. Even on cloudy days, the sun reflects off the snow with great strength.
© 2014 Main Line Health