Lake Tahoe skiing: The key to avoiding ski injuries with proper training
November 10, 2015
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. —With ski season on our doorstep and resorts across the West starting to open, now is the time to make sure you're ready. And it starts with proper conditioning.
"The better shape you're in, the better chance you have of avoiding injury," U.S. Ski Team physician and Barton Health orthopedic surgeon Dr. Terry Orr said during a recent presentation at Lake Tahoe Community College.
Studies show that roughly three in 1,000 ski days will include a knee injury. Of those, one in three is ACL related. That means on a typical resort day — with somewhere around 15 to 17,000 ski visits — as many as 17 skiers' seasons could potentially come to an end with ACL injuries.
"Knee and ligament injuries are going to be the most common," Orr said in a follow up interview with the Tribune, but he added that risk could be minimized.
Research based on information gathered from 20 ski resorts showed that the number of injuries could be reduced as much as 60 percent with proper awareness and prevention programs.
That includes everything from learning to better manage a fall and learning the rules of the slopes to building muscle and ligament strength.
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"Conditioning is No. 1, knowing your limits is No. 2," Orr said. "Strength is a huge part of protection for the knee. If you have stronger quads you can maintain (balance). It allows you to counter what's going on with gravity (in a fall)."
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With conditioning in mind, here are six quick workout recommendations from Jeremy Vandehurst, a certified athletic trainer also with Barton Health.
"These types of exercises will help with your stamina," Vandehurst said, and they don't require a gym or equipment to do them.
1. SINGLE LEG TOE TOUCH: From a standing position lift one leg back. Flex the knee on the other leg while reaching to touch your toe. When standing on your right leg reach toward your toe with your left hand and vice versa.
"That'll help with your quads and hamstrings," Vandehurst said, adding that it's also good for balance.
As with each of these exercises, start with short increments and then gradually hold for longer periods of time.
2. THE WALL SIT: The goal of this exercise is to create a seated position without a chair by leaning up against a wall. With legs apart and back against a wall, try dropping to a seated position. This exercise can be done with varying degrees of difficulty. Those less conditioned to the position may want to start with a not fully seated position and gradually work toward it. Hold the position as long as you can and gradually add time with future repetitions. You should be able to lift your toes while holding the position. This exercise is good for quads, hamstrings and endurance.
3. LEG LUNGES: From a standing position drop forward into a lunge position — one leg flexed with the knee close to a 90-degree angle and the other leg back. Unlike the above single-leg toe touch, arms should be at one's side and both feet should be touching the ground — one flat-footed, the other with toes pointed backwards.
This will help to strengthen quads, hamstrings and glutes.
4. SINGLE LEG BALANCE: To help build balance skills, it's good to work on standing on one leg, slightly flexed — with the other leg slightly behind. To add challenge to this exercise, close your eyes, or add in other motions. This can be done while doing other household activities.
5. THE BRIDGE: For additional strength building and core conditioning, start by laying down on your back with both feet planted flat on the floor. Then thrust your hips into air so that only feet and shoulders are touching the ground. Hold the position for as long as you can and repeat. Building core muscles helps with ski endurance.
6. SQUAT JUMPS: For building strength for mogul skiing and jumping, consider squat jumps. Vandehurst recommended this as more of an advanced exercise not necessarily geared toward all ability levels. With both feet apart and flat on the floor, flex into a squat position and jump. Try to land on your toes. Vandehurst said to repeat the exercise while maintaining consistent jump height. Jumps can either be straight up and down, forward or backward. To add challenge, include things to jump over or onto. This will help build leg strength.
Each of these exercises will isolate key muscles used while skiing. Repeating these conditioning drills will both increase strength and endurance and reduce injury risk. Stronger muscles and ligaments will help maintain knees and other joints throughout the ski season.
When the time comes to hit the slopes, it's also important to remember to stretch first and loosen up. Tight muscles are more susceptible to injury. Remember to not push boundaries, especially early in the season. Many injuries occur when a skier is fatigued late in the day.