The sport of alpine skiing is known for its beautiful settings and breathtaking views in the mountains, its sometimes frigid temperatures in which it’s performed, its culture of progression and always pushing the limits of what is possible, like other action sports, it's known for the extreme physical demands that it places on the human body.
Skiing is done in the mountains- in nature, and nature can be unpredictable. This is unique to the sport of skiing in that the weather and snow surfaces are constantly changing and forcing skiers to adapt their skills, techniques and tactics, equipment, and physical conditioning appropriately to be able to perform in that specific set of conditions. It is paramount that skiers are prepared across the board for whatever the mountain throws at them on a given day.
The variability of conditions in addition to the wide range of ski terrain (i.e. groomers, moguls, trees, steeps, etc.) and the nature of the sport’s basic movement patterns, necessitate skiers to train many different components of fitness to perform at high levels and reduce risk of injury. These minimally include muscular strength, anaerobic power, anaerobic endurance, aerobic endurance, coordination, agility, balance, and flexibility. This broad training focus makes skiers the epitome of well-rounded athletes but requires extensive time, effort, and planning to be able to improve each component in the gym and still have time to actually go skiing!
The next few paragraphs aim to highlight what we would consider to be the most important training focus for skiers (drumroll, please…) and one of the best ways to train it.
Above all is strength. Not only is strength needed to withstand the basic forces and impacts of skiing, but it also contributes a critical component in essentially all other physical attributes that make up a skier. In other words, the stronger your muscles, the better you’ll be at everything else (power, endurance, balance, flexibility, etc.).
The energy demands of skiing vary greatly due to some of the factors mentioned above, but regardless of whether you’re skiing rock-solid groomers, knee-deep powder, or slushy spring bumps, one thing is for certain: you need strong legs.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is by training the squat. Squatting can and should be done (especially as skiers) in many variations such as front and back squats, double-leg and single-leg squats, isometric and tempo squats, etc. just to name a few. These lifts can improve your core strength, balance and stability, cardiovascular capacity, and of course your leg strength in a position and movement that mimics skiing exceptionally well.
Depending on your current ability levels, training goals, and how you may need to improve your squat/ski strength, one variation or another may be most appropriate for you. Let’s look at a few scenarios to help you figure out where to start:
You’re relatively new to training the squat, regardless of your skiing experience:
Heels Elevated Air Squats 3-5 x 10-20 reps
Banded Squats 3-5 x 30s total
Goblet Squats 3-5 x 10-15 reps
Isometric Wall Squats 3-5 x 30-60s holds
These bilateral (double-leg) variations would be a great place to start. They are relatively simple options that emphasize your ability to build strength and improve technique while minimizing the technical demand and therefore your risk of injury. Include between 1-3 of them in your training routine starting with 3 sets every 1-3 days and build from there.
You’re experienced in training the squat, but could benefit from a more solid foundation to feel stronger and better on the mountain (this is where most skiers find themselves):
Barbell Front/Back Squats 3-5 x 8-12 reps
Goblet Squats on BOSU/Balance Board 3-5 x 5-10 reps or 30-45s hold
Spanish Squats 3-5 x 8-12 reps or 30-45s hold
Supported Single Leg Squats 3-5 x 8-12 reps each
These squat variations are aimed at developing max strength, bilateral stability, isolated quad strength capacity, and unilateral balance/coordination/alignment, respectively. While there are substantial overlapping benefits between these options, each has a slightly different focus and may lend itself better to your specific goals and current abilities. Include 2-3 of them in your training routine starting with 3 sets every 2-3 days and build from there.
You’re well-trained in squatting and have excellent technique. You’re comfortable and familiar with squatting near 1-rep max weight on the bar and looking to optimize the application of your squat strength.
Barbell Squats > Squat Jumps (Contrast sets)
Single Leg Eccentric Overload Squats
These advanced training strategies are designed to take your strength to the next level whether the goal is optimizing muscular activation, training a specific range of motion, developing max single-leg strength, or boosting speed/power/explosiveness. They are reserved for experienced athletes who are likely adding these variations into an already extensive and comprehensive training program. These and many other high-level lifts require technical skill development and coaching as well as specific progressions and programming to get the most out of them and do it safely. If this sounds like where you’re at or where you want to get to, drop us a line and we’ll work on integrating them into your routine or building out a program to get there.
Regardless of whether you’re a first-time skier, a long-time weekend warrior, or part of the 100-day club every season, we know two things: 1) you’re going to benefit from getting those ski muscles stronger, and 2) you’re going to get there faster by squatting!