Ski Fitness: Work the Stabilizer Muscles

You should sweat the small stuff—start with your small stabilizing muscles.
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We know you train the big guns: quads, hamstrings, abs, lower back. But while those large muscle groups do the bulk of the work on the hill, they don’t operate alone. They need support from smaller stabilizing muscles to do their jobs right.

“If your supporting muscle groups aren’t strong, you have to change the way you ski to make up for the weakness,” says Dr. Paul Collins, an orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist and avid skier based in Boise, Idaho. “Your body is amazing at doing that, but you always give up control.”

Expand your ski fitness workout regimen to include these secondary muscles and ligaments—inner and outer thighs, gluteus medius, calves, shins, ankles and feet—and you’ll ski with better form, more stamina and a lower risk of injury than ever before. Here’s how.

Increase Ankle Mobility

A lack of ankle mobility can compromise your knees because they’re forced to compensate.

Demonstrating an ankle roll

Ankle mobility exercise: Start in an athletic position, then roll both ankles to one side as if edging your skis. Alternate sides for 10 reps each. 

  • The drill: Start in a ski-tuck stance: knees flexed, hands in front as if they’re holding poles, weight slightly forward. Roll both ankles to the right as far as you can, as if you were edging your skis. Hold for two seconds. Repeat to the left. Do 10 reps each.
  • Also works: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core
Demonstrating a workout to increase ankle mobility.

Ankle mobility exercise: Drive the knee forward with your front heel on the ground to increase ankle mobility. 

  • The drill: Lunge toward a wall, your hands on it at shoulder height. Keeping your back leg straight and its heel on the ground, stretch your calf for 15 seconds. Next, keeping your front heel on the ground, drive that knee forward and stretch for 15 seconds. Finally, shift your weight from your front foot’s big toe to your little toe. Switch feet and repeat.
  • Also works: Calves

Strengthen Calf Stabilizers 

Your calves help you flex and support your knees. But you should aim for muscle tone, not bulk, which can alter the fit of your boots.

Demonstrating a calf stabilizing workout.

Calf strengthening exercise: One-legged hops onto a step, which exercises the small stabilizer muscles and ligaments in your calf. 

  • The drill: Facing a low box or step, stand on your right foot, and hold a light medicine ball at chest height with your elbows bent. With your left foot lifted behind you, hop onto the step and land on your right foot. Hop down for one rep. Do two sets of eight reps with each leg.
  • Also works: Core, balance, explosive power

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Strengthen Shin Muscles

You use the muscles on the front of your lower legs to flex your ankles and angle your feet to pressure and edge your skis.

You use the muscles on the front of your lower legs to flex your ankles and angle your feet to pressure and edge your skis.

Shin strengthening exercise: AT raises on a step to strengthen the muscles along the front of the shin. 

  • The drill: Stand with your heels on a low block or stair, letting the front half of each foot hang off the edge. Point your feet, opening your ankle joint, to lower your toes as much as possible, then lift your toes as high as you can for one rep. Start with two sets of 30 reps; work up to three sets of 40 reps.
  • Also works: Ankle mobility

Related: 5 Resistance Band Exercises for Skiers

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Strengthen Thigh Abductor and Adductors

Your outer thighs help you steer; your inner thighs keep your skis from diverging. Both stabilize your knees and help prevent injury.

Your outer thighs help you steer; your inner thighs keep your skis from diverging. This drill stabilizes your knees and help prevent injury.

Thigh abductor/adductor strengthening exercise: Alternating leg rotations. 

  • The drill: Lie on your back, and tighten your abs. Keeping your legs straight, lift your right leg about three feet and your left leg about three inches. Simultaneously swing both legs in large, opposing half circles until they’re reversed from your starting position. Then switch back for one rep. Do 12 reps.
  • Also works: Core stability

Read next: Core Exercises for Skiing 

Strengthen Gluteus Medius 

The gluteus medius—smaller and deeper-set than the gluteus maximus—stabilizes you when you end up on one ski and supports knee function.

Balance training supports knee function. This drill will help you improve.

Glute strengthening exercise: One-legged squats to strengthen the glute, quad and thigh muscles while also forcing your smaller stabilizer muscles to fire to help you maintain your balance. 

  • The drill: Stand on your left foot and raise your right hand above your head. Bending your left knee, squat down and touch your left shin or toes with your right hand. Don’t let your left hip jut out to the side. Return to the starting position. Do two sets of 10 reps on each leg.
  • Also works Balance, ankle stability, quads, hamstrings

Related: Skiing and Your ACL

Strengthen Foot Arches

Skiing can be hard on your feet so strong arches are key to avoiding foot pain.  

Demonstrating an arch support drill.

This simple exercise can save your feet next season. 

  • The drill: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Lift both arches, and pull your toes toward your butt, keeping your heels on the ground. Slide your heels toward your butt and flatten your arches for one rep. Do six reps. Then reverse the motion, moving your feet forward. Do six reps, then repeat the entire sequence.
  • Also works: Core stability

Read next: Exercises to prevent skiing injuries

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For more on how to get into the best ski shape of your life and crush the mountain, check out SKI’s Ultimate Fitness Workout. In this 8-week online course, fitness guru and Olympic skier Shannon Bahrke, yoga instructor and former freestyle competitor Ashley Battersby, and U.S. Ski Team nutritionist and dietician Allen Tran will teach you everything you need to know to get into—and stay in—ski shape. Whether your goal is to improve your cardio or muscle endurance, be more flexible, prevent injuries, or learn how to make easy, nutritious meals, this course has you covered. We value your time, so we’ve created each class to be completed in less than an hour. And you can take the course anywhere you have an internet or cellular connection—whether that’s at a park, in your backyard or living room, or even at your favorite gym. Join us today!

Get more fitness ideas for skiing on SKImag.com's Fitness channel. 

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