It's the time of year when people can't wait to strap on their skis or snowboards and hit the slopes. Unfortunately, too many people have an early end to their winter holiday as a result of injury. What's worse is that the injury may be serious enough to prevent sporting activities for some time afterwards. With this in mind, the maxim is that prevention is better than cure.

The type of injury varies with the winter sport.

  • Snowboarders tend to suffer upper limb injuries (thumbs, wrists & shoulders), sustained when trying to break a fall with outstretched hands/arms.
  • Skiers are much more likely to sustain sprains in the knees and ankles usually caused by catching a ski edge in a fall.
Whilst the range of injuries can be extensive, the knee joint takes the most punishment. The main knee ligaments, anterior & posterior cruciate ligaments and the medial & lateral collateral ligaments, bear the brunt of the physical abuse.

Such injuries are bad news and can spoil a lot more than your brief holiday. So, to get maximum enjoyment out of your activity, without the tears, you should follow some simple health & safety rules before you launch yourself headlong (or headfirst!) down the slopes.

Basic steps to ski fitness

  • Get yourself fit
  • Do specific strengthening exercises
  • Work on improving your technique
  • Carry out a pre & post-activity stretching routine
  • Wear appropriate clothing and equipment
  • Stay off the alcohol until you are off the slopes
  • Have consideration for others less skilled than yourself

Fitness levels need to be high and training methods are similar whether you are snowboarding, downhill skiing or cross-country skiing. You should combine aerobic/cardiovascular work with resistance training on individual muscle groups. This will depend upon your current fitness level, but even if you are quite fit you should still do some specific conditioning to prepare your body for what you are going to demand of it.

Cardiovascular Training regime
For cardiovascular work, running, cycling and swimming are very beneficial. If you have access to them, the rowing machine and the cross-trainer are also excellent pieces of equipment to use. You will need to do a minimum of twenty minutes CV work at each session, with 3-4 sessions per week. This should rise to forty five minutes to one hour per session after a few weeks of training.

Cardiovascular Training regime
Resistance training should make use of weights and be total body training, covering the arms (biceps & triceps), shoulders (deltoids), chest (pecs & serratus anterior), back (lats & trapezius), core strength (abs & obliques) and legs (quads, glutes and calves). All of these muscle groups are used during your activity.

There are also some excellent exercises that can be done at home that only require your body weight. Single-leg balancing and single-leg squats are ideal for strengthening the leg muscles and for stabilising the knee joint. Partial squats with holds is another demanding exercise, made even harder when you introduce one-leg hops on the spot! You will need to progress to this gradually, and carefully. You will see dramatic improvements in your leg strength and force production as well as greater stability in your knee joints.

For the upper body, press-ups are still one of the best all-round strengthening exercises and these can be combined with tricep dips using a chair, stool or low table. Although few people enjoy doing them, abdominal muscle exercises are essential and can easily be done at home while you're lying on the floor watching television.

Cardiovascular Training regime

If you are unfortunate enough to suffer an injury, the following should help:

  • Rest - don't be tempted to get back to the slopes too quickly as you may aggravate the injury.
  • Ice - there should be plenty of it around! An ice pack should be applied to the injury as soon as possible to minimise soft tissue swelling.
  • Compression - strapping up the injury also helps to keep swelling down but it also enables easier movement with reduced risk of further damage.
  • Elevation - keep your leg (or other body part) elevated and supported.

If the injury is more serious, you will probably have to see the local doctor for some expert treatment. Don't be persuaded by your mates that they know how to fix your dislocated shoulder!

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