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Even the U.S. Ski Team Gets Sore, Here’s What They Do to Recover

We all get sore from skiing. Here are some recovery exercises using foam rollers and more to turn that muscle pain into muscle gain.

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Fun fact: During strenuous exercise, the muscles in our bodies sustain microscopic tears. Intense exercise, or activities that challenge muscles and tendons that aren’t used to being challenged (like skiing), breaks down muscle tissue. This is why we get sore after skiing and hard workouts. Another fun fact: These micro tears are a good thing, because they signal the body to replenish the damaged tissue and build up these muscles.

While soreness after a workout or ski day may be a good sign that we’re beefing up key muscles, no one would argue that feeling sore feels good. Conventional wisdom told us to just pop some ibuprofen and suffer through, but new science tells us to be wary of NSAIDs and instead look to alternative recovery methods that don’t just deaden our senses to the soreness but actually help our muscles recover. One of the easiest at-home recovery methods? Foam rolling and soft tissue work.

Foam rollers and soft tissue massage tools come in various shapes and sizes, from smooth or knobby foam rolls and balls to handheld massage sticks and yoga balls. Each has its uses, and some are better suited to certain muscle groups than others. But what they all have in common is they can help sore muscles recover and repair faster by lengthening tight tissue, increasing circulation, and improving mobility. Torey Anderson, physical therapist for the U.S. Women’s Alpine Team, recommends skiers target outer hips, quads, and the muscles of the upper back, since these are the muscles that tend to get overworked during skiing. Got a foam roller and one or two tennis balls handy? Try these recovery moves tailored to skiers. They may not feel good, but they’ll do you good.

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Thoracic Spine

Tool: Foam roller or peanut

Foam roller on the back
Like a massage, but less expensive. Photo: Tory Powers

To lengthen and relax the big muscle groups of the back, sit on the floor or mat with knees bent to 90 degrees, feet on floor. Place foam roller under the lower back and press heels into the ground as you lie back on the foam roller. Use your feet to push yourself forward and backward so the foam roller travels from lower to upper back. If you have soreness behind the shoulder blades, place a peanut ball (two tennis balls taped together) between your shoulder blades and carefully lie back. Experiment with moving your arms above your head to loosen muscle knots around the spine and shoulder blades.

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Quadriceps and Hips

Tool: Foam roller

Foam Roller on quad
Bonus: It’s a core exercise at the same time. Photo: Tory Powers

A foam roller works best on the big muscles of the quads and hip complex. Get into forearm plank position on the floor or mat and place the foam roller in the middle of one thigh. Use your other leg and your arms to help you roll forward and backward so that the foam roller travels from the top of the knee to the top of the hip. Keep as much weight as tolerated over the foam roller, but use your arms and other leg to shift weight off the roller if the pressure becomes too much.

Shop Foam Rollers on Amazon

Achilles/Gastroc (Calf)

Tool: Peanut or massage stick

peanut roller on calf
Sort of like meditation through beneficial pain. Photo: Tory Powers

Sit on the floor or mat with legs straight out in front. Place a peanut ball above the back of the ankle so that it cradles the Achilles tendon. Use your upper body to roll yourself backwards and forwards, allowing the peanut to roll up and down the Achilles and calf. A massage stick won’t be as effective on the Achilles but it works well on the larger muscles of the calf. Firmly press the massage stick into the calf muscle and roll the length of the lower leg.

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Anterior Tibialis (Shin)

Tool: Foam roller or massage stick

Massage stick on shin
This might also help with shin-bang. Photo: Tory Powers

Get on all fours on the floor or mat and place the foam roller under your shins. Positioning your arms beneath you, move yourself forward and backward, allowing the foam roller to move the length of your shin. Try to keep as much body weight on the foam roller as possible. If using a massage stick, sit on the floor or mat with leg bent to 90 degrees. Firmly press the massage stick into your shin as you roll it up and down the length of your shin.

Shop for Massage Sticks: Amazon

Plantar Intrinsic (Bottom of Foot)

Tool: Lacrosse ball or golf ball

The muscles at the bottom of the feet are constantly flexing and firing in ski boots to keep us balanced over our skis and can easily become overworked. Use a firm ball like a lacrosse or golf ball to lengthen these tight muscles by rolling the bottom of your foot over the ball while sitting. If you want more pressure, move to standing position.

Looking for more recovery tips or guidance on how to prime the body for skiing? Enroll in SKI’s online Ski Injury Prevention course for a comprehensive 8-week fitness plan designed by John “JC” Cole, strength and conditioning coach at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Learn more.

Active Pass members get access to thousands of workouts and comprehensive training plans that will help you improve on the ski hill and beyond. Join Active Pass now.