Jewish World Review Feb. 27, 2003 / 25 Adar I, 5763

Fit for the slopes? Take two weeks to prepare for your personal best

By Kathleen Doheny | Two weeks until the big ski or snowboard trip, and you're not exactly championship material? Whether you're sedentary most of the year or are reasonably fit, ski instructors and exercise physiologists say there's much you can do in 14 days to improve your performance and boost endurance, minimize soreness and reduce the risk of injury.

Regular exercisers should continue cardiovascular and strength training regimens but shift some of the focus to "sports specific'' conditioning. "They should get used to using the muscles they will use during the sport,'' says Dr. Mark Niedfeldt, an associate professor in the departments of family medicine and orthopedic surgery at Milwaukee's Medical College of Wisconsin. Focus particularly on strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings, he says.

Downhill skiers use mostly lower extremities, Niedfeldt says, while snowboarders and cross-country skiers use upper and lower extremities.

Downhill skiers also should focus on jumping exercises, says Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. "It helps prepare you for the type of challenge you are going to experience skiing down the slope,'' he says. One such exercise is the tuck jump. "Try to jump and move the knees and thighs as close to the chest as possible,'' he says. "See how many you can do in 30 seconds. Try two or three sets.''

Downhill skiers also can step up and down on a box to condition their skiing muscles, Niedfeldt says. Depending on your height and condition, the box should be 12 to 20 inches high. Niedfeldt says a set of at least 10 repetitions should help with your endurance.

Bryant suggests training your body to more easily slow or stop while coming down the slopes. In weight training, try lowering (not lifting) the weight more slowly to increase the strength you need to brake and slow down, he says.

Jane Smerdon, a ski instructor at Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort, tells her students to pay attention to strengthening their quadriceps and also prescribes lots of stretching.

Other experts agree, advising that slow, gentle stretches of major muscle groups be incorporated into daily workouts.

Those who have been sedentary can start with aerobic conditioning after a doctor's OK, experts suggest. "If you haven't done any exercise, start with some brisk walking, say 20 to 30 minutes, depending on what kind of shape you are in,'' Niedfeldt says. "In two weeks you can do some good.''

If time is that short, Bryant usually advises an interval approach, alternating easy and more intense effort. One way to do that: Warm up for three to five minutes by jogging in place. Then stair climb, alternating one or two minutes of intense effort with one or two minutes of recovery, or less intense effort.

"Do five to eight sets, and it's kind of your shortcut approach to develop stamina and endurance,'' he says. Finish off with a cool-down.

Sedentary folks can also do some light weight work with their doctor's OK, Niedfeldt says, or just do the strength training exercises, such as squats, without the weight.

Besides boosting aerobic and muscle strength, consider addressing balance. "It is a component that people tend to ignore,'' Bryant says. But practicing just minutes a day can reduce spills and improve performance.

"Stand on one leg in a semi-squat,'' Bryant says. "Lift the other leg.'' Try to balance yourself without holding on to anything. Then switch legs and repeat.

When you arrive at the slopes, brush up on sports skills by taking a lesson. "That will help you to be sure you don't do too much too soon,'' Bryant says. Two weeks before is also a good time to try on your boots to see whether they still fit and to check bindings and other equipment. "Be sure the bindings are set properly for your weight and the type of skiing you will be doing, especially if you haven't used them for a while,'' he says. Helmets are advisable, especially for downhill skiers. Several recent studies published in medical journals have shown that wrist guards reduce wrist fractures in snowboarders.

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