Yoga for Skiing: Strength & Recovery, All in One
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
At first blush, bombing down a mountain on skis and quietly meditating in a yoga studio don’t appear to have much in common—the former being the province of adrenaline junkies and speed demons, and the latter evoking images of deep, calming breaths and flickering candles. And yet, Christine Wells shares how a simple yoga routine can effectively build strength and flexibility in preparation for your days on the slopes, as well as assist in active recovery, such as loosening sore muscles.
Stuck on the Slopes with Quaking Quads. “Can we just rest here a little longer?,” I implored my husband, Nat, trying to catch my breath. The cold Wyoming air was biting into my lungs, my eyes were watering, and my exhilaration from a day of skiing in Jackson Hole had given way to something else entirely: fatigue. With screaming quads and shoulders in knots, I had my doubts that my legs would get me down from the Après-Vous lift—which, at just under 8,500 feet, is modest by Jackson Hole standards. Nevertheless, Après-Vous was standing between me and my post-ski nachos and après ski in Teton Village. I had to head down, screaming quads and all, vowing to prepare better next time.
Want to be Ready for Ski Season? Roll out that Yoga Mat
As an avid runner and fan of any overpriced, cardio-based workout class, I tend to think of myself as athletic. But skiing somehow seems to tax a whole host of muscles that I don’t ordinarily use. Given my addiction to long runs, I always assume that come ski season, I’ll be able to keep up with Nat as he zooms around the mountain. After all, his idea of exercise is golfing without a cart. Instead, he leaves me in the dust (or powder) every time. And while I embrace that delicious, post-ski soreness, it would be nice to be able to keep up, especially in those last few runs of the day.
So what is a runner who moonlights as a vacation skier to do? In a word, yoga. For recreational skiers and average athletes who don’t necessarily have time for yet another extended gym session, one of the easiest pre-ski routines that fellow cardio enthusiasts can embrace is a yoga class. Or, if one more class in your schedule is not in the cards, try incorporating certain yoga-based poses into your routine. In addition to the many advantages that come from added flexibility, most standard yoga classes feature poses whose benefits extend beyond the studio and can be applied directly to the slopes.
Five Yoga Poses for the Time-Crunched Skier
Balancing skiing with running and other athletic activities is never easy. In response to a young reader’s question about this several years ago, Runner's World wrote: “Downhill skiing is a more static event that requires the leg strength for a prolonged muscle contraction to get you through a turn at full speed.” Or in the words of my physical therapist mother, skiing requires “eccentric contraction,” or in layman’s terms, the lengthening phase of a muscle movement, like the end of a bicep curl.
For those, like me, who are loath to start a weightlifting routine or hire a personal trainer, yoga offers some real advantages. An added bonus? Some of the simplest exercises are also extremely effective. Try any combination of these five of my favorite movements, at home or in the yoga studio. You’re bound to head to the slopes with a (stronger and steadier) leg up. In addition to strength building, yoga will loosen up your tight muscles, which any skier can appreciate after a long day on the mountain.
Both traditional and lateral (side) planks build core strength and can be easily spiced up with alternating leg lifts. Try lifting the toes of one foot six-inches off the ground while in a traditional plank and holding for several breaths, then switch. While in a side plank, hone your balance while building strength by lifting your top leg and flexing your foot.
For non-yogis, a simple squat with legs hip distance apart and weight in the heels fires up the glutes and quads, engaging key muscles used in skiing. Bring your arms to a cactus shape at shoulder level to open up your chest, or raise them beside your ears as you deepen your seat and hold.
Bird Dog also builds stability and assists with balance; to get there, start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees and extend one arm forward and the opposite leg straight back. You’ll feel this one working the targeted muscles immediately.
Bridges also engages the glutes, while touching on the hamstrings and core. Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet and palms on the floor, then lift your hips while simultaneously pressing your palms and feet down.
And finally, as seen in ‘80s movie workout montages, we have Wall Sits. While not technically a yoga pose, these can’t be beat for building that coveted leg and glute strength. Hang out there for as long as those screaming quads will allow.
From Power Yoga in Park City to Powder
So to feel your best before hitting the slopes, carve out a few minutes for these straightforward exercises. Better yet, drop by a local yoga studio. While there’s no need to find a ski-specific yoga class, if you’re in Park City, check out Tadasana Yoga. With gear emblazoned with various slogans evoking both yoga and the slopes, this studio caters to the ski lover as well as the all-levels yogi.
In my own personal quest to keep up with my better half this ski season, I’ve been embracing Tadasana’s Slow Flow class when I’m in need of extra stretching, and their Power Flow or PowerJAM when I want to raise my heart rate. Next on my list to try is one of their Yoga Sculpt classes, which incorporate HIIT, weights and resistance training. I admit, my tight runner’s muscles don’t always make it through all the poses gracefully, but I've already seen the benefits when I headed out for my first day of the season, which also, incidentally, was my first ski day after the birth of my daughter last February.
If you need me, I’ll just be over here, in a wall sit, until my next trip to the slopes.
For the TL/DR crowd
Yoga has huge benefits for skiers, from stretching to strengthening to balance
Add 5 simple poses to your regular routine (at home or in the yoga studio) and you'll head to the slopes with a leg up
Get the skinny on Park City in our detailed review.
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