Ski Fitness: Back Burners

Three exercises to increase strength in your back and optimize your body for skiing.

It’s ski-fitness gospel: Stability stems from a strong core, so we perform crunches and planks ad nauseam, often neglecting the other half of the core equation: our backs. “Nearly every client I train could stand to strengthen his back, glutes, and hamstrings,” says Jackson Hole‘s A.J. Cargill, a former extreme skiing world champion turned personal trainer.

“Skiers often bend forward, which throws them out of proper ski position,” Cargill adds. “Strengthening your upper and middle back and stretching your chest will help open up your shoulders and take strain off of your lower back. Your technique can also suffer if your lower back muscles are weaker than your abs. That can pull your pelvis out of alignment, which can lead to back pain and knee or neck injuries.

To stay balanced, mix one or two of these back exercises into every training session, Cargill suggests, especially if you’re working your abs as well. Once you’ve mastered the basic exercises, add a ski-specific twist by moving to an unstable surface, such as an exercise ball, a Bosu trainer or a balance disk. This will work your transverse abdominal muscles, which connect your back and your abs, and your spinal stabilizers, small muscles that help keep you upright. It makes the exercises tougher, but when you get to the mountain, you’ll be tougher too.

Reverse Lift

  • Targets: Lower back, glutes

Step 1: Lie facedown with your stomach and pelvis resting on an exercise ball. Place your hands on the floor in front of you as if you were doing a pushup.

Lower back strengthening exercise: Reverse lift on an exercise ball
Start facedown with stomach resting on an exercise ball. 

Step 2: Keep your legs straight and lift them until your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your heels. Lower almost to the starting position, but don’t rest your feet on the floor. Do three sets of 10 reps. 

Keep your legs straight and lift them until your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your heels. Lower almost to the starting position,…
To increase the challenge, squeeze a smaller exercise ball between your feet during this exercise. 

Level up: Squeeze a smaller exercise ball between your ankles and calves as you lift. Don’t let the ball rest on the ground between reps. This variation also works your inner thighs.

The Reverse Lift on an exercise ball targets your lower back and glutes and strengthens the backside of your trunk muscles, which are key to keeping you balanced on the slopes and helping to prevent injuries. 

The Horse

  • Targets: Upper, middle and lower back, glutes, core

Step 1: Kneel on your hands and knees. Touch your left elbow to your right knee underneath your body.

Lower back and core strengthening exercise: The Horse
This exercise challenges your core strength and balance in addition to strengthening your back, glutes, and hamstrings. 

Step 2: Extend your left arm in front of you and your right leg behind you until they are parallel to the floor. Don’t let your back sag. Do three sets of 10 reps with each leg.

Lower back and core strengthening exercise: The Horse
When extending your leg, focus on keeping your hips pointed down to the floor. Don’t let them rotate to the side. 

Level up: Perform the move on the flat side of Bosu ball to add a more significant balance challenge. Place a yoga mat on top of the Bosu for added comfort.

Lower back, core, and balance exercise: The Horse on a bosu ball
Adding a bosu ball into the mix will challenge your balance even more. 

Sliding Bridge

  • Targets: Middle and lower back, glutes, hamstrings

Step 1: Lie face up with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Keeping your shoulders on the ground, engage your glutes and push your hips into the air until your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Your ankles should be aligned directly beneath your knees.

Back, glute and hamstring strengthening exercise: Sliding Bridge
Hip bridges are a go-to move for strengthening your glutes, hips, and lower back. 

Step 2: Slowly slide one foot forward as far as you can, using your back and glute muscles to keep your hips from dropping. Pull your foot back to the starting position. Do two sets of 10 reps on each side.

Lower back, glute, and hamstring exercise: Sliding Bridge
When extending your leg, don’t allow your hips to drop—keep your glutes engaged to lift your pelvis. 

Level up: Rest your upper back on a Bosu instead of the floor. Hold a weight bar across your hips to add resistance for an even greater challenge. 

Lower back, glute, and hamstring strengthening exercise: Slide bridge on a bosu ball and with resistance
Add resistance to increase strength and a Bosu ball to challenge your core and balance. 

Looking for more fitness inspiration for skiers? SKI Magazine teamed up with AIM AdventureU and the U.S. Ski Team to develop The Ultimate Ski Fitness Workout, an online fitness course designed specifically for skiers. Click here to learn more and enroll