Olympic Athletes, Trainers and Pros Share How to Get in Shape for Ski Season

Blake Tholen Clark

Ski season is coming up, and this year’s forecast is extra exciting with the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang putting a spotlight on snow sports.

Sure, you might not be vying for Olympic gold. But, just like the pros, you need to get in shape for ski season so you can schuss down the mountain with speed and grace — and without getting injured. (Nobody wants to be sidelined in the lodge when fresh powder is dropping!)

ski season: Sabrina Strickland
Sabrina Strickland (Photo courtesy of HSS Sports Medicine.)

So what exactly should you be doing between now and your first run of the season?

First, a primer: Knee injuries tend to be the most common ski-related injuries, explains Sabrina Strickland, a sports medicine surgeon at HSS Sports Medicine, which works with professional athletes. Strickland says some of the most common ski-related injuries are meniscal tears, and knee ligament injuries such as ACL and MCL tears. Ouch!

Strickland’s top tips for avoiding injuries during your next ski trip? Strengthen your quads and glutes, end your ski day when you feel tired, and get your bindings adjusted at the beginning of each season.

To get specific about workouts, we talked with professional athletes and trainers to find out their go-to workouts and tips that help them conquer the mountains on their skis or snowboards. Here’s what they have to say.

Try these equipment-free workouts with two-time Olympian Jillian Vogtli

Jillian Vogtli, a two-time Olympian and 13-year member of the U.S. Ski Team, competed in the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002 and the Turin, Italy Olympic Games in 2006. She’s a two-time National Champion and former member of the U.S. Cycling team. Now, she’s a fitness instructor at the spa at Waldorf Astoria Park City.

She provided us with some exercises that require so little equipment, you could do them in your office. You just need an office chair, a pair of socks, a couple of washcloths or hand towels, and an optional mat.

“I suggest choosing four of the exercises daily, and doing them while taking a break, while brainstorming or before lunch,” Vogtli says.

She suggests doing these exercises three to four times a week, along with two to three additional days of cardio and stretching.

Here are some exercises she recommends.


*(Can be done with or without a chair)

ski season: Jillian Vogtli (plank)
Photo courtesy of Jillian Vogtli/Waldorf Astoria Park City.

Start by assuming a prone position with your elbows located under your shoulders. Flex your quads, raise your knees off of the floor, squeeze your buttocks, and tighten and retract your abs. With your body in a straight line from shoulders to ankles, rest your weight on your hands (in front of shoulders) or forearms (forearms parallel to your spine and elbows directly under the shoulders). Hold for 30 to 90 seconds for three sets while maintaining a flat lower back to protect your spine. Advanced option: Alternate leg lifts.

Side Plank With Hip Drop

ski season: Jillian Vogtli (side plank)
Photo courtesy of Jillian Vogtli/Waldorf Astoria Park City.

Take the elbow plank position to your side and stack your hips and shoulders. Engage your core and lift while maintaining straight spinal alignment horizontally and vertically. Hold a side plank for 30 to 60 seconds. Three sets of 10-15 per side.

Tricep Dips

ski season: Jillian Vogtli (tricep dip)
Photo courtesy of Jillian Vogtli/Waldorf Astoria Park City.

Position your hands (facing forward) shoulder width apart on either the floor or your chair. Keep your shoulders open and move your buttocks close to the chair with your arms straight. Either keep your feet extended out or bent and bend your elbows as straight back as you can and aim for a 90 degree angle. Three sets of 12 to 20 repetitions.

Hamstring Curls

*(with or without the chair)

ski season: Jillian Vogtli (hamstring curls)
Photo courtesy of Jillian Vogtli/Waldorf Astoria Park City.

Begin on the floor, lying on your back with your feet on the chair or on the ground (not pictured). Bend your knees to roughly a 90-degree angle and then raise your hips while contracting your hamstrings, keeping your weight on your heels and shoulder blades. After a brief pause, return to the starting position. Three sets of 10-15 per leg. Advanced option: Raise one leg and keep it parallel to the opposite knee.

Swiss Ball Jackknives and/or Pikes

ski season: Jillian Vogtli (jackknives)
Photo courtesy of Jillian Vogtli/Waldorf Astoria Park City.

Begin in a plank position on your chair. (See description for plank above). For the Jackknife, start with the chair under your toes and pull the chair while bending your knees as much as possible and while keeping your core engaged. Roll the chair back out to the starting position by extending your legs in a slow and controlled manner. Repeat three sets for 10-20 repetitions. Pike alternative: Should you choose to do the pike, start in the same position as the jackknife but instead of pulling your knees into your chest, bend at your hips and lift tall through the your torso while raising your buttocks high to the sky. When done properly it will feel like someone is lifting your hips to the ceiling. Return in a controlled manner back to the start position and repeat. Three sets for 8-15 repetitions.

