During the winter season, there is a transition in the air that seems to affect everyone differently. Some tend to become more sedentary and stay inside where it is cozy and warm. Others rush outdoors and travel to the mountains for skiing and snowboarding. Researchers have observed decreased levels of physical activity and total daily energy expenditure during the winter months (Niebauer, 2016). It is important to consider activities like skiing and snowboarding as new alternatives to other forms of exercise. These snow sports have the potential to increase or at least maintain fitness levels during the winter. Professionals in the field also praise skiing for its positive influence on wellbeing and quality of life.

SNOW SPORTS AND THE HUMAN BODY

According to a recent article in Time (2018), skiing and snowboarding can be a ridiculously good workout. The combination of high altitude and low temperature challenges the heart, lungs, and muscles to work hard on each run down the mountain. A professor of sports medicine and cardiology expressed how the sport can have positive effects on your leg muscles, as well as the heart and blood circulation. Additionally, researchers observed improved insulin resistance, body composition, and glucose metabolism, whereas a drop in blood pressure, blood lipids, and heart rate. Each of these physiological benefits will improve your quality of life and long-term health. All of which are observed in individuals who ski or snowboard on a regular basis.

Individuals participating in these sports should consider following an exercise program before hitting the mountain, as the energy requirements of the sport is similar to high intensity interval training (HIIT).  Depending on factors like the individual’s skill level, exertion, and terrain of the slope, the body is working at a high level for roughly 15-20 minutes. Once the run is finished, skiers and snowboarders enjoy a rest period while on the lift back up the mountain. Skiing and snowboarding are challenging sports, especially to those who are untrained. The exercise program, designed by a fitness professional, may include aspects of cardiorespiratory, strength, plyometric, and flexibility training. 

The muscular system serves as the core of each movement while on the mountain. Functioning to counteract the effects of gravity and other external forces to maintain body alignment and to realign body segments while performing movements. The detailed movements in skiing and snowboarding utilize all muscle actions, resulting either in smooth motion for experts or sloppy motion for beginners. Depending on body awareness and skill level, the individual may move with more efficient muscle contractions.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FLEXIBILITY TRAINING

Injury prevention for skiing and snowboarding is highly valuable for both short-term and long-term success. Maintaining optimal conditioning and flexibility of the muscles in the trunk, hips, and ankles through regular stretching is recommended. According to Vagners (1995), lower body flexibility is extremely important for efficient skiing, and may be necessary to perform more advanced movements in modern ski technique. An important note is that flexibility is specific to each joint – whereby significant differences in flexibility may be observed in left and right extremities, unless stretches are carefully balanced according to the individual’s needs. Each individual varies in abilities and will need a personalized stretching routine to address their own needs. Be mindful of tracking progress from the starting point – this is important to highlight which areas are improving and keeps you motivated to continue practice.

Focusing on skiing and snowboarding, we begin to identify the importance of stretching for these sports. Stretching may reduce the risk for injury, which should be of top priority for all ages. Mainly in the lower body, the muscles are performing countless contractions, and muscle soreness will surely follow. In order to manage the discomfort, skiers and snowboarders should perform stretching routines to maintain prime conditions of the muscles. Specific environmental factors such as cold temperatures limit performance of the muscles due to reduced blood and oxygen supply. Stretching counteracts this by enhancing your body’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the muscles. Similarly, stretching helps to clear out metabolic waste like lactic acid build up. LYMBR stretching fuels the body by improving blood flow, oxygen and nutrition delivery to the working muscles. By moving these muscles beyond resting length, LYMBR stretching can keep the body ready to perform at a high level.

Skiing and snowboarding challenges the body to work through different ranges of motion. The muscles of the upper and lower body could benefit from stretching, as many of the movements will be replicated on the mountain. From the fundamentals to the advanced tricks, the body requires a high degree of flexibility when performed. Being able to flex, extend, and rotate different areas of the body are essential to these sports. For example, when snowboarders attempt a ‘180’ or ‘360’ the ability to move the back and hips is key. Stretching can help improve and maintain the range of motion required for these movements. Working with a professional at LYMBR can be useful to identify which areas need the most attention.

HOW TO STRETCH

If stretching before activity, the tempo of stretching should be matched to that of the activity to serve as a warmup. Whereas, stretching after activity should be of a slower nature to allow for a cool down. Breathing will be important throughout every stretch – inhale at the start of stretch and exhale all the way through the most intense part of the stretch. Allow the breath to help move the body through a full range of motion. Do not rush through the more difficult stretches. Give the body time to process so that the nervous system can develop confidence and understanding of the movement. Stretching should be dynamic – make sure to move through an active range before assisting. By following these principles, it ensures that every movement is both safe and efficient. Every stretch performed is an assessment of the body’s range of motion – be gradual by starting shallow and progressing to a deeper stretch. 

With our present knowledge on the topic, it can be concluded that stretching should be recommended for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and skill levels. Whether self-stretching or assisted stretching, there are clear benefits to this practice. Stretching plays a big role in the fitness and wellness routines of the winter months. Taking the time to stretch will keep the body going strong for the next run down the mountain. If done properly, a stretching routine can go hand in hand with a skiing or snowboarding hobby.

Written by Cesar Garcia, LYMBR Stretch Therapist and Academy Instructor.

References:
Heid (2018) – Time: Health – Exercise & Fitness Article Why skiing is a ridiculously good workout.
Niebauer (2016) – A comparison between alpine skiing, cross country skiing, and indoor cycling on cardiorespiratory and metabolic response
Vagners (1995) – A ski instructor’s guide to the physics and biomechanics of skiing.