When the world's top skiers gather to train each summer, they compare knee surgery scars like bodybuilders compare biceps. Almost every U.S. Ski Team athlete has had anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction or repair. Still, you don't have to ski—and crash—like Erik Schlopy to shred the pinkie-thick band that keeps your knees from buckling at the wrong angle. Over 900,000 Americans damage some part of their knees every year, sometimes by standing up the wrong way.
So how do you sail through the season and still keep your tissue intact? For that answer, we turned to big mountain standout Charlotte Moats—2000 Canadian Freeskiing world champ and one of the few pro racers who's avoided the ACL trap.
OK, so Moats isn't quite a knee-surgery virgin: She's had "minor arthroscopic repair. But unlike other racers and big mountain skiers, her knees are scar-free—thanks to a circuit program developed by strength-training guru Vern Gambetta and tweaked into a ski-specific sweatfest by Bill Knowles, Moats' trainer at Burke Mountain Academy. "The myth is that you have to lift weights to get stronger, says Knowles, now director of iSPORT Training at the Vermont Orthopedic Clinic. "But this workout uses your body weight to do it.
Moats says her routine builds strength in the muscles supporting the knees like weights do—but with less hassle. "I love this workout for its simplicity, she says. "It gives me the mental confidence to trust my body. I know I can ski out of anything; that's a big part of injury prevention.
"This workout is all about doing the exercises in sequence, says Moats. Begin with Progression One, and do the workout two to four times before advancing on to the next level. Knowles suggests letting your body be your guide: If the sets were easy, but you can barely move the next day, don't progress. If you sailed through the exercises without soreness, move on. "Quality is key, he says. "If you hack at it and don't do the movement to its fullest potential, it's very easy to progress. But you don't get much out of it. Moats agrees: "Focus on proper technique for each exercise and keep the tempo at the prescribed pace. You'll be begging for mercy.