That expensive ski suit won't turn you into a Mountain Betty, but a pair of ski-smart legs just might. A skier's legs support her technique, enhance her speed, protect her from injury and make her look hot in her ski pants. Not just any leg exercise will do. The best ski-specific leg exercises use your legs in a manner that simulates the movements of skiing.
Wipe-outs are a fact of life in skiing, but one too many falls and you're buying all the drinks. Two too many falls might mean an injury. Most traditional squats, lunge or leg exercises turn into balance workouts when performed on a Bosu, a balance board, a wobble board or a balance disc. Bring a small rubber balance disc to the gym, and stand on it during cable leg exercises. To increase your coolness quotient, place one or two discs on the sled of the leg press machine, and position your feet against them as you perform the exercise. Any ski instructor worth her certification pin will tell you that skiing is more about balance and finesse than brute strength. Integrate strength with balance during your leg workouts.
Skiing's downhill movements require eccentric contractions of the quadriceps or frontal thigh muscles. Not many exercises simulate that type of movement, but leave it to Bode Miller's trainer, John McBride, to come up with one. McBride told "National Geographic Adventure " that he had Bode hike downhill while carrying a weighted backpack. Downhill treadmill walking or using the reverse cycle on the elliptical trainer produces similar effects. Use an inclined aerobic step bench for eccentric squats. Stand on the high end of the step, and imagine that you are about to descend a snowy slope.
The Hamstrings Dilemma
If your ski instructor tells you to get out of the back seat, she means your knees are locked, your weight is on your heels and you are literally dragging your human tail and your ski tails behind you. A hamstring/quad imbalance is probably the culprit. It will be your demise in mogul skiing, which requires you to bend your knees to absorb the peak of the bump. If you approach a bump with your knees locked it throws you backward into the snow. That popping noise? That was your tearing ACL. Step away from the leg extension machine and spend more time on exercises such as the leg curl, stability ball bridge and dead lift. Doing plyometrics teaches you to land from a jump with bent knees.
Ski instructors talk about the transfer of training concept. They use it to determine whether your typical movement patterns give you a point of reference for skiing. A skater, for example, would probably have an easier time learning to ski than a swimmer. The mogul-shaped Bosu provides efficient bump training. For example, standing on top of the Bosu, tossing a weighted medicine ball and performing a squat as you land simulates the way your legs absorb the bump during mogul skiing. Skier leg training does not always fancy equipment. British ski instructor Warren Smith recommends placing a T-shirt on a newly waxed floor, standing on the T-shirt and gliding your legs together. The exercise strengthens you inner thighs while simulating the lateral movements used in skiing.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.