The Secret to an Injury-Free Ski Season

Sep 16, 2014

Ski and snowboard season is right around the corner. There's already been reports of a few dustings up in the mountains and everyone's rushing to buy their season passes. It's been about 6 months since most of us have been out playing in the snow, putting you at an increased risk of injury when you return. One of the body parts most commonly injured skiing and snowboarding is the knee, more specifically the ACL. The ACL is a strong ligament sitting inside of the knee joint that helps prevent sheering forces of your shin bone (tibia) moving too far forward on the thigh bone (femur). During a high impact twist or fall, it is possible to tear the ACL, effectively ending your ski season in an instant.

When we think about how to improve lower extremity stability for skiing and snowboarding to strengthen around the knee, the first thing we always think to do is strengthen the quadriceps. While it's true that quad strength is important, it is imperative that we give even more focus to the muscles on the other side of our legs.

Many athletes, especially snow enthusiasts, are what we refer to as "quad dominant." This means that their quads and hip flexors are much stronger than their hips and glutes, creating a dangerous imbalance in the lower extremity and setting you up for injury. A frequent mistake in strength training is to over-emphasize the exercises targeting the most commonly used muscles versus those that are often ignored. To create more balance and stability, we need to strengthen the posterior chain (hips, glutes and hamstrings) to provide a proper equilibrium in the lower extremity and decrease stress and force on the knee joint. By doing this, we can specifically reduce the stress placed down and forward onto the ACL while going downhill.

There are many exercises that address the posterior chain. Squats and lunges are exercises used in most ski conditioning classes, however most people will commonly shift their weight too far forward, making them quad dominant exercises. When performing these exercises, it's essential to keep your back straight and place your weight through your heels to help shift the emphasis to the glutes and hips. When performed correctly with proper muscle isolation and activation, other exercises such as bridges, dead lifts, and hip extensions can effectively target the muscles of the posterior chain as well.

Most of my favorite exercises focusing on the posterior chain can be done with little or no equipment and still yield excellent results. There are many ways to advance these exercises and increase the level of difficulty, but this is a great place to start. If you are someone who's suffered from a knee injury in the past or are trying to prevent a future injury, follow these instructions to ensure you have a long, happy and injury-free ski season this year!