By Kevin Plancher
As the team physician for the United States’ men’s and women’s downhill teams, as well as the snowboarding and freestyle teams, I understand the needs of skiers and snowboarders perhaps better than most.
Together, their disciplines attract more than 28 million participants each year, with the athletes — both weekend and professional — pushing the envelope by adding challenging tricks and lengthy bump runs in both sports. At Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Greenwich’s Cos Cob and Manhattan, the ultimate goal is to keep even the novice injury-free while out on the slopes. Proper conditioning can prevent many of the associated downhill injuries by adding strength and flexibility to the muscles, tendons and ligaments that are used in the sport.
Common injuries for skiers are to the knee and shoulder, whereas snowboarders need to remain particularly aware of the ankle and wrist. By following some simple guidelines, you can greatly decrease the incidence of injury to any body part. Focus on the four areas below to ensure a great season:
1. BALANCE: Balance is the first step toward safe skiing. The better your balance, the less likely you are to fall. The ability to balance on one leg can be achieved with a few simple exercises. A single-leg dead lift while holding light weights works well, as does simply standing on one leg.
2. FLEXIBILITY: Increasing your flexibility can protect your joints during a downhill run as well as during an unexpected fall. Flexibility decreases the chance of falling while also providing better and safer falling. Make stretching a part of your post-cardio exercise program to ensure all muscles are warm and ready to go.
3. STRENGTHENING: Strengthening muscles, tendons and ligaments is imperative to good form. Squats and rotations on a Bosu ball, a device with a large flat surface on top and a soft ball-shaped underside, are excellent starting points. You can build strength in your lower legs with band work and strength-training machines, but we do caution you to avoid deep knee squats and weighted leg extension exercises as they can put unnecessary strain on the knees.
4. CARDIO: There is no question that improved cardiovascular fitness can make a better skier and snowboarder by increasing stamina and decreasing fatigue. We recommend a fitness/aerobic program that includes at least 30 minutes of conditioning each day. You can choose biking, running, swimming or even walking. You can begin slowly with the end goal of achieving 60 minutes of cardiovascular training each day.
5. CORE DEVELOPMENT: A strong and stable core equates to better balance, better coordination and overall increased power on the hill. These are critical components to avoid injury. Core strength can easily be achieved with yoga, Pilates or dance classes. It can also be achieved with proper sit-ups, planks or oblique reaches.
Remember, skiing and snowboarding are fun group activities that are exhilarating for all of the senses. We, at Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, believe that with the above training program in place and with thoughtful preparation, enthusiasts can enjoy a healthier and safer season. So get out there, have fun and stay injury-free.
Kevin D. Plancher, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, a general orthopedics and sports medicine practice. For more, visit plancherortho.com.