Whenever you're tempted to hit the slopes with little or no warm-up, think again. Cold muscles are more prone to injury than warm ones. Follow the advice of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and include a thorough warm-up in your skiing routine -- before the first run and after lunch, if you're doing a full day. A good warm-up is essential, feels pleasurable and can be achieved in 10 easy minutes.
Warm the Whole Body
Warming up properly means paying attention to your core, joints and all your limbs, not just your legs. It's a two-part process that begins by stimulating your blood flow, which pumps nutrients to your muscles, joints and tissues. This serves as a natural lubricant that prepares the whole body for the second part of the warm-up: stretching and joint rotation. A proper warm-up should feel pleasurable, not strained. It results in an increased heart rate, increased respiration, elevated body temperature and a light sweat.
You can achieve a good, basic warm-up in 10 minutes. Begin with a three- to five-minute walk around the lodge, followed by a two-minute light jog. You can jog in place if you prefer. Rotate your wrists, ankles and neck in both directions. Loosen and warm your arms with arm circles, again in both directions. Add in a few sets of jumping jacks, 15 per set. Squat 10 times, take a brief rest, then do it again. March in place and progressively increase the height of your knee lifts -- slowly for 30 seconds, then rapidly for another 30 seconds. Finish up with a minute of alternating left and right heel kicks, again slowly for 30 seconds, then rapidly for another 30 seconds. Try to come as close to striking your butt as you can without overstretching. Heel kicks can be performed while standing in place or walking.
Advanced Stretching Exercises
You can augment your basic warm-up routine with more advanced stretching exercises. British Olympic skier Chemmy Alcott uses specific stretches in her warm-up routine, each of which is suitable for recreational skiers. For a standing leg swing, stand upright, hold onto a rail with one hand, swing your leg forward and back, making sure that your glutes and quads do the work, not gravity. To do a rotating lunge, stand upright, take one step forward, extend the forward knee over the toes, hold this position, then gently rotate your core/torso side to side, breathing deeply as you stretch. For the threading the needle, get on all fours, hands squarely beneath your shoulders, extend one arm to the side, then "thread" that arm palm-up through the gap between the opposite hand and knee, gently twisting your core as your arm slides along the floor. Make sure that you stretch both sides of your body whenever you perform these advanced stretching exercises.
A proper warm-up should never be abrupt or hurried. Gradually increase your range of motion and speed of movement. If you experience pain or discomfort, it's a sign that you've gone too far or too fast -- ease up a little. If pain or discomfort persists, seek medical advice before you proceed further. Also keep in mind that a warm-up, while essential for minimizing injuries, is no substitute for fitness. Most skiing accidents occur after lunch, when skiers are fatigued and less focused. Stay in shape, respect your limits on the slopes and remember that it takes only a few minutes to avoid a cold start.
Robert Davé is a licensed clinical psychologist, consultant and educator. He has served on the faculties of two universities, published research in the "Journal of Abnormal Psychology" and run a multifaceted private practice for more than 30 years. Davé holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Michigan State University.