Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Fit for your ski holiday?

Are you fit enough to cruise the pistes all day?
I have mentioned ski fitness a few times before in this blog, but I thought I would revisit it as the winter season is kicking off right now (in the Northern Hemishpere at least). Let me say first that you do not need to be super fit to enjoy a ski holiday. On the other hand if you are very unfit you will struggle, and you may find yourself not having much fun at all, or even giving up early and resigning yourself to sitting in the hotel with a book. I have talked before about fitness for more advanced skiers, but this time around I want to cover fitness for beginner and intermediate skiers, especially those planning their first or second week's holiday.

Skiing is a sport which can be enjoyed at many levels, but it is still a sport. If your skiing holiday is the one week of exercise you take in a year then you will not get the most out of it. At the least you will be on your feet several hours each day, at a higher altitude than your body is used to. Add in the pressures on your legs, and the fact that you will be relying on muscles that are often under used in everyday life, and it is not surprising that the first day on the slopes really takes it out of a lot of people.

So to get through the days with enough energy left to enjoy the apres ski (which is an important part of the holiday of course) what do you need to do? Basically, for the average recreational skier, you want to have a decent level of aerobic fitness and endurance. Skiing does not have to be strenuous (although it can be if you want it to be) but it does keep you working all day, so if you are happy going out for a long walk in the country for a few hours, for example, you should be happy skiing all day. Any sort of aerobic exercise is going to be good of course; running, cycling, football, tennis and so on. If you don't do any other sports already then start gradually - all the things you will have heard before like walking instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the lift, maybe joining a gymn or fitness class. The key here is not to do too much too quickly -  try to enjoy getting fitter. It is all too easy to get enthusiastic about getting fit, do everything you can for a couple of weeks, and then get tired and lose motivation. Keep in mind that goal of being able to cruise the slopes effortlessly when you get to your holiday.

You may hear about 'ski exercises' such as adopting a sitting position with your back against a wall so your quads support your weight, or using leg extension machines in the gymn. Ignore any such well meaning advice - these exercises are not effective, and can do more harm than good. If you want to do weights, or ski specific exercises, you should concentrate on legs (not just quads) and core. Squats and lunges are good, as are crunches, the plank and other abdominal exercises. For me though, balance exercises are the most useful. Kneeling on a Swiss ball, standing on a balance board, riding a unicycle or walking a slackline have all been part of my ski training at some time.

Remember though, it is supposed to be about enjoying yourself, so whatever you do, keep it fun.

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