The gym equipment pro-winter sports athlete Blake Tholen Clark loves

Blake Tholen Clark, the founder of FlowingFreeride.com and a certified snowboard instructor, stays in shape by doing a mix of cardio and strength training at the gym.

One of his favorite pieces of equipment for snowboarders? The elliptical machine.

“My go-to exercise is the elliptical machine,” Tholen Clark says. “The elliptical has very minimal impact on your joints, you burn a lot of calories, and it works out your whole body.” It’s also a great option for people who have had injuries, as it’s low impact and can help heal your joints. The stationary bike and swimming are a couple of other great workouts.

He also recommends yoga to help snowboarders stay flexible, and avoid injury from falls. “If you’re tight and stiff you just don’t move as well,” Tholen Clark says. “If you fall while snowboarding, you don’t want to fight the fall.” He explains that you instead want to spread out the impact across your body. “If you’re tense you’re more likely to fight the fall and absorb the impact on one area of your body,” he says.

As for strengthening, Tholen Clark recommends alternating between lower body, upper body, and core. Lower body and leg exercises include squats, deadlifts, and calf risers. Glute med activation and hip abductions are especially great for snowboarders. Upper-body days include bench press, incline, decline, shoulder press, and a multiple of dumbbell exercises. Core-workout days include the cable pulley machine to do cable core rotations, cable chest press, and cable rows. “I do a lot balancing on one leg while exercising with the cable pulley machine to increase core strength,” he says.

Also, in the off-season, try some sports you can do on a board — like skateboarding or longboarding — to improve your muscle memory, he suggests.

Get more of his tips on how to prevent snowboarding injuries with this video.

Olympic Gold Medalist Mikaela Shiffrin shares her favorite simple workout

ski season: Mikaela Shiffrin
Olympic Gold Medalist Mikaela Shiffrin (Photo courtesy of Mikaela Shiffrin/The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain.)

Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin won the Olympic slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and is eyeing gold again in 2018. Shiffrin, who lives in the Vail Valley in Colorado, also won the slalom World Cup and world title last season, and the International Association of Ski Journalists just named her “skier of the year.”

One of Shiffrin’s favorite workouts for ski conditioning is simple “multiple response jumps.”

To get these right, she explains, you squat down until your quads are about 90 degrees to your shins. Then, you just “explode up” and jump as high off the ground as you can. It’s a good workout for strength and endurance, Shiffrin says. Plus, the jumps are great for knee, hip and core stabilization. Challenge yourself to do 35 to 40, and you’ll feel yourself huffing and puffing.

Warren Miller athlete Amie Engerbretson: Hit the stairs!

ski season: Amie Engerbretson
Warren Miller athlete Amie Engerbretson (Photo courtesy of Christope Hassel.)

Pro skier and sports model Amie Engerbretson is featured in two Warren Miller films: 2017 “Line of Descent” (2017, Val d’Isère, France) and “Chasing Shadows” (2015, Valdez, AK). Starring in a Warren Miller film has been a life-long dream for Engerbretson, who has been skiing since she was 10 months old.

Her best workout advice for preparing for the ski season?

“I like to keep my workouts fresh and interesting,” she says. “That way, you keep your body interested in what you’re doing.”

In addition to hitting the gym, she recommends running the stairs, which can get your legs ready for ski season. She also likes to bike and mountain bike in the off-season.

Final thoughts: Stay hydrated!

ski season: Chris Falcon
Chris Falcon, a personal trainer and fitness expert (Photo courtesy of Chris Falcon.)

Chris Falcon, a personal trainer and fitness expert, is the founder of Reactive Performance Enhancement Center in Glenview. He’s trained several high-level skiers over the years.

“One area that is often overlooked when it comes to avoiding injury on the slopes is hydration,” he says. “Sometimes people think that since it’s cold you don’t sweat as much. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Skiing is very demanding, and while tackling the powder you do produce plenty of sweat, he explains.

Falcon suggests you get a head start on hydration levels by making sure you eat plenty of nutrient dense superfoods, the more colorful the better. Those foods are loaded with nutrients which will maintain the right balance of salt to water both within and outside of the cells.

Hydrating while on the slopes is essential, too.

“It helps to avoid cramping, and improve joint function and overall performance,” Falcon says.


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Brittany Anas

Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram





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