By Suzanne Nottingham
The key to your knees is to
train for strength, support, and balance.
Every skier and snowboarder has heard it more than once in their life: "Bend
your knees." That's particularly good advice for tense beginners or
intermediates who look rigid. But what appears to be "knee bend" in experienced
skiers and riders is actually a kind of functional relaxation, something that
becomes a habit in all good athletes because of one important fact: Relaxing the
knees facilitates balance.
Below are four exercises to develop knee strength, balance, and quickness
using apparatus found in most gyms. Add them to your usual strength exercises
before and during ski season. In preparation for winter, don't ignore aerobic
conditioning (try cycling or in-line skating) or the flexibility provided by
- Fitness Ball Leg Curles: Lie on your back with the
ball under the calves. Roll the ball toward your heels while lifting the pelvis;
knees will bend. Keep your feet aligned with the hips. Try one to three sets of
Focus: to strengthen the hamstrings
(one of the most under-conditioned muscle groups) and body core. Your hamstrings
are responsible for stabilizing the knee joints if they strain their range of
safe movement (about 3-5 degrees laterally).
- Lunges On A Wobble Board: Stand with your feet hips'
width apart and step one foot forward onto the wobble board so that the weight
is on the heel. Lower and raise your center of mass (hips), keeping the weight
evenly distributed between the heel of the front foot and the ball of the back
foot while your upper body is upright. Lowering and raising your hips several
times on a wobble board is challenging. So, first try one set of 12 repetitions
on each side on the ground. Then go for one set of 8-12 on both sides on the
Focus: strengthens the lower back, hips, butt,
and thighs. Be aware of the knee moving too far inside or outside during each
lunge; chances are, the same thing is happening on skis or a board.
- Single-Side Squat With Resitance Tube: Put one end
of the tube under one foot and hold the other end on your hand. Standing on just
that one leg, bend the knee to 30-60 degrees during squats. (Professionals bend
to 80-90 degrees as a test of strength or dysfunction). Try one to three sets
(depending on your fitness level) of 15 repetitions on both sides.
Focus: Supporting the body on one leg forces stabilization of
the entire body. This amount of flexing and extending is similar to the moving
from foot-to-foot action of both skiing and riding.
- Squats On A Bongo Board: First perfect a squat on
solid ground. Place your feet slightly wider that your hips, toes pointing
ahead. Lower your hips as though sitting in a chair, keeping your weight
centered over the arch and heel of your feet, your head upright, and eyes
focused straight ahead. Then, if you've never been on a Bongo Board, get
comfortable with it. Use it on a carpeted area and have someone "spot" you while
you try a few squats (the spotter's hands should be close to your waist). As you
get more confident, change foot positions to simulate skiing and snowboarding
Focus: While squats alone will strengthen
your thigh-to-knee connection, adding the Bongo Board trains your entire body
for stabilization and balance.
Suzanne Nottingham is a fitness consultant based in
Mammoth Lakes, California. She serves on the Governor's Council for Physical
Fitness and is a part-time ski instructor at Mammoth Mountain.