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YOUR LEGS PLAY THE LEAD ROLE in your ski performance, so they naturally get most of your attention. But try honing your supporting cast—your upper body—and you’ll find you ski better and enjoy it more. Just 16 minutes a week (two eight-minute sessions) of upper-body work will pay off as you tote your skis to the lift, traverse the flats, push yourself up from falls and plant your poles in the bumps. It may even save you from a toboggan ride. “Having a strong, flexible upper body can absolutely prevent injury, says shoulder specialist and lifelong skier Dr. Dan Guttmann, associate director of the Taos Orthopaedic Institute in Taos, N.M. “And shoulder problems are more common for skiers than you would think, comprising 10 percent of all ski injuries. Plus, the chain reaction that causes most serious knee injuries starts when your upper body gets lazy and you let your poles drop behind you. Here are five exercises to keep your shoulders intact and your poles in play as your legs power you through the powder.
[NEXT “Towel Row”]
TOWEL ROW (below)
Sit on the floor with your back upright and your legs in front of you. Bend your knees slightly. Hold one end of a towel in each hand, and place the middle around the sole of your right foot. Pull the towel toward you as far as you can, bending your elbows straight out to your sides, bending your right knee and pushing against the towel with your foot as hard as you can for resistance. Return to the starting position, still pushing hard against the towel with your foot. Start with two sets of 10 repetitions, and work up to two sets of 20 reps.
: This exercise builds strong lats, which translates to extra oomph as you push yourself over the flats.[NEXT “Dumbbell Kickback”]
DUMBBELL KICKBACK (below)
Place your left knee and left hand on a sturdy bench or chair. Keep your right foot on the floor and hold a dumbbell in your right hand so that your palm is facing your right side. Keep your abs tight, your torso parallel to the floor and your spine in a straight line. Hold your right arm so that, in relation to the floor, your upper arm is parallel and your forearm is perpendicular. Keep your upper arm still and completely straighten your elbow. Lower your forearm to the starting position. Start with two sets of 12 reps with each arm, working up to two sets of 20 reps on each side.
: Kickbacks mimic the pole motion you use during traverses. Plus, strong triceps will help get you upright again if you fall.[NEXT “Exercise Ball Push-Up”]
EXERCISE BALL PUSH-UP (below)
Lie prone with an exercise ball under your hips, and place your hands on the floor in front of you, directly beneath your shoulders. Walk forward on your hands until your shins are resting on the ball. Bend your elbows straight out to your sides and drop your chest toward the floor. Keep your abs tight and don’t let your back sway. Push back to the starting position. Start with two sets of 10 repetitions, progressing to two sets of 20 reps.
: If you strengthen your lats (see the Towel Row), you need to work your chest, as well, to keep yourself balanced and injury-free. Using the ball forces your core to work harder to stabilize you, just as it does on the slopes.
Make your conditioning count by stretching your chest, back and arms for two minutes a day (especially after a workout). “It’s counterproductive to strengthen your muscles if they’re stiff, says shoulder specialist Guttmann. “You end up recruiting other muscles and not doing the exercises correctly. Plus, he adds, a good range of motion can ward off injury if you fall on the slopes.[NEXT “Boxing Round”]BOXING ROUND (below)
Stand with your legs hip-width apart, your knees slightly bent and your right heel even with your left arch. Make loose fists with both hands and hold them up near your shoulders. Hold your elbows out from your sides about 66 inches to better simulate the position in which you hold your poles.
Extend your right arm forward, punching the air, but don’t lock your elbow. Punch a few times with your right arm, then with your left, and continue alternating for one minute, keeping your hands up and elbows out. Then switch so your left foot is forward and continue for another minute. Work up to two minutes on each side. Too easy? Use boxing gloves and a punching bag, and move around the bag as you punch.
The Payoff: When your shoulder muscles get tired, your poles drop. This drill builds both muscle and cardio endurance, allowing you to ski longer before fatigue sets in.
Skiing can be tough on your rotator cuff—a group of four muscles that helps lift your arm up over your head and also rotate it toward and away from your body. Just how tough depends on your age. The older you are, the more you’re at risk for injury when you catch a pole in bumps or powder. “The rotator cuff is very strong, so it’s uncommon for a young person to tear it, Guttman explains. “But as we age, the rotator cuff gets thinner and more susceptible to tears. If you’re 40 or older, add this exercise to your workout to protect your rotator cuff.
Roll-Ups: Lie on your right side, supporting your head with your right hand. Place a small towel roll on your left hip and rest your left elbow on it. Hold a three- to five-pound dumbbell in your left hand, and let your forearm hang down in front of your body. Keeping your upper arm still, use your shoulder muscles to raise your forearm until the weight is pointing directly up at the ceiling. Lower slowly to the starting position. Do two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.[NEXT “Up and Over”]UP AND OVER (below)
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms dangle at your sides, palms facing in. Keeping your upper arms still, curl your forearms up, rotating your hands so that your palms are facing upward. Continue curling until the dumbbells are at shoulder-height and your palms are facing your shoulders. Then rotate your hands so your palms are facing outward. As you do so, lift your arms, pointing your elbows straight out to your sides, until the dumbbells almost touch above your head. (Don’t completely straighten your elbows or scrunch your neck). Lower the dumbbells along the same trajectory, repeating the movements in reverse. Start with two sets of 12 reps, and work up to two sets of 20.
The Payoff: Strong biceps offset toned triceps (see Dumbbell Kickback) and prevent muscle-imbalance injuries. Strong deltoids minimize your chances of shoulder dislocation and help you keep your poles in prime position.