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  • Writer's pictureJason St Clair Newman

10 Key Leg Exercises for the Mountains - Part 1: Get Strong

The temperature has dropped, and you are already starting to look at flights for your first trip to the mountains.

Whether you ski or snowboard, being prepared for the season is key to your enjoyment and minimising injury risk.

Many will go to a spin class or two, maybe do some weights at the gym or attend some cross-training class (insert the current popular latest and greatest version of circuit training here) and be done with that.

When it comes to snow sports the list of injuries can be bad anywhere from sprained thumbs to death… it’s not a forgiving sport for the unprepared.

I like to approach it differently, and with past and current clients who enjoy snow sports, I focus a lot on their preparation before they even step on the plane to leave.

Anyone I work with has already started their training for the coming season, with snow not forecast for another 2 or 3 months here in Europe I like to build that base big and wide.

When I start to put a programme together for the sports I work with (primarily snow sports and rugby) I like to look at key areas of injury that need to be addressed in a person’s programme, alongside their injury history as well.

In Snow sports, there is an obvious skew towards the exposed joints of the knee and shoulder and wrist.

The knee primarily the MCL and ACL and or Medial Meniscus

Shoulders AC joint and collar bone breaks

and wrist breaks.

Head injuries are up there as well – but there is limited evidence that these can be prevented, although there is some talk about strengthening neck muscles in contact sports it’s not an area I look at in skiing.

In this article, I will primarily be looking at the legs and getting them prepared.

Being prepared covers everything from strength to injury prevention.

Where do we start...?

Getting them strong!

I have been in the fitness industry since 98, in that time I have seen lots of trends come and go “gurus” appear and disappear, in the past 15+ years there has been a growing trend to be “functional” … whatever that means.

One thing hasn’t changed though and should never be forgotten

Is the person strong enough to tolerate the demands of their sport, the forces in skiing can get pretty high, racers can experience forces upwards of 2242 Newtons of force in a carved turn or around 228kg acting on the body, there needs to be a certain amount of strength (this was measured forces on ski racers on a slalom course, so recreational skiers would be less, but still food for thought)?

To achieve this, I use a combination of Bilateral and Unilateral exercises, I believe there is value in both and don’t take sides in the Unilateral Vs Bilateral argument.

I’ve experimented with them over the years by themselves and in unison,

and the feedback from the person leads back to utilising both.

Listed below are 10 of my favourite exercises for prepping for the mountains.

I would use these exercises and rep/set ranges close to the start of the programme with an emphasis on laying the foundation for heavier weights (dependent on the person's needs) and more dynamic and fatiguing work as the season/their trip away approaches.

They wouldn’t be the only exercises, and I would definitely include abdominal, lower back and upper body exercises to this.

I first learnt this from Vern Gambetta and have used it extensively in pretty much every programme I write.

I like to think of it as hip joint insurance.

Due to the multidirectional nature of the exercise, you get multiple planes of movement through your hip joints not only helping to strengthen but also attacking your range of motion. In the basic version, I will use hands behind the head but have loaded this up with Medicine balls, Dumbbells, and barbells before.

The beauty of the multidirectional lunge is that it lends itself to different movements through the upper body at the same time, these can be in the frontal, transverse and or sagittal planes

This was a flip-up for me between this and the Poliquin step-up that I learnt of Charles Poliquin in the early 2000s but decided to go with one of my favourite knee support exercises

I learnt the King squat from Coach Ian King, and if memory serves me correctly it was just a version of a single-leg squat he uses. I started calling it the King Squat for my reference.

In the King squat, you are targeting a total of 50 continuous reps, however, the reps aren’t just up and down, there is a subtle nuance that kicks your butt.

You perform this movement like a single-leg squat (I tend to start this on a lower box to target the VMO area a little more).

Lower until your opposite heel touches the ground and repeat for 9 reps

On the 10th rep lower down but stay just above the ground and hold this 10th rep for 10sec

Push back up and keep repeating this movement for a max of 50 reps.

This exercise is great as you get a lot of work in your ankle, and muscles supporting the knee and hip joints.

Low Cable – Front Foot Raised - Split Squat

This was something I picked up along the way from Charles Poliquin as part of a split squat progression. I still use it as it requires a different type of stability due to the pull of the cable.

Set up with a low cable and a 2-4inch step far enough away from the cable.

