Graham Bell’s tips on getting fit for skiing

5th December 2013, by Abi Butcher

Graham Bell offers his top tips on getting fit for skiing. Photo: Graham Bell/Nevica

Graham Bell offers his top tips on getting fit for skiing. Photo: Graham Bell/Nevica

BBC presenter and former Olympic skier, Graham Bell, is working with Club Med to promote ski holidays this winter. Here, he shares his tips for optimising your fitness and getting the most from your ski or snowboard holiday.

“Unlike most holidays, skiing is a physically demanding pastime, and while that’s part of the thrill, it’s also a reason why you need to be prepared. If you’re not fit enough to ski for a week on holiday, it can be stressful, painful and a waste of money as you’ll cut short your days due to tiredness,” says Graham. “Taking a few simple steps to improving your overall fitness and training specific muscles will not only mean you can ski for longer, but will help you avoid more serious injury, as well as the aches and pains of those skiers you see hobbling through the bar every evening.”


Aerobic fitness
If you’re not already exercising regularly, it’s a good idea to begin a simple programme of aerobic activity around two months to six weeks before you go. As well as boosting your overall fitness levels, this will help build your stamina, meaning you can ski for longer each day without feeling as tired. Each gym or exercise session, introduce 20 minutes of cardio exercise – such as the bike or treadmill. This only needs to be at a low intensity, but will help increased your heart rate and improve your fitness levels on the approach to your holiday.

Losing weight
Thinking about what you are eating and drinking before your ski trip can bring more enjoyment during it. After all, the more body fat you are carrying, the more weight you have to drag up, around and down the mountain! I’m not talking about a crash diet, just cutting down on fat and sugar to help shed a little weight. When you get to the slopes, you’ll really notice a difference if you’ve lost a couple of excess pounds.

Ski specific muscle building
The key areas to strengthen and build for skiing are your calves and quadriceps (thighs). These are the muscles given the most punishment during your annual ski trip. As skiing and boarding are all about balance and co-ordination, you should try exercises that combine both at the same time. For example, squats on a Bosu ball are great for your quads.

A really simple way to get the right muscles working ahead of a ski trip is to go ice or roller skating. Skating is a similar combination of balance and co-ordination and also gets you used to sliding. It’s a brilliant way for kids to get comfortable with the movements required for skiing. Of course, even better than that is visiting a snow centre where you can practice skiing for real.

I hear a lot of people advising wall sits to strengthen quadriceps, but these should be avoided. All they do is get your legs used to the pain, they don’t build or stretch the muscle and are a waste of time.

Snowboarders might want to spend some time on their upper body, as they use this more than skiers.  Strapping in, getting up and taking a few slams can stress the shoulders, if you have a weakness then work with a theraband to strengthen the rotator cuff, or if you fancy it Indoor Climbing is great for the upper-body strength.


Six stretches

A fortnight before you go away, it’s well worth taking the time to stretch some of the key skiing muscles. No one wants a painful evening hobbling around the hotel with stiff legs and joints! There are six key muscles to concentrate on stretching to encourage flexibility and help defend against strains and tears. Some of the muscle movement is specific to skiing, so you probably won’t have stretched these as part of your average workout or during other sport. Try to hold a stretch for 20-30 seconds relaxing and letting the muscles lengthen.

• Quads – either standing up or lying on your side pull one heel up towards your bum, while keeping your hips forward.
• Hamstrings – There are lots of different ways to stretch your hamstrings, but one thing you must do is keep your knee slightly flexed, this will mean you stretch the belly of the muscle rather than the tendons behind your knee.
• Lower back – Lying on your back, pull both knees up to your chest, hold for 30 seconds.  Then straighten one leg, and while holding the other knee twist at the trunk and bring your knee towards the floor.
• Calves – A great one to do while waiting at a bus stop! Simply step up with your toes onto a small step and lean forward, alternatively you can lean up against a wall and put one leg out behind, keeping the heel on the floor.
• Abductors – One to do while watching TV! Sit on the floor put the sloes of your feet together then pull them up towards your bum.  If you can press down with your elbows against the insides of your legs to increase the stretch.
• IT band – A very important one for skiers because you need to flex sideways at the hip.  Stand next to a wall sideways, and place your closest hand on the wall, then bring your outside foot across in front of you and bend sideways towards the wall.


