Training for winter sports
Peter Twist, MSc, BPE, CSCS, SCS, PTS
Successfully enjoying winter sports requires specific preparation and training. Even active adults involved in sports like cycling and jogging haven't trained for shifts in balance, setting them up for possible injuries when participating in winter sports.
Successfully enjoying winter sports requires specific preparation and training. Even active adults involved in sports like cycling and jogging haven’t trained for shifts in balance, setting them up for possible injuries when participating in winter sports. Balance training can also help us retain skills critical in real-life situations, such as slipping on ice.
Most winter sports and activities carry a risk for falls on uneven surfaces and slippery terrain. Snowboarders and skiers must make endless adjustments on changing terrain, or while doing jumps and tricks, so they need to train their bodies to be more reactive to unpredictable events, particularly as these are sometimes presented in rapid succession, as on double-black-diamond ski runs. Balance training helps prevent injuries and keeps you up on your feet, enjoying your sport.
Feats of Balance
Balance is both highly trainable and a lot of fun! Your body contains receptors that report on your body’s position, letting your brain know what each arm and leg is doing. When body parts change position, the information is detected and sent to the brain, which acts like a computer to determine what movement is needed to achieve a more skilled body position. The body’s ability to sense shifts in position and react with corrective actions is called proprioception, from the Latin proprius meaning “own” and the word “reception,” referring to our ability to receive sense information.
Your most important feats of strength and balance will be required in unstable and unpredictable environments–slipping on icy stairs, skiing gladed runs, or snowshoeing new powder. These conditions require contributions from all muscle groups. Proprioception balance training improves your body’s maneuverability, helping you navigate challenging winter terrain. Improved coordination gives you the confidence you need to enjoy being active in winter.
The Secret to Balance Training
The trick is that you must be slightly out of balance when learning balance. For this reason, only training tools and exercises that cannot be mastered are used to train performance balance. If you can perfect a balance exercise and stay stable through every rep, you are no longer improving your balance. New exercises are required to keep you slightly unstable. You need to be able to select a more advanced drill to present a new level of difficulty. This improves the mind-muscle link, producing smart muscles that will perform complex moves for you. Accessories like stability balls fit a balance program because of the endless variety of exercises they accommodate.
Most winter activities require good leg strength. Your perfect point of balance is your perfect position for strength, in which you get the most out of your muscles. When snowshoeing, this will help give you the power needed to drive up steep slopes. When running downhill, achieving perfect balance on each stride is energy efficient, and it keeps you safer late in the day when others are too tired to retain good technique.
Remember that even at the beginning of the day not all sport movements can be executed perfectly, and you cannot predict all changes in terrain, so heightened balance and reaction skills are necessary to help you survive–and thrive–in the outdoors.