How do I get fit for skiing in two weeks?
Dr Neil Welch

Watch this video of Dr Neil Welch, Head of Lab Services and Research at UPMC Sports Surgery clinic, presenting on ‘How do I get fit for skiing in 2 weeks’.

This video was recorded as part of UPMC Sports Surgery Clinic’s Online Public Information Meeting, focusing on preventing and managing skiing injuries.


Dr. Neil Welch is Head of Lab Services and Research at UPMC Sports Surgery Clinic

I’m going to show you a clip here of what the very highest level of skiing looks like and what I want you to do is get a bit of a sense of forces that are involved during skiing and the movements that we have to undertake and often times people perceive skiing as a leisurely activity but the harder you ski the higher the intensity of the exercise becomes so you can see the amount of strength that is required by putting weight onto the ski in order to create turns. We can see here in slow motion the body positions that are required and the flexibility that is needed in order to make a turn. None of us will be skiing this fast on our holiday but I think the aim of it is to give you a bit of a sense that it is a relatively tough and physical activity that we are undertaking.

How do I get fit for skiing in 2 weeks? The answer is you don’t and what I am going to do is give you a few tips on how you can get a bit fitter and a bit more prepared if you have left it to last minute but hopefully also help you to build some behaviours that you can add to your weekly lifestyle and prepare you for any future endeavours.

The aims I want to highlight ae the physical demands of skiing and snowboarding and when I’m talking about skiing I am actually talking about both sports. I am going to give you some specific guidance to get you fitter prior to your holiday and then I am also going to help you plan to get a bit fitter before you go away and also stay fitter throughout your day to day life.

Why can I talk about this stuff? It seems like an awful long time ago and it has been 15 years since I was working as a strength and conditioning coach with England’s development ski team and my role there was to help prepare the skiers for the physical demand for their sport so I have a couple of photos here from some training camps. The English ski team isn’t the best funded which might not surprise you. The facilities they had available were homemade so what you see on the left is a gym that we built in the garage of the accommodation that we were staying in and it also served as a kit room and a ski prep area. On the right-hand side this is an early year ski camp which is a little bit different in terms of the snow demand and they actually like that hard pack and icier conditions. This is a ski resort in Italy where we get used to the dry land conditions along side some of the conditions for the technical training. I’ve got a good understanding of the physical demands of the sport from that work.

With that said there were some very specific challenges that we have to negotiate when we are going on a ski holiday. The first is that we only do it for mainly 1-2 weeks of the year and what that means is that it is very difficult to get used to the conditions of skiing when you are only doing it 5-6 days per year and that offers its own demands. I like to see the back of patients who come through the clinic and often there is very little physical preparation some of us very much see skiing as a holiday we don’t necessarily change our behaviours so we are moving into an activity that you do a lot less physical activity prior. The make up of the holiday itself, you know you buy a lift ticket for 5-6 days and we don’t like to see that money go to waste so we ski back to back days. Essentially you are doing the equivalent of putting your running shoes on and trying to run a 10km for 5-6 days on the bounce and we all know we find that incredibly challenging. We then often times do get reduced sleep and that is self-induced by enjoyment on the holiday or children not settling into a different routine. Also, inadequate recovery so a bucket of melted cheese, a few pints or glasses of red wine isn’t always the best recovery from a day of physical activity and these are some of the challenges that we have when we go away.

What do you need to be able to ski? This is relatively straight forward and I am not going to go into too much depth here but we saw on the video there we need to be able to create pressure on the boots in order to be able to initiate the turn and that requires some force and some strength. Then in order to be able to hold an edge during a turn and we have to undergo what we call eccentric contraptions to be able to tolerate those forces so the strength demand particularly on the bottom ski on each turn. Then we have some demands of the holiday itself so being able to tolerate multiple runs and often times some of us want to ski as many vertical metres as we can, we have tracking apps for that. We want to do multiple runs each day and we want to do that on consecutive days and the stronger you are the more capable you will be.

On the other side of the coin we have fitness. There is an aerobic demand to skiing and we know that because when we get to the bottom of a run we can feel out of breath and again the faster we ski, the more intense we ski then the more out of breath we do get. Aerobic capacity also helps us to recover between runs. Skiing isn’t purely aerobic, there is an anaerobic element to it which is why people talk about building up metabolites and they talk about building up lactates and muscle. The aerobic system helps us to recover between runs so being fit is important to be able to tolerate that. Then depending on the resort, we select some may be at higher altitudes some may have less snow and if you are operating at higher levels of altitude then fitness will certainly help us.

When I talk about fitness or aerobic fitness, this is the ability of the body to be able to transport and use oxygen during physical activity. Again, in order to be able to access some of the energy that we have stored basically that requires oxygen and that reaction is relatively slow which is why we use aerobic pathways during lower intensity activities when there is not a high-speed demand on us. Aerobic conditioning usually relates to activity that you can do for a relatively long period of time so essentially over a minute to anything over a couple of hours so that’s what we are talking about when we talk about aerobic fitness.

In terms of actual measurement of fitness and V02 max, this is the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense physical activity we measure it here in the clinic and it is available here across a few of our UPMC sites. We measure it using a gas analyser on a treadmill or bike and it gives an accurate measure of how fit you are. The reason I put a picture of a biathlete here and this is someone who cross country skis and shoots at a target. These athletes are really fit, they grow up in high altitudes and train with very intense endurance activities so they have very high V02 maxes but having some sort of measure of your aerobic fitness is a good way to understand what sort of level you are at at the moment prior to your holiday or even just for general health.

