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Ski Workouts: A Proper Strength Training Routine

Posted September 18, 2022 @ 3:08am | by Kara Michaelsen

Hey I’m Kara. Before we get into what you should be doing for ski excercises/workouts/routines, you probably want to know a little about me and my knowledge of skiing… here we go.

Kara Crow Former US Ski Team/UVM

(Photo: Lucie Wicker //

I’m from Stowe, Vermont I began skiing when I was 3 years old and racing when I was 5. I proceeded to train and race with Mount Mansfield Ski Club in my younger years until I went to Green Mountain Valley School for my freshman and sophomore year of high school and Mount Mansfield Winter Academy junior and senior year. My senior year I found out I had made the US Ski Team so I deferred from University of Vermont and spent two years on the US Team before going to UVM for an education in Movement Science and Nutrition and to finish out my ski career. At UVM I became a 2 time All-American and attended the NCAA finals my freshman and sophomore years.

Since then I’ve spent the last 12 years as a personal trainer; 1 year in Vermont and the last 11 years here in Bostont. In 2016, I became a TierX Coach at Equinox after a year of one-on-one mentoring followed by another year of education and TierX specific training. I’m responsible for putting together programs that make sense for the individual while taking into consideration their strengths, goals, and challenges. Regardless of the activity, when it comes to movement and building strength, individual muscle strength is great, but more important than that is how all of your muscles come together and allow you to move efficiently.

My experiences as a trainer combined with a lifetime of competitive skiing brings us up to today, where I’ve started to realize there’s honestly not much good information out there when it comes to properly training for most sports let alone, skiing. Articles, blog posts, newsletters from ski brands have focused more on individual muscle strength than seeing your body as a total unit. More than anything I see leg presses, crunches, planks, and some light cardio mixed in. This is fine if your goal is to get your quads and core muscles individually strong; but skiing is a dynamic full body exercise that requires all of your muscles working on the same page, and a few individually strong muscles that can’t work together isn’t going to get the job done.

By focusing on using your body as a cohesive unit and not a series of unrelated parts, you’ll be set up not just to survive on the ski hill, but thrive. Regardless of your skiing ability, this is the difference between tiring out and needing a break every 2-3 runs, and crushing laps until the very last chair. There’s nothing wrong with the attitude of the former, but if you’re serious about thriving on the hill, you’ve got to put in the work correctly beforehand.

Before we get into some of the muscles you can and should train, and how to effectively get your body working as a unit, let’s go over what your body needs to do in order to ski well. These are the things you need to be able to do before you even put your boots on:

• Develop and manage tension in the body

• Generate force

• Maintain stamina in your ability to generate force

• Have the ability to manage muscle contraction for extended periods of time (also known as muscular endurance)

• Maintain isometric control of your core (again, think stamina)

• Eccentric Control your core - essentially you are generating a lot of force and power coming out of a turn and you need to be able to handle it

• Ability to breathe while doing all of this (many people forget to breathe when exercising and this is bad news for your ability to keep going)

So what does all this mean? 

The seven things listed above goes beyond what you typically hear associated with skiing. In any kind of training we need to teach our muscles to fire together in a manner that’s similar to the movement or sport we’re training for. Muscles that fire together wire together, which is really at the end of the day what we’re looking for. Like I mentioned earlier, because skiing is an exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, when these muscles are activating together, whether in the gym or on the slope, everything becomes easier. The more times you activate those muscles together, the less you’ll have to actively think to do so, and the more natural all the movements will become. However, if you haven’t trained them to fire together in the gym or in the position that you’re training for then they sure as heck won’t fire together as efficiently as you want them to on the slopes.

Leg press, for example, is a great exercise to develop leg strength, but it doesn’t have much carryover to ski movements. Typically in a leg press machine you’re either lying flat and pushing the weight horizontally or you’re in an awkward happy baby position with legs up in the air under a potentially tremendous amount of load that you need to press up into the sky. Skiing you’re essentially in the opposite position and heading down an uneven surface while using gravitational forces to your advantage. What we want to stress is hitting a range of muscle groups and mimicking as best you can the motions those muscles will be doing out on the hill. Leg pressing into oblivion means your quads will probably look dope, but it’s not going to make you a much better skier.

