If you've ever put in a day on the ski slopes, you know the feeling of spaghetti legs. It tends to strike around 4 in the afternoon, during an outing's last remaining runs and is especially common the first few ski jaunts of the season as bodies otherwise desk-bound and rusty are suddenly ultra challenged. It's that gratifying feeling of having utterly worked your leg muscles and body to their maximum potential in the invigorating fresh-air outdoors. Downhill skiing, thrilling as it is physically rewarding, is an excellent way to condition and train your body.
Whether zooming down a black diamond run or zigzagging on a bunny slope, multiple muscle groups are being activated and strengthened during downhill, or alpine, skiing. It targets several lower-body prime-mover muscles, including the hamstrings, calves, hips and quadriceps. A key muscle group's core member, the one responsible for a particular movement, is known as a prime mover. For example, the quadriceps is a prime mover involved in the knee-joint extension movement. In addition to building these muscles, skiing also works the core muscles, which are called on to control skiing movements, and the arms, which navigate using poles. One 12-week Austrian study of older adults found downhill skiing to significantly boost leg muscle power and strength, as well as aerobic capacity.
Downhill skiing is an energetic, outdoor alternative to what we classically think of as aerobic activities, such as running or cycling. Any aerobic activity that amps up the heart rate can assist in burning fat and dismiss unwanted extra pounds, according to the American Council on Exercise, which suggests completing at least three 30-minute of aerobic exercise weekly. You'll easily complete that amount spending one day whizzing down the mountain. Indeed, one hour of skiing for someone weighing 150 pounds torches anywhere from 350 to 570 calories, depending on the skiing intensity and the exerciser's fitness level.
Flexibility and Balance
A skier can never go in robotic mode and just follow the motions. In fact, because of the constant need to adjust to changes in trail, terrain and surroundings, such as fellow skiers and snowboarders, a skier must remain acutely aware and extremely agile. Skiers must be able to stop or veer sharply as required. Failure to move the body quickly enough to do so can result in accidents and injuries. As you gain expertise on the slopes, you also expand body coordination, flexibility and balance.
Before you set off down a powder run for this demanding sport, it's best to check with your doctor about your heart health, especially your blood pressure, to see if you are fit enough to handle the exercise and the altitude. It's also wise to spend time doing targeted exercises before a ski trip to improve skills that can strengthen your glide, such as strength training, especially in the legs, balance training and flexibility training. The most frequent cause of ski injury is falling, which accounts for up to 85 percent of mishaps, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. The most common injuries are sprains, followed by fractures, cuts and dislocations.
Julie D. Andrews is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in print or on the websites of "Prevention," "Glamour," "Fitness," "Shape," "Cosmopolitan Latina," "Elle" and "New York Magazine."