There is a good reason why you should be trying to understand your own aerobic fitness and these changes happen throughout our lives so as we age we tend to use fitness levels and this is often dependant on the type of activity levels we partake in. If we play a lot of field sports during our teens, 20’s and early 30’s and we stop then we should take up another activity in order to keep up our aerobic fitness levels. We would be more conditioning focused say we are a runner, cyclist or triathlete often times we will maintain high levels of V02 maxes until late 30’s early 40’s but we lose fitness basically based on the amount of training we do so if our activity levels change and we have different lifestyle changes like we take on a new study or there are busy period at work or children get in the way then we lose fitness, if we have a period of illness for example you are in hospital for a couple of weeks or COVID-19 would have had a big impact on this. Your body gets used to what you give it and you need to be able to train in order to be able to possess those fitness qualities. There are some elements of our fitness that are genetically determined like our size which contributes to our lung size and heart size but we can all improve it and I imagine there are some of you who engaged in the talk tonight that have reached our peak so we can definitely all improve.

Why should we worry about our fitness levels? Maintaining high levels of aerobic fitness is important we know it reduces the risk of cardiac arrest and stroke. It is incredibly important for weight management and exercise is often perceived as important for weight loss but I is actually the other way around it has little bearing on the amount of weight you lose that is all diet based but it is really important for not putting weight on when we stop aerobic conditioning we tend to pile on the pounds. We know there are mental health benefits to aerobic training as well. We feel better, we have increased energy levels and the r4eason we are here for the talk today we have more enjoyment in our skiing.

How do I get fit? First of all, you have to pick an activity and we don’t get fit by sitting down watching the TV. There are plenty to pick from here is a small list for example running, cycling or rowing. Then we have to pick an intensity so we want to figure out how hard we want to exercise and often times I think this is driven by what we are comfortable doing. Some people like to go for the high intensity interval training and that is known as HIIT and this is because they prefer to get out of breath and hot and sweaty quickly. Some people don’t enjoy that and they prefer steady state low intensity exercise by going for a longer time period but it is personal preference and both of these will improve your aerobic fitness. In terms of frequency, 1-2 times a week and up to 3 hours is enough in order to be able to reduce the risk of cardiac episode and stroke. Obviously, you can exercise more than that but if you are looking for a baseline and trying to become a little bit fitter then the actual requirement isn’t that high.

In terms of exercise intensity, generally, this is measured using heart rate now a lot of devices can give you a heart rate measure and it should give you a decent ballpark. If you do have access to a chest1 heartrate monitor with your watch then that is a much more accurate version and essentially, we are looking at different training zones based on your max heart rate. In terms of building aerobic conditioning/fitness then zone 1 and zone 2 is really all you need so relatively low intensities so 50-60% and 60-70% of your maximum then we are going to get a little bit fitter. You don’t always have to exercise until you are very out of breath and fatigue in order to improve your fitness.

This now leads to the different types of sessions that we can do and you are looking at a cascade in terms of intensity so 30 minutes of a low intensity exercise like going out for a fast jog or bike ride is zone 1 and that will get you fitter by doing that for multiple sessions over a long period of time helps you to stay fit. If we are a little bit tighter on time or we prefer to be working at a slightly higher intensity then the middle row there 4 lots of 4-minute work with 2 minutes rest between repetitions and a short warm up will have you done in about the same time about 30 minutes but working at a slightly higher intensity, zone 3. The final one, this is the one with big blow outs so we are doing 10 reps of 45 second work at zone 4/5 with 90 seconds rest between reps and again with a short warm up. All of those sessions will take a short period of time but doing this a couple times a week will help to build your aerobic fitness and this is all do able a couple times a week in the run in to your ski holiday.

We have got some idea on the sessions but what is the secret to getting and staying fit? It is simple, the answer is consistency and I am sure a lot of the things I have spoke about today in the session is not new to you. Building consistency is essentially forming habit and there are certain things you can do in order to be to do that. Firstly, you should create a schedule and find a window where you can do your exercise so work around your job, study and picking the kids up. Then you want to set up a group rewards structure and by doing a habit it is about creating positivity around the activity you are doing and if you are rewarded for doing it then that helps to build habit. If you are looking to do two sessions a week and complete them then you might reward yourself at the end of the month with maybe a takeaway or a trip to the cinema. Accountability is often very effective so this can be a training programme or a training routine with somebody whether it is a partner, sibling or a friend but accountability is important because it helps keep people on a high. Setting targets is a good way to build consistency and drive motivation so it might be that you are trying to get a certain 5km time and achieve that and that can be very rewarding. Some people’s sociability is very important so that is why sports like CrossFit have become really popular because it is not just about the exercise but it is about friendship too. Some of us are not some of us are happy to go off on a bike by ourselves with some headphones to get in the right headspace. Measurement apps are really good for seeing progress but at the same time they do mix in to targets. The final one that I will talk about then is assessment so if for example you come in and have your V02 max measured then you can go away and train for it and you have some accountability and targets and you can see in black and white that you have made some progress and again that helps to drive some consistency.

Final tips for enjoying your holiday and reducing injury risk. You should do some aerobic fitness work in the lead up to your holiday. You should also try to use mixed methods for example, fitness and strength work. Taking regular breaks especially if the skiing is high intensity. I think sticking with the recommended DIN settings on binding will reduce the risk of injury. Eating breakfast, and hydrating throughout the day will help with your energy levels which is really important while skiing. Be wary of fatigue and change of snow conditions throughout the day. Finally, ski at your own pace and level.

Date: 17th January 2024
Location: Online
This event is free of charge