Warming up

You may feel a bit silly, but doing a few warm up exercises just before you tackle that first run of the day will help loosen your muscles.  It’s much more painful (and dangerous) when falling over if you’re stiff and your muscles are tight, than if you’re warmed up and supple. I liken it to footballers lightly warming up on the side of the pitch before they come on.

Start by simply swinging your arms and legs, keeping joints loose and extending the muscles to prepare for a greater range of movement. Use your ski poles for balance and swing your legs both forward and backwards and side to side. Hold your poles behind your back and rotate from side to side, then try leaning one side then the other.  Finally with your knees bent and holding your poles for support do the Bill Haley twist for 30 seconds. Snowboarders might also include some wrist circling. Avoid the stretches that you did at home to increase flexibility as heavy stretching can actually weaken your muscles temporarily, which is the last thing you need before you ski.

Not only will these light mobility stretches loosen muscles, but they will actually warm your temperature up (a real benefit in early winter months), and increase your heart rate ahead of the higher intensity act of skiing itself.

Any guests staying within the Club Med resorts who are unsure on how to perfect any of these stretches can call upon the GOs within the resort. The GOs within the gym are also specifically trained in all these exercises should anyone need further advice.

Prepare the kids

If you have children, get them rolling in the snow and performing somersaults. This not only gets them limbered up, but prepares them for falling in the snow so it’s not such a shock the first time!

Avoid alcohol

It can be tempting to have a bottle of red with lunch, or a cheeky gluwein to warm the cockles, but I generally avoid drinking completely while on the slopes. The alcohol often leads to dehydration, which causes cramping of muscles – especially in your legs. If you are going to drink, make sure you take some water with you as well, and take rehydration salts to help combat this dehydration – for example, Dioralyte.


Snow bath
Not many will be man enough to try this, but it’s what the professional skiers do after a race and it’s the best way to recover as the cold temperatures stimulate circulation, helping expel toxins and lactic acid from the muscles. It’s easy to do as well, because you’ve got access to loads of snow that you can shovel in from outside, then dump in the bath. The trick is to stay in for as long as you can handle it!

Straight after an ice bath, pro racers will jump onto an exercise bike for 30 minutes to one hour of low intensity cycling. Herman Meier always did this – always one hour at 100rpm, just pedalling away, not breaking sweat, just winding down the muscles.

Warm bath
Far more realistic for most holidaying skiers is a nice hot tub session, or a sauna. Most Club Med ski resorts will have spa facilities where you can jump in a tub or visit the steam room after a day on the slopes. Once you are warm and relaxed, that’s the perfect time to try a few of the key muscle stretches again. Just 20 to 30 seconds on each muscle group will really make a difference and reduce aches and pains the next day.

Ice the joints
If you have problem joints, like dodgy knees, take a damp towel from your hotel and fill it with snow from outside. Wrap that with a dry towel and use as an ice pack to soothe soreness and alleviate pain.

Rub down
Getting a massage after a hard day’s skiing is not only relaxing, it does all the good of the warm down stretches while you’re lying horizontal! The spas and wellness centres at Club Med resorts offer Sports Tonific massage sessions, which are deep-tissue sessions perfect for recuperating. One of these 45 minute sessions, every other day, will help to avoid that heavy, stiff feeling in your legs.

Club Med has some great health and wellbeing spa facilities within many of the ski resorts. Club Med guests staying within resorts have the opportunity to relax in the hot tub, as well as the swimming pools. Treatments within the spa are also available to guests including massages and treatments to help you relax from a hard days skiing.


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