So what do I mean by the entire body? Aside from quads, think the muscles in the feet, hamstrings, glutes, calves, back, upper body, grip to hold those poles, and most importantly, core strength.

The core is basically the bridge that connects your upper body and your lower body. When you’re skiing, force comes from the pressure of your skis on the ground and if your core can’t support that force and energy you will have what’s referred to as energy leak. You’ll fatigue faster into the day and are at a greater risk of falling or injury. If the core is the bridge than a solid bridge will effectively transfer force from the lower extremities to the upper extremities and from limb to limb without a break in energy. So, you could have strong legs from that leg press but if your core can’t handle that strength and power, you are going to be off-balance. Every time you change direction on your skis you’re engaging your core and the less core strength and endurance you have, the more you are going to struggle on demanding terrain that requires abrupt changes of direction and greater amounts of force. As the terrain becomes more challenging, every movement is accompanied by a greater amount of force. This is why double blacks, mogul runs or even tightly set Slalom or GS courses are more demanding on the body.

Ski Workou - Dead Bug-  Kara Crow

Dead Bug // 3 Sets of 20 Alternating // Keep back flat to ground

Ski Workout - Proper Side Plank Form - Kara Crow

Side Plank // 3 Sets 30 - 45 Seconds

Ski Workout - Bird Dog - Kara Crow

Bird Dog // 3 Sets of 20 alternating

Ski Workout - how to do a proper plank - Kara

Plank // 3 Sets 45 - 60 Seconds

Ski Workout: Medicine Ball Chop - Kara Crow

 Half Kneeling Medicine Ball Chop and Lift // 3 Sets of 12 Reps per side.

Ski Workout - Half Kneeling Medicine Ball Slam - Kara Crow

Half Kneeling Medicine Ball Slam // 3 Sets of 6 - 8 Reps per side

Ski Workout - Pallof Press - Kara Crow

Pallof Press // 3 Sets of 12 Reps

Ski Workout - Pallof Rotation - Kara Crow

Pallof Rotation / 3 Sets of 12 Reps

After the core, then we have to think about the glutes and the hamstrings. You know, those things on the back of your legs? These are the underutilized muscles that you need to train to effectively power and control your skis through the turn. When you’re skiing you want the posterior (back of your body) to drive you forward and into/out of turns. The hamstrings and glutes will work with your quads in an opposing manner to generate power and stabilize the rest of your body. The hamstrings/glutes and the quads are your yin and yang of the lower body. You’re using your quads when you dive into a turn, but then your glutes and hamstrings as you power out. If these muscles are all working together, firing on the all cylinders, that’s when you’re going to be making it down the hill gracefully, hopping back on the chairlift, and hitting repeat long past when your friends are starting to tire out. For the powder skiers out there, this is even more important because as the snow gets heavier and more uneven it requires even more strength and finesse to ski. So if we need to replicate in the gym what we do on the slope, then how can we replicate these movements? Ever heard of a deadlift or an RDL? How about a single leg RDL? These exercises train the back of the body to drive us forward, just like we need on a pair of skis.

Ski Workout - Glute Bridge - Kara Crow

Glute Bridge // 3 Sets of 15 Reps

Ski Workout - Stability Ball Hamstring Curl - Kara Crow

Stability Ball Hamstring Curl // 3 Sets of 15 Reps

Ski Workout - Romanian Dead Lift - Kara Crow

RDL // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Kettle Bell Goblet Squat - Kara Crow

Kettle Bell Goblet Squat // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Split Squat - Kara Crow

Split Squat // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Reverse Lunge to Knee Drive - Kara Crow

Reverse Lunge to Knee Drive // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Lateral Split Squat - Kara Crow

