Simply bending down and touching your toes ain't gonna cut it anymore, people. In fact, the way most of you are stretching (the back of one ski dug into the ground, hands reaching for your boot-just before your first run) is probably causing more damage than if you didn't stretch at all. Yet proper stretching is probably the most important thing you can do to reduce injury, and it will most definitely keep you on the hill longer.
"Having a good range of motion improves the efficiency of complex movements," says Andy Walshe, Sports Science Director at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. "Basically, the more you stretch, the less fatiguing skiing will be."
Here are a few tips to keep you on the right track:
Never stretch a cold muscle. A cold muscle is more easily torn and is more susceptible to general soreness. So a good warm-up before you stretch is a must. Anything to get the blood pumping will do--jumping jacks or, if you don't want to look like a dork, an easy jog. Do it for at least ten minutes.
Proper stretching should only cause a light pull on your muscles. It should feel a bit uncomfortable, but not like you're being racked. Each stretch should be held for at least 20 seconds, in sets of two, and any stretch done to one side of the body should be replicated on the other.
Finally, stretch after you exercise, too. If you can only afford enough time for one stretching session, after your workout is best. Your muscles are already warm, and it will lessen the stiffening process that leaves you moaning the next morning.
Your stretching session should last 10 minutes and be completed about 30 minutes before you get on the hill. And for good reason. "Long, slow stretching just before a workout can actually slow you down," says Walshe. "It desensitizes the neuromuscular system and promotes the laxation of muscle tissue." Translation: That goofy stretch you do at the top of the hill is turning your muscles to mush.