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How to Get in Shape for Skiing and Snowboarding

Ever take a tumble on the slopes because you didn’t have enough strength or endurance to ski or ride like a gliding alpine god or goddess? Hopefully you haven’t. But one way to help ensure you won’t is by getting into tip-top ski shape before you book that Vail ski trip.

You can think of skiing or snowboarding like a recipe for stew. But instead of potatoes, carrots and whatever else you throw into the crockpot, these sports require a hearty mix of balance, strength, endurance and meaty muscle power. The best way to get them is with a cardio and strength workout routine that trains the muscles you need to ski or ride like a pro.

When to Start Training for Ski Season?

Two adults run along a trail carpeted in yellow leaves in Vail. Around them, brown tree trunks line the path, all with golden leaves.

The best time to start training for ski season is about eight to 12 weeks before heading to the slopes. Eek! You missed the window. Don’t fret. Remember that any amount of training is better than no training. As long as you’re consistent and focus on exercises that enhance skiing or snowboarding, even a few weeks of exercise can make a difference.

How Often Should You Train?

If you really want to get into ski shape, you should do at least 30 minutes of cardio and your lineup of strength training exercises two or three times a week. Even if you’re an overachiever, you don’t want to go overboard with the strength training. Your muscles need time to rest between sessions.

Why Should You Get in Shape for Skiing and Snowboarding?

A couple runs up some stairs in Vail. They wear workout pants and running shoes. We see them from the waist down only.

There’s both a short answer and a long answer. The long answer goes on and on about looking as graceful as a swan and having full control as you glide blissfully down the powdery mountain, blah, blah, blah.

The short answer sums it all up in two words: injury prevention.

Anyone who has ever had a knee injury, pulled hamstring or torn an ACL knows how important injury prevention can be for having fun (and avoiding crutches).

Best Training Exercises for Skiing and Snowboarding

As noted, a combo of cardio and strength training is the way to go to get into ski shape. You’re going to need enhanced aerobic fitness for the higher altitude, and extra body strength for everything else that goes with skiing.

1. Cardio

A road cyclist on a blue bike in Vail leads a back of riders who are blurry in the background. They ride on an asphalt road.

Cardio workouts increase your lung capacity and heart rate, exactly what you need. The best cardio exercises for getting into ski shape are those that work your entire body.

Best for getting into ski shape:

  • Elliptical trainer
  • Stair climber
  • Running

The elliptical trainer definitely shoots to the top of the list for ski training. Not only does it help improve your cardiovascular fitness level, but it mimics the same upper body and lower body movements used in Nordic skiing.
Second-best if you get bored with the best:

  • Biking
  • Jumping jacks
  • High-intensity interval training (HITT)

2. Strength Training

A person squats atop a balance ball at a gym in Vail. They wear workout gear and sneakers, and gym equipment can be seen behind them.

Skiing and snowboarding require a good amount of strength – and so much more. Ideal strength training exercises will help with:

  • Leg strength
  • Lower body strength
  • Core muscle strength
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Muscle power

Targeting the main muscle groups used for skiing and riding is the way to go. That means you want to focus on:

  • Core
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

While there are dozens of exercises that can bring on more strength to get into ski shape, you still have a life to lead. Unless you quit your job, give up your hobbies and have someone watch your dog or children 24/7, you don’t have time for eight million different exercises.

That’s why we cut to the chase with options that combine various movements (and benefits!) into each exercise. Use these exercises as your foundation, bringing in additional exercises if desired.

Wait! Read This First

You’re eager. You’re willing. You’re going to just jump right in! Don’t. Remember that thing about injury prevention? Always take 5 to 10 minutes to warm up with a bit of cardio before strength training.
As you’re doing the exercises:

  • Keep your breathing consistent.
  • Inhale as you exert your muscles. Exhale as you go back to the starting position.
  • Rest between exercises and sets as needed.
  • Adjust each exercise as needed to align with your current fitness level, as long as you retain proper form.

Some of these strength training exercises are pretty tough, but don’t despair. As you get into better shape, they’re all going to become easier – and even fun! Heck, you might end up loving them enough to start doing them whenever you have a few spare minutes.

1. Walking Zombie Lunge with Body Twist

A person does lunges on a bridge in Vail while someone on the other side of the bridge jogs by. The person wears a blue top and pants with a black coat, white sneakers and headphones.

