Maria Fermoile
by Maria Fermoile

Skiing places high demands on the human musculoskeletal system. Velocities are high in downhill skiing, requiring rapid muscular contractions to accelerate and decelerate your body in varying directions against gravity and terrain changes to prevent falling. Even eleventh-hour preparation will not only enhance your performance and enjoyment, but also minimize potential for injury.

A comprehensive pre-season conditioning program should include aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, strength training, balance and agility training and stretching, but since ski season is all but here, here’s the “down and dirty, bare bones” minimum you need to do NOW to be ready to hit the slopes in a few weeks. As always, if you have any health concerns, consult with your physician before beginning this or any other exercise program.

Since we don’t have much time, I’ve combined exercises incorporating both strength and balance components.

Aerobic Conditioning

Include 2 – 5 sessions per week, 30 minutes each, of continuous activity-preferably an activity in a standing position as skiing is an upright sport. Examples: Brisk walking, jogging, step aerobics, stair climber, elliptical trainers, cross-country ski machines. If standing activities are too tough on your knees, ride a stationary bike, cycle, or check out a spin class at your local gym. Spin classes are great as they typically incorporate hills and standing running exercises.

Anaerobic Conditioning

Skiing is more an anaerobic than aerobic activity. It requires short intervals of higher intensity activity that really gets your heart thumping. Incorporate you anaerobic conditioning into your aerobic workouts two times per week, not on consecutive days. Initially begin with 30 – 60 second intervals and perform 2 – 4 sets of them. Gradually increase to 2 – 5 minute intervals and perform 4 – 10 sets of them per workout. You can determine the duration of your interval based on the expected length of a continuous ski run. Always warm up for 10 minutes prior to beginning an interval. Intervals can be incorporated into your walk or jog by speeding up, increase or speed up the movement on aerobic equipment such as a stair climber or elliptical machine. Other options include jumping rope, hopping side to side and jumping jacks.

Strength and Balance Exercises

Where appropriate, you may do strengthening exercises combined with balance exercises to save time. Perform strengthening exercises 3 times per week starting with 15 reps per set and progressing to 1-2 sets of 15-25 reps. Do legs first, the arms, then abdominals.


squatSquats-your feet should be shoulder width apart, with your weight evenly distributed front to back. Lower your buttocks until your knees are bent to approximately a 60-degree angle. Keep your back straight. Your knees should be aligned over your first and second toes. If your knees hurt, limit the depth of your squat. (PILLOW)To add a balance component, try performing squats while standing on a pillow. Progress to performing squats with your boots on, and eventually to boots on, and standing on a pillow.

lungeLunge around the clock-Imagine you are standing in the middle of a clock. Place one foot 1.5 to 2 feet forward toward twelve o’clock. Allow your front knee to bend until your back knee touches the floor. While keeping your front knee aligned over your first and second toes, try to maintain your balance on your front foot without too much wobble. Repeat around the clock face. Work up to lunging around the clock 3-6 times. To incorporate balance training, perform this exercise with your ski boots on.

curlStanding hamstring curls-Stand on one foot with your knee slightly bent. Maintain your balance while you bring your heel up toward your buttock. Be sure to keep your thighs both in a vertical position. This exercise can be performed with an ankle weight or with your ski boot on to provide resistance. For a challenge and to incorporate balance, stand on a pillow with your ski boots on and perform the exercise. Repeat the exercise on both legs.

Shoulders and arms

dipTricep chair dips-Place two chairs acing away from each other. Start by balancing on your toes while holding the backs of the chairs. Keep your body in a semi-upright position. Lower yourself between the chairs as far as you can or until your chest is level with your hands. You can assist the weight encountered by your arms with your legs until you get stronger.

Abdominal muscles

back bent(Focus here is more on lower abs to meet ski specific demands.)Lie on your back on a firm surface, knees bent with your feet flat on the floor. Place your fingers on the upper bony prominences of your pelvis (boney prominence toward the front of your body where you would place your hands on your hips) to monitor movement. Your goal is to use your abdominal muscles while simultaneously not allowing your pelvis or back to move.

leg airTighten or tense your abdominal muscles while stabilizing your pelvis and back. (Tip: if you are having difficulty tightening your abdominal muscles trying “hissing” out loud – the muscles you recruit to ‘hiss” are the same muscles that should be tight while performing these lower abdominal exercises). Hold for 5-10 sec then relax, repeat 15 times. Progress to lifting one leg at a time (keeping pelvis and back absolutely still).

both legs airWork up to performing 3 sets 15 reps of these before moving to the next level. Next challenge is to lift one leg up, straighten it all the way out straight (holding it approx 3-4 inches off the ground) hold for 3-5 seconds then slowly return it to your starting position. Repeat opposite leg. Work up to 3 sets 15 reps (lifting each leg once counts as one). If you are unable to stabilize your pelvis and/or low back stop the exercise and rest for at least one minute before continuing.

Need more of a challenge…. try to rapidly alternate lifting one leg at a time, put it put straight hold for 5 sec and repeat with the opposite leg. Be sure not to compromise your pelvis or back stability.

both 2More Advanced Abdominal Exercise- (BOTH LEGS IN AIR, STRAIGHT) Stabilize back and pelvis by tightening your abdominal muscles, lift both legs simultaneously off the floor. Hold for 3-5 seconds and then slowly lower. You must maintain the stability of your back and pelvis through the entire exercise! For the super heroes- perform exercise as above but straighten both legs out as far as you can without losing stability of your pelvis and back. Hold for 3-5 seconds and slowly and controlled return to staring position. (CAUTION: Do not try this exercise if you have and /or have had a recent back injury)

Flexibility and Stretch (Focus on legs)

one leg backCalves: Use a chair. Place your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your front knee slightly and your back knee moderately, lean forward until you feel a stretching on the lower aspect of your back leg. This stretch should be felt just above the heel cord vs. the back of your calf. This position better mimics your ski boot position.


pull ankleQuadricep Stretch: Stand on one leg with you knee slightly bent. Using your hand to grasp your foot, pull the heel of your other leg toward your buttock until you feel a stretch in front of your thigh. Keep your hip in a neutral position and do not arch your back. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times each leg. For an added balance bonus, do not hold on to anything while performing the stretch and maintain balance on the leg you are standing on.

hands calfHamstring Stretch: Sit on floor with one leg out straight and the other leg bent with bottom of foot touching inner thigh of straight leg. Keeping your back straight lean forward from your hip until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold 30 seconds repeat 3-5 times each leg.

hip rotatorsHip Rotators: (Very important muscles for skiing) Stand on Left leg with knee moderately bent, hold onto something to assist you with your balance. Place your Right ankle on top of your Left knee. Gently squat until feel a stretch in your right buttock. Hold 15-30 seconds repeat 3-5 times each leg. For added bonus try performing stretch without holding on for balance.

There you have it: an accelerated ski fitness program that combines all the necessary components to get you ready for the slopes in the shortest amount of time. Remember even accelerated programs require time and commitment! Time is short and ski season is right around the corner.

Take the Challenge, get the most out of your lift ticket with improved performance, less muscle fatigue and top-to-bottom skiing!