Winter Sports – How to Prepare Your Lower Body

Winter sports enthusiasts can’t wait for the cold months to sink in so they can hit the slopes, while others are inspired to suite up after watching the winter Olympics. Either way, it is important to prep vulnerable joints like your knees before picking back up where you left off last year or giving it a go for your first time.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, MCL and ACLtears and strains are the most common amongst skiing knee injuries and “attention to preseason conditioning with an emphasis on sport specific exercises will help delay muscle fatigue which often contributes to an injury.”

Barre and Pilates based exercises are an excellent way to help condition your lower extremities pre-season because the exercises naturally create a balanced body, strong core and improved balance. The barre technique also utilizes the concept of muscle overload (working past your fatigue zone), which builds strength quicker and helps to ward off fatigue longer on the slopes.

Here are a few excellent exercises to incorporate into your daily conditioning routine so that you are ready for the slopes year round.

1) Water-ski

When building a balanced knee we want to create equal strength and length on the three vasti muscles that filter into the kneecap. This will assist in stabilizing and tracking the patella evenly and efficiently for pain free movement. This exercise will also strengthen your ankles, adductors and challenge your obliques and transverse abdominals to stabilize the spine – a critical element for any impact activity.

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Start with one hand on a stable surface and feet hip distance apart and parallel. Place a playground ball between the knees and roll up as high as you can to the balls of your feet. Bend your knees as low as you can while maintaining perfect posture (shoulders over hips) and keeping the heels fixed in space (not dropping). Curl the pelvis under and hinge back to make a straight line from your shoulders to your knees – or only go as far as the abdominal strength can support the spine – no pressure in the lower back. Hold this position while you bend your knees one inch down and return one inch up while squeezing the ball. Continue this exercise until you cannot hold perfect form anymore.

2) Flat Back Attitude

Many clients do not realize that the stabilizers of the hips play a big role in knee efficiency and balance. The gluteus medius is the muscle that is situated on the outside surface of the pelvis and is a critical stabilizer of the hip, which in turn can affect the function of the knee and balance. If this muscle is weak or tight then you may experience knee pain and poor balance.

Fold your forearms and place them on the back of a sturdy chair. Place your forehead down on your forearms so you are pitched over at the hips. Bend both knees and bring your right leg up into the air in a 90 degree angle as high as you can without letting your lower belly give towards the floor – stabilizing your core with navel engaged to spine, knitted ribcage, shoulders locked away from ears. Rotate your top knee out to the back corner while keeping the hip bones facing the floor. Lift the knee 1” towards the ceiling and return keeping the pelvis level and lower back lengthened and supported. Perform this exercise until you cannot perform one more with perfect form.

This exercise is power packed because the gluteus medius is actively working on both sides - your supporting leg is engaged to hold you upright on one leg while your pelvis remains level to the floor, and the top leg is actively maintaining the “turn out” while lifting the shape 1” up and controlling the return. You are also gaining transverse abdominal strength as those muscles work as you stabilize the pelvis and spine from tipping and moving.

3) Bridging with a stability ball

An imbalance of hamstring strength to quadriceps strength can affect the knee stability as well. Strengthening the hamstrings and gluteus maximus and hamstrings can help protect from ACL tears.

Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on a large stability ball. Inhale through the nose and on your exhale curl the pelvis off the floor towards the ceiling engaging the gluteus maximus. Roll the pelvis as high as you can maintain your ribcage knitted together and no pain in your lower back. Roll the ball away from your hips as you inhale and then return the legs to the starting position on your exhale – all while keeping the hips fixed in space. This exercise not only strengthens the gluteus maximus and hamstrings but also builds proprioception, which is critical for balance and body weight awareness – preventing falls and/or landing safely with activity.


About the Author

Jennifer McCamish is the owner of Dancers Shape, a Pilates and barre fitness studio in Austin, Texas. A former NYC Radio City Rockette with over 30 years of dance experience and training from legendary institutes around the country, McCamish has worked or performed with many well-known celebrities, television shows and publications. Utilizing her professional knowledge and education, she created Dancers Shape, a unique approach to fitness, incorporating elements of ballet, yoga, Pilates and circuit training to efficiently build strength and muscle tone while maintaining a lean and nimble body. McCamish holds a BA in Dance from the University of Texas in Austin, Athletic Training in Injury Prevention for Dancers from Radio City Entertainment, is a STOTT PILATES Certified Instructor including Injuries and Special Populations, Cooper Institute Certified Personal Trainer, IDEA Fitness and Wellness member, and is certified in CPR-First Aid. She is a certified instructor including injuries, special populations and golf conditioning. Read more about Jennifer.