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Sports Medicine for Women

The Post-Skiing Mobility Routine for Injury Prevention

Take a moment to learn the details of the following four post-skiing mobility exercises. You (and your knees) will be glad you did.

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As you head into the ski lodge after a long day on the slopes, the idea of skiing mobility work might seem odd. After all, weren’t you just out on the face of mountain in a frozen tundra? And isn’t a warm-up crucial up before doing mobility work? 

While the thought may seem paradoxical, the 15 minutes after you ski is actually a great time for mobility work. Even better, it can double as the often overlooked cool-down for your muscles after all that carving. 

Why do skiing mobility work?

  1. You’ll recover faster. After your ankles were in rigid boots all day, increasing your ankle, foot, and calf circulation enhances total body recovery. 
  2. It’ll save your knees. Downhill skiing is very demanding on your knees, leaving them screaming for a reset — especially if you have a multi-day ski trip planned. 
  3. You’ll loosen up your back. Skiing requires extreme core endurance. When your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles fatigue, your back gets overworked. Overworked backs stiffen up and limit your lower-body flexibility, so you’ll want to loosen up post-skiing. 
  4. You’ll level up your skill. If you want to elevate your skill level, maximizing your hips’ ability to pivot in their sockets is a non-negotiable. 

Which mobility exercises help skiers? 

Exercises that improve circulation, preserve the knees, release tight back muscles, and increase hip rotation mobility are all useful in a skier’s workout repertoire.

Take a moment to learn the details of the following four post-skiing mobility exercises, then save them on your phone to do before you head off to après-ski. You’ll be glad you did, trust me.

1. Knee-to-Wall

Knee-to-wall helps increase ankle and calf motion. This helps mobilize your ankles, which then improves circulation. Your calves are literally your second heart; Their ability to move sends blood and oxygen to the rest of the body — exactly what you need for total-body recovery.

How-to:

  1. Stand facing a wall in a split stance with one foot forward and one foot back (as if you are about to do a classic wall stretch for your calves). The toes of your lead leg should be approximately 5-6 inches away from the wall. 
  2. Keep your feet facing the wall with your heels, big toes, and little toes on the ground throughout the entire movement. 
  3. Bend your front knee, aiming to touch it to the wall. Keep your back knee straight. Be sure your knees and toes track straight forward, as if they’re on railroad tracks. Knees should not collapse inward, and the toes of the trailing leg should not turn outward.
  4. Yes, your knees will crossover your toes! Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT bad for your knees.
  5. If your front knee doesn’t reach the wall with your heels on the ground (or you feel pinching in the fronts of your ankles), step a little closer to the wall. If your knee easily reaches the wall with your heels on the ground, back up a bit. 
  6. Perform the motion 10 times, then give the other side a turn. 

2. Butt Kickers

Butt Kick Exercise
Butt kick skiing mobility exercise demonstration. (Photo: James Patrick)

Quads are one of the hardest working muscles on the slopes. Quads cross over the fronts of your knee caps and compress them, so in the hours and days following your ski adventures, the quads talk back with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

This can increase compression and decrease the mobility of your kneecaps and knees, resulting in discomfort. Doing butt kickers can help restore knee mobility both when you finish your day on the slopes and in the days of soreness that often follow. 

How-to: 

  1. Stand with your feet no greater than hip-width apart. 
  2. Allow a little momentum as you kick your right heel toward your right glutes. Put your foot back down, then repeat on the other side. You will be activating your hamstrings; It is OK to feel them work. 
    1. If your hamstrings are cramping, consider taking a moment to foam roll or use a roller stick on the fronts and backs of your thighs before going all out on this mobility exercise. 
    2. If your knees are snapping, kick your foot toward the opposite side buttocks, instead of the same side. 
    3. If you want to intensify the release, you can grab your foot with your hand and pull it a little closer to your glutes for a second before putting your foot down. 

As  you perform this exercise, intentional alignment is key. Keep your core tight so your pelvis doesn’t tip forward. Your knees should stay side by side, directly under your hip sockets. The most common mistakes are arching the low back or allowing the knees to come in front of the torso.  

Repeat the exercise, alternating legs, for 10 reps on each side. 

3. Articulating Bridges 

While it’s tempting to do a standing forward bend to try to loosen up the hamstrings and low back, this may pull on your ligaments, tendons and discs in unintended ways. Instead, perform the articulating bridge exercise.

The articulating bridge is very similar to a typical bridge exercise, with a few essential additional details. 

How-to:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees and your feet hip-width apart. Keep your weight on your heels. 
  2. Place your arms by your sides. It is OK to use them for support. 
  3. Exhale as you draw your bellybutton into your spine. Focus on your core drawing in and let your glutes relax. Allow your tail to tuck. 
  4. Starting with your tailbone, lift each segment of your spine off the floor as you raise up into a bridge. Focus on really articulating one spine bone at a time from your tail bone up to your mid back.  
  5. At the top, your hips should be higher than your chest. Relax your chest to prevent your back from arching. Take a moment to inhale. 
  6. As you descend, exhale and reverse the process. Lower down one bone at a time from your mid back, to your tailbone. 
  7. Throughout the motion, focus on trying to move one inch at a time as you separate your spine’s segments. Don’t worry about glute activation, as the intention of this bridge is different than the classic hip bridge for glute strength. 

Repeat 10 times. 

4. Hip Breathing

Leveling up requires maximizing your hip socket rotational mobility, which is different than stretching. The top exercise to increase this rotation is surprising.  Follow the steps below, including a before-after experiment, to explore what happens. 

How-to: 

Start with an experiment: Sit on the floor (or a low surface).

  1. Place your legs in front of you with your knees bent about 90 degrees. Point your knees at the ceiling (as opposed to being in a butterfly stretch). Your feet should face forward, with each foot in front of its respective arm pit. You will see that this is greater than hip-width apart. 
  2. Place your hands on the floor on either side of you for support.
  3. Try to keep your back as flat as you can, but it is OK if it rounds a bit. If your back is very round, sit on a slightly higher surface.
  4. Keeping both sit bones equally weighted, allow your knees to rotate toward the right side of the room. It will look like your right leg is performing a butterfly, while the left leg is completely turned in like a hockey goalie. Take note of how much your hips rotate, as well as any sensations of limitation in your hip sockets. 
  5. Repeat your butterfly-goalie rotation on the other side. Remember to keep equal weight in both sits bones. Again, take note of any sense of restriction. 

Now, perform the hip-breathing exercise:

  1. Return to your starting position with both knees facing the ceiling.
  2. Allow your entire back to round as you gently reach both hands toward your right ankle. You can reach without grabbing anything, or you can hold onto your ankle or lower leg. Try to relax your head toward your right knee.
  3. Take 5-6 breaths here, allowing your muscles to let go.
  4. Repeat on the other side. 

After doing your hip-breathing mobility exercise, repeat your experiment to see what happens. If your hip tension decreases (or motion increases) this mobility exercise is for you!

Next time you head into the lodge after hitting the slopes, pull up this selection of skiing mobility exercises and follow along. Be prepared for decreased stiffness and increased performance as you progress your skiing journey!