Stretching can be a pleasurable routine both before and after your ski days. I used to give little thought or attention to stretching while growing up, but now as my age tally increases, my attitude has changed. It’s not just a mandatory five minutes at the beginning of a gym class anymore, but a way to begin and end a ripping day on the hill.
So how does one stretch properly? And more importantly, what stretches should one perform? They’re actually many different types of stretches, but the two most common are static and dynamic. Static stretching is what most of us think of; standing in one position and targeting a specific area of the body without movement. Dynamic stretching is more of an active warm up which utilizes movement to loosen up the muscles, increase blood flow, your body temperature and heart rate. Some recommendations are to do dynamic stretches first, and then static stretches once your muscles are warmed up. It is also recommended to do static stretches at the end of the ski day.
— Rotational leg swings
— Walking lunges
— Lateral squats with hip rotations
— Trunk rotations
— Arm swings
Static stretching tips:
— Hold a stretch from 30 sec to a minute, but generally, not more than that.
— Stretch the muscle until it feels tight, NOT until it hurts.
— Hold the stretch in place; do not “bounce” it. This could lead to injury before you even do the activity!
When it comes to choosing stretches, a good place to begin is by thinking ahead of time what muscle groups you’ll be using. Before skiing, it would be advisable to perform a stretch on the major muscle groups of the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves) and lower torso (hips and abdomen). Some common static stretches for these areas are:
— Quads: flex the heel of the foot toward the lower back.
— Hamstrings: Sit on the ground with legs stretched out in front of you; attempt to touch your toes.
— Calves (posterior): Come up to a wall and place toes up on the wall with heel touching the ground. Slowly move leg closer to the wall.
— Calves (anterior): Kneel on the ground with toes stretched back away from you. Use your body weight to get that stretch going well.
— Interior thigh muscles (the butterfly: A classic throwback to gym class): Sit on the ground with heels touching each other, bring them up toward the groin and slowly push knees toward the ground.
— Hips: Lie on the ground with both shoulders touching placing one leg over and far across the other rotating the hip toward that direction. Turn head toward opposite direction.
Often times, it is more about having enough time to stretch in the mornings while trying to make those fresh tracks. Here are some personal tips I have picked up over the years:
— Drink a lot of water as soon as you awake; this hydrates you, preps the muscles, and helps you wake up.
— While brushing your teeth, extend one leg onto the vanity and keep it straight for the duration of brushing the upper teeth (~30 sec) then switch legs and brush the lowers. If done correctly, this is a great stretch for the hamstrings. Also, you’re killing two birds with one stone, now you have fresh breath and you’re ready to ski.
— While in the shower, take a minute to stretch the quadriceps by flexing the heel of the foot to your lower back while having the warm water run on the legs- this helps relax the muscles, and feels great.
— While checking your pack before leaving, you can usually sit in either the butterfly position or the kneeling position. Again, for me, it’s about time saving time and getting out there.
Although the jury seems to be out in the scientific community on whether stretching actually decreases risk of injury (1,2), it is however associated with increased mobility and cardiovascular strength (3). When discussing stretching with my colleagues, opinions varied from “You can’t ski bumps all loose, you have to be tight like a spring” to “No athletic activity can be performed in a highly effective manner unless the person is loose and mobile in the hips.” Most views seem to be that stretching is something that should be performed more often so that small spills do not become considerable injuries.
A lot more can be written about this subject, but I’ll end it here with my bottom line: adherence to the simple ritual of stretching can improve your well-being, physical health, but most importantly, your riding.
Stretching is winning. Photo credit http://hopkins.patch.com.
See you out there.
Ski Patrol Medic, Heavenly Mountain Resort
Farinatti PTV, et al. Acute Effects of Stretching Exercise On The Heart Rate Variability In Subjects With Low Flexibility Levels. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011 March 3.