Lateral Split Squat // 3 Sets of 10 Reps per side

Then we have our often-neglected upper body (Neglected by skiers, definitely not neglected by the general population). Skiing appears to be a lower body sport so we forget that upper body strength is a critical factor. I can’t tell you the number of years I had to work on keeping my arms forward during training and racing for an effective pole plant to pull me out of a turn. Even if you aren’t competing you would be surprised how much upper body strength can help your skiing because our arms are our balance point. Keep them at your sides you’ll be much less efficient and less balanced than if you’re able to keep them up and forward. Because your arms are the balance point of your whole body, if your upper body is weak and your arms are falling to your sides, causing you to fall into the backseat. Not to mention your toes are probably screaming at you because your weight is falling backwards causing your toes to slam into the front of your boot. That’s why in sports that require fast-twitch movements the “set” position features arms out, allowing energy to quickly be accelerated forward. To test this out, stand up and get into a position like you’re about to run a sprint. Where are your arms? Bent and forward away from your body or hanging at your sides? Keeping your arms out and forward will ensure your weight stays forward.

Ski Workout - Dumbell Floor Press - Kara Crow

Dumbell Floor Press // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Standing Overhead Press - Kara Crow

Standing Overhead Press // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Push Up Proper Form - Kara Crow

Push up // 3 Sets of how ever many you can do with good form

Ski Workout - Bent Over Row

2 Arm Bent Over Row // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Split Stance Cable Row - Kara Crow

Split Stance Single Arm Cable Row // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Lateral Raise - Kara Crow

Lateral Raises // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Ski Workout - Front Dumbell Raise - Kara Crow

Front Raises // 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Finally, this brings us to the icing on our strength routine cake: cardio. I’ll keep this one short and sweet because more so than anything else on this list, cardio has the most variability based on what your current level of fitness is like. At the very least, you should be able to maintain a high intensity level for roughly the same length of time as a ski run. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a 5-7 minute all-out sprint, but your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) should be around a 7 or 8, and you should be able to do complete this over multiple intervals. While skiing is more of a short burst sport than an endurance one, mixing in longer runs will mean that you’ll be able to hold that higher level of intensity for longer when you go back to your intervals.

All this being said, there is of course a time and a place for individual muscle training and for your leg presses. But you have to make sure that you bring it all together in more complex movements so you can learn how to effectively generate more strength and power as a total body unit. You must learn to tolerate load and force by building tolerance in the weight room, and the only way to do that effectively is by training all muscles of the body. After a workout you should be asking yourself “Did I hit most/all of my muscle groups in a way where they were forced to fire together? If the answer is a confident “yes” than you’re going to be successful out on the hill. Finally, don’t forget your breathing through all of it. Exhale when you exert, inhale before the next rep. In skiing, exhale coming out of a turn, and inhale right before you go back into the next.

Which excercises when to do them:

Every workout I recommend doing at least the dead bugs, side plank, birddog and plank because they are great drills to learn how to create tension in the body. On day 1 do the half kneeling chop and lift and the pallof press in addition to the 4 mentioned just before this followed by 4 of the lower body options and 4 of the upper body options. On day 2, do the remaining core, leg and upper body exercises you didn’t do on day 1. Alternate these two days with at least 24 hours recovery in between. Use enough weight that you feel fatigued by the last 2 reps but not so much that you are lifting to muscle failure every time.

Personally, I love to alternate cardio days and my strength training days, making sure I take 2 days off a week for proper recovery. Your gains in strength and fitness come from how well you can recover from your exercise bouts. Think lots of sleep, water, healthy meals, foam rolling, stretching and massage. That way you’re feeling fresh for another round of workouts.

UPDATE 11/9/2020: Once you've gotten confident doing all these exercises, you can move on to Part 2 of our Ski Workout Routine 

TLDR: When you’re skiing you have multiple muscles firing and working together. In the gym we need to mimic those movements as much as we can. Individual muscle workouts are great to strengthen that specific area of the body, but you’re not training your body to function as a unit.

If that was even too long for you to read…

If your ski workout plan doesn’t at least include being on your feet lifting heavy weights you're not going to thrive.

Filed Under: Skiing | Permalink

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