Every day we spend hours sitting, driving and standing, tasks that contract our muscles. On the slopes, tight muscles can cause the body to move incorrectly by forcing body weight and motion to shift to other groups of muscles.
Stretching before skiing signals the muscles that they are about to be used and helps elongate them, reducing tension and improving flexibility. Moguls will be less jarring to your knees when quadriceps are stretched and hamstrings relaxed, and turns will be easier with a more flexible back.
"Flexible muscles help reduce injury," says Steve Willard, head athletic trainer at the University of Colorado. "When a muscle is more flexible, there's more range of motion and more power in the joint."
Regular stretching will make you a more coordinated skier, allowing freer and easier movement. Best of all, it will allow you to ski longer days.
Willard recommends keeping your stretching routine simple, spending 15 to 20 minutes on the major muscle groups involved in skiing. Even five minutes daily can be effective. "Establish a short stretching routine and be consistent with it," he says.
Always stretch when muscles are warm, urges Len Kravitz, Ph.D., exercise researcher at the University of New Mexico. Before stretching, walk around for two to five minutes while swinging your arms. Mild exercise raises the core body temperature and increases blood flow in the body, reducing the chance of pulling a muscle during the stretch.
Stretching before and after skiing can make your muscles more efficient and keep them from tiring out as fast, as well as prevent injury, Kravitz says.
Ski Twist Stretch
Lie on your back with your right arm extended out to your side. Using your left hand, slowly pull your right knee across your torso, while keeping your right shoulder on the ground. Hold for 15 seconds, and then switch sides. This stretch stabilizes the lower back and trunk. (See "Stretching Photos" on the right sidebar)
Arm and Shoulder Stretch
Start from a standing position. Bend your right elbow, and put your arm behind your head. Hold your right elbow with your left hand. Move the back of your head against your right arm until a mild stretch is felt in the triceps and shoulder. Then switch arms. Hold for 10 seconds on each side. This is a good way to loosen your triceps, arms and shoulders.
Interlace your fingers behind your back. Slowly turn your elbows inward while straightening your arms. Hold for 10 seconds. This stretches the shoulders, arms and chest.
Doorknob Calf Stretch
Face a door and grip the doorknob with both hands. Put the ball of your left foot against the door, keeping the left heel on the floor. Pull your chest toward the door and notice the stretch in the lower leg. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch legs. (See "Stretching Photos" on the right sidebar)
The Towel Stretch
Sit on the floor, and place a towel under the ball of your foot. Keep your leg extended in front and your heel on the floor. Holding the towel with both hands, gently pull the towel toward you until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch legs. This stretch loosens the Achilles' tendon, heel, calf and ankle. (See "Stretching Photos" on the right sidebar)
Seated Quad Stretch
Sit on the floor with your right leg bent, soo that your thigh is on the floor and your right heel is a few inches from your right hip. Keep your left leg straight out in front of you. Lean back until you feel a stretch in your quadriceps. Hold for 15 seconds. To increase your comfort, move the tucked-in foot farther from your hip.
The Karate Lunge
Using a wide stance, bend your left leg and extend your right leg, resting on your heel with toes stretched upward. Keeping your hands up and back straight, notice the stretch on the inner right thigh. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat stretch on the left leg. This stretches the inner thighs and strengthens the quadriceps. (See "Stretching Photos" on the right sidebar)
Stretching after skiing increases blood flow and oxygenation in the muscles.
Standing Calf Stretch
Stand a short distance from a wall and lean on it with your forearms, head resting on hands. Bend one leg, placing that foot on the ground in front of you, and keep the other leg straight behind. Slowly move your hips forward, keeping your lower back flat. Be sure to keep the heel of the straight leg on the ground, with toes pointed straight ahead or slightly turned in. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds with each leg. This stretches your calves and helps reenergize your legs.
Seated Trunk Twist
Sit with your right leg straight. Bending your left leg, cross your left foot over and to the outside of your right knee. Pull your knee across your body toward your opposite shoulder until you feel an easy stretch on the side of the hip. Hold for 15 seconds with each leg. This slight twist is good for the upper back, lower back, hips and rib cage.
Lie on your back. Straighten one leg, and lift it up as close as you can to a 90-degree angle at the hip joint. Keep the lower back flat against the floor, and hold onto the back of your leg to create the stretch. Hold 15 seconds with each leg. To increase the hamstring stretch, bend slightly at the knee and pull your leg closer to your face.
Lying on your back, extend your arms overhead and straighten out your legs. Pointing your toes and extending your fingers, reach as far as possible in opposite directions with your arms and legs, as if you are trying to gain maximum distance from your fingers to your toes. Stretch for five seconds, relax and repeat. This elongation stretch is good for the muscles of the rib cage, abdominals, spine, shoulders, arms, ankles and feet.
Elevating your legs is one of the quickest ways to rid them of fatigue and lactic acid. Lying on your back, extend your legs up a wall and let the weight of your back release down into the floor. Get as close to the wall as possible, keeping your rear on the floor and your lower back flat. (If your lower back is arched, try backing away from the wall until it is flat and fully supported on the floor). Breathe rhythmically for two to five minutes. This position will gently stretch the hamstrings and lower back, and it's a restful way to unwind after a day on the mountain.
Sources: Topper Hagerman and John Atkins, sports medicine consultants and former U.S. Ski Team trainers, Vail, Colo.; Bob Anderson, author of Stretching; Dennis Kiper, D.P.M., podiatric sports medicine specialist, Arcadia, Calif.; Steve Willard, head athletic trainer at the University of Colorado, Boulder.