Skiing is a combination of speed and grace that we achieve gradually over time, whether our experience is for a whole season or just a weeks holiday squeezed into our busy schedule. And its usually the latter that leaves one feeling in need of another holiday to recover from the experience! As every annual skier knows, we use muscleson the slopes in ways or intensity that arent used that way during the rest of the year. So unless we warm-up properly on a base of plenty of pre-ski training, stress, strain & at worse injury, can dominate.
Yoga is the opposite of skiing in that it is calm and meditative. Although skiing and yoga are two extremes they compliment each other. The movement and positions required in yoga can benefit skiers and help reduce the physical demands put on the body by the sport. Yoga helps to stretch out the muscles that skiing strengthens yet at the same time shortens. It seems obvious then, that yoga can help to reduce physical injury from the sport, especially if the yoga practice is specifically designed for skiing.
Balance, concentration, flexibility and strength are the most important skills to develop to get down the mountain and yoga can help in all aspects of these. These skills come from doing the poses, by helping to lengthen muscles, like the glutes and quads, that are usually strengthened and shortened; and to also lengthen the opposing muscles, such as the hamstrings, hip flexors and lower back, that are normally tightened from overuse. Concentration in yoga comes from arriving at each pose and holding it, focusing on the breath to ease the body into position and calm the mind, being present in each movement, mindful of each move and careful not to over-stretch.
ITS ALL ABOUT THE LEGS
It is important to focus on equally strengthening and stretching all muscle groups in the legs, otherwise the knee joint ends up taking the strain, which can lead to serious injury around the knee. The quadriceps become overdeveloped when skiing and this in turn tightens and shortens the hamstrings. Inner thigh muscles can be shortened and tightened too, which can strain the knee joint by limiting range of motion. It is important to lengthen all four sides of the upper leg, hamstrings and quads, inner and outer thigh, to minimize strain on surrounding joints.
ASANAS FOR STRENGTHENING THIGHS
Forward bend: Yoga pose for hamstrings as it helps to loosen the back and stretch hamstrings and calves.
High Lunge: stretches hip flexors and hamstrings on the back leg whilst strengthening feet, ankles, glutes and quads on the front leg
Chair pose: classic ski pose, warms up and builds strength in quads
Reclined cobblers pose: improves flexibility of inner thigh muscles, which can cause knee injury in skiing if not stretched.
SAY NO TO TIGHT HIPS!
Hip flexors are very important in maximizing agility in skiing. However these muscles are rarely used nowadays due to our primarily sedentary way of life. We sit to eat, sleep, relax, work and drive; whereas our ancestors were outdoor hunters and gatherers, using their bodies continuously, giving strength and force to their muscles. This is why our largest muscles are around the hip area.
By building more strength and flexibility in the hip area for skiing, it enables us to have a broader base of equilibrium and muscle foundation, which in turn improves the support to our upper body. Hip flexors also help with angulations of a turn, which means helping a skier to make sharper, cleaner lines. Powerful and flexible hips encourage balance and good turning habits; otherwise skiers end up jerking their upper body to initiate a turn instead of using the lower body, which can lead to upper back pain from this awkward movement.
ASANAS FOR RELEASING THE HIPS
Forward kneeling lunge improves flexibility of hip flexors, which improves posture and lower back stability and improves calf flexibility which is beneficial to both sports
THE KEY IS IN OUR CORE
Engaging the core muscles of the abdomen also enhances good turns on the slopes and alleviates pressure from the knees, protecting the joint from injury. Strengthening the core muscles helps to improve balance that is essential for skiing and also helps redirect weight bearing that often falls onto the knees. Awareness of your centre allows you to initiate movement, helps you turn more efficiently and distribute weight more evenly making each move less strenuous on the whole body.
Core strength also offers support in falls and supports the spine in bending and twisting and stabilizing. If the core isnt engaged properly and tightness resonates in the hamstrings and hip flexors, then the lower back starts to be put under strain and can create an injury.
As the lower body is predominantly utilized in these sports, it is important to also strengthen the upper body so that there is not an imbalance in the lower and upper halves. This is also helpful when finding yourself stuck in a snowdrift whilst pursuing powder off-piste!
ASANAS FOR MAXIMISING CORE STRENGTH
Spinal twist improves spine mobility, glute flexibility and outer thigh muscles.
Downward facing dog good for core stability. Going into plank and press up back into downward dog. Builds upper body strength.
Tree pose this helps with balance, tones and strengthens quads, calves, ankles and spine whilst stretching hip flexors, inner thighs, chest and shoulders. Improves balance and promotes mobility in hip and knee joint, which is important when making turns.
So with some careful preparation& planning and a bit of patience you will be ready for your mountain top holiday, pain free!
Michelle King is a Sports Massage Therapist and a Yoga teacher. She is the cofounder of AdventureYogiwhich is a yoga and adventure holidays and retreats company.
This winter they will be in La Rosiere in the French Alps from the 26th February 12th March running their Ski and Yoga holiday.
Want to find out more about Adventure Yogi?