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.
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- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Related: It's all about muscle symmetry
- 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.
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.
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.
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