Holding the cable in your opposite hand to the working foot stay tall and square and descend forwards allowing your knee to travel forward as needed to get the range of motion.

Push back up through your foot maintaining a tall posture and repeat for reps.

As mentioned earlier the pull of the cable requires you to stabilise through your upper body differently than just holding dumbbells, that forward pull on one side creates a rotational force and sagittal pull forwards that you need to counter to complete a technically proficient rep.

Front or Back Squat

To be fair any of the squats are great, each has its benefit, as long as you can use good technique and are proficient in the movement these are a no-brainer.

I do like the Front squat for learners more, as it requires a certain degree of good posture to perform correctly.

Hamstrings are important!

They help act like an ACL on the knee joint.

We want them strong. I also like to tie on the lower back with them as well as it’s all connected. A lot of people will use an RDL or a version of it, no problem with that I like good mornings and versions of those to load the hammy’s up.

Posture again is important on these always tall. I like to use the plate (or dumbbell) across the chest first before moving to bars across the shoulders as it’s a bit easier to manage at first. Also, the exercise ends itself not having to go heavy so even a 10kg plate can make your hamstrings sing.

Barbell RDL

Good exercise although primarily used by Olympic weightlifters to help with the hinge movement I like these as we can load the hamstrings and lower back with a good weight helping to improve strength.

Lateral Step Up

Ever had to sidestep up a hill?

For backcountry skiers, this is a must-do movement it can be made as hard as you want with different height boxes, and weighted implements.

For me, this is about staying tall and driving the foot down into the box as you stand up.

If you can’t maintain posture, drop the weight until you can.

Just remember that drive into the step.

Not sure who invented these, but they are a great option for skiing due to the single-leg lateral nature of the movement.

Set up is key and not trying to set a powerlifting record with the weight.

The bar will be enough to get started for most and go from there.

Use a nice, controlled tempo with a faster push-up each time.

The Simplest of exercises with a lot of benefits, from building resilience in the lower leg to teaching coordinated low-level explosiveness.

It is a go-to that I use not only here but also across all the field sports as well.

Squat Jumps (Bodyweight)

Again, a really simple to-perform exercise that helps teach body coordination but also starts to build resilience in the tissues that are associated with skiing.

I like to maintain a tread of movements throughout programmes and although there isn’t a heavy emphasis at the beginning on explosive exercises, I want to make sure the body doesn’t forget.

So now I’ve let you in on some of the best exercises I have used, below is an example of how I may put them together in a Lower body emphasis programme.

I would like to at minimum do this twice a week possibly three alternating the workouts.

And would split this up into at least two days' rest between each session due to leg training taking longer to recover from.

Session One

I use dynamic warm-ups but everyone is different, do what works for you.

A1) Pogo’s 3 x 8- 12reps

B1) – King squat 1 x Max up to 50 reps each leg (if you don’t make the 50 write down what you got and try to beat it the next session

C1) Low Cable – Front Foot Raised - Split Squat 2-3 x 5-8 reps on each side
I like 5 reps for learning as fatigue doesn’t play a huge factor.

C2) Plate good morning (Double leg) 2-3 x 5-8 reps

C3) Mobility exercise for your hips – Multidirectional Lunge Unweighted 1 x through each side

D1) Single-leg Landmine Skater squat 2 -3 x 5-8 reps on each side

Session Two

As needed

A1) – Squat Jump 3 x 4-6reps

B1) King squat 1 x Max up to 50 reps each leg (if you don’t make the 50 write down what you got and try to beat it the next session

C1) Bilateral Squat of Choice 3-5 x 5reps

C2) Mobility exercise for your hips – Multidirectional Lunge Unweighted 1 x through each side with arm drivers or a medicine ball

D1) Barbell RDL 3 – 5 x 5reps
D2) Lateral Step Up 2 -3 x 5-8 reps on each side

I let people dictate their rest initially, for me the quality of the movement and not being completely fatigued is key, as some of these exercises may be new for people and others not.

As I mentioned this isn't everything I do, I would also include a lot of rotational and lateral work as well, but using these exercises will definitely help with your days out on the mountain.

Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Interested in a Bespoke Ski programme for your trip?

Send me an email now and we can discuss how I can help you have a great trip in the mountains.

Watch Out for Part 2 of this Series

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