What it works: Improves core rotation while working hamstrings, quads, glutes and abdominal muscles

Why you want it: A strong core is at the core of all good skiing. Pun intended.

What it looks like: A zombie lunging and walking forward while precisely twisting its body with each step, as if stirring a big vat of soup.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet a little less than shoulder-width apart.
  • Step your left foot forward into a lunge. Make sure your right knee drops to a 90-degree angle and your forward left knee is at a 90-degree angle.
  • As you’re stepping forward with your left foot, rotate your torso to the left. Keep your arms raised and bent, with your hands clasped out in front of your chest.
  • After the twist, propel yourself into the next lunge step, this time with your right foot forward into a lunge.
  • Repeat for a total of 20 lunges, 10 on each side.

Extra credit: Incorporate this exercise into playtime with your children or dogs, preferably while making zombie noises as you chase after them.

2. Squatting Zombie Lunging Backward

A person in pink shoes and black workout clothes squats alongside a concrete building in Vail.

What it works: Gets you into your ski stance while working hamstrings, quads and glutes for strong and powerful legs (that look really good in ski pants)

Why you want it: Stronger legs equate to better skiing.

What it looks like: A zombie that’s about to sit in a chair but suddenly realizes he would rather lunge backward instead.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Start to squat down, as if you’re about to sit down in a chair
  • Stand up and step your left leg back into a reverse lunge. Make sure your left knee drops to a 90-degree angle and your right knee is in front of you at a 90-degree angle.
  • Bring feet back together and go back into a squat position. Repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat for a total of 20 lunges, 10 on each leg

Extra credit: Bring your brain into the activity by mentioning a different type of chair every time you go into a squat. Options can include armchair, desk chair, electric chair…you get the idea.

3. Sideways Jumping Bean

A person practices a skaters lunge in Vail beside concrete pillars and a puddle of water. They wear workout gear, black gloves and pink sneakers.

What it works: Glutes, hamstrings, quads

Why you want it: This plyometric exercise builds strength, sure. But it also readies you for those bursts of intense power and control you’ll need as you ski down Vail Mountain. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to ski down the mountain like a runaway train.

What it looks like: A speed skater, but without the skates, making really wide sideways movements as they hurl forward over the ice, but without the ice.

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent, balancing your weight on your left leg.
  • Jump to the right, landing on your right leg. Keep your right knee slightly bent so you can land safely and softly.
  • Repeat on left leg.
  • Repeat for a total of 30 times, or 15 jumps on each leg.
  • Swing your arms back and forth in front of you with each jump.

Extra credit: For the record, plyometric exercise is also known as jump training. Use the term “plyometrics” five times throughout the day, every day, between now and ski season.

4. Tick Tock Leg Clock

A woman balances on one leg atop a green yoga mat at a white-washed gym in Vail. She wears black workout gear and has a jump rope nearby.

What it works: Glutes, hamstrings, muscles in hips

Why you want it: Stronger hip coordination means better control of your skis – a must for knee injury prevention. The next time you hit uneven terrain or end up needing to balance on one ski, you’ll be thanking the Tick Tock Leg Clock exercise.

What it looks like: A giant clock face where you’re standing in the center with one of your legs acting like the clock hand, moving around the clock face.

How to do it:

  • Stand, balancing all your weight on your right leg with your right knee slightly bent. This is the middle of the clock. Your left leg is going to be the arm that goes around the clock.
  • Keep your back straight as you lift and extend your left leg toward 12 o’clock, then back to center.
  • Repeat step 2, lifting and extending your left leg to 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock, bringing it back to center between each position.
  • Do the whole rigmarole again, this time standing on your left leg and extending your right leg.
  • Do at least five sets for each leg.

Extra credit: Make a tick-tock clock sound as you complete the exercise, or even create a little tick-tock song with a line that rhymes with “knee injury prevention.”

Now You’re Ready to Hit the Slopes

Whether you’re going alpine or Nordic skiing, these exercises are designed to help all types and levels of recreational skiers and snowboarders across the board. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, and feel free to hire a personal trainer for workouts that are even more comprehensive and intense.
Do what it takes to get into shape so you can glide like that god or goddess blissfully down Vail Mountain. Happy carving!