Fit for Snow

Set yourself up right from the start of the season

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It’s your first week at work and you’re stoked for the upcoming season.  Freedom.  Excitement.  FUN!  You are gonna let ‘er RIP!

Or will you???   How’s your leg strength? Got a sore back already? Missed a turn yesterday and put a bit of torque on your knee?  There is so much excitement about the start of the season it’s hard not to jump right in and go hard your first few days out.  But if you want to stay injury free and still have fun next week it’s worth taking the long view, and allowing a bit of time to condition your body and let the snow pack cover up some of those early season terrain hazards.

  • Before it gets too busy on the hill, start practicing your posture checks. Get together with a friend in the evening and get your heart rate up – go for a fast walk, run or ski. Play ultimate, go skiing or do some core work.  Get a water bottle and use it! And start making sure that you pack a good lunch, right from the start.
  • Try one of the muffin, power bar or high protein cookies from the recipe section of our Fit for Snow manual.  You’ll see how the recipes are all easy to make, and the nutrients are balanced to give you the right energy at the right time. If you make a big batch and freeze them, it will speed up your lunch making later in the season when the snow beckons and you don’t want to spend time in the kitchen.
  • Keep in mind that you don’t have to impress your new friends with your capacity to consume alcohol. There will be lots of parties all season, and showing up at work on time and presentable is probably a better strategy for your on snow career than drinking your buddies under the table. You have a lot to learn in these first weeks on the hill, and remember that your risk of injury is increased for a full week following a night of inebriation.

A strong core

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Resolutions

Now that the excitement of start up is over it’s a good time to think about how your riding has been going, take stock of how your body is holding up, and look ahead at what you want to get out of your season. Whether you are talking about the precision of a perfectly carved turn or the freedom of freeriding it doesn’t really matter, there are a couple of goals that you can set for yourself that are sure to raise your level of performance and help keep you injury free all season.

  • Look after your fitness. Be realistic. If you aren’t getting a minimum of 30 minutes a day of exercise (total 150 min/week) that is strenuous enough to get your heart rate up, deepen your breathing enough that you cannot carry on a normal conversation, and break out in a good sweat you are not getting enough exercise. It doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym. Get together with some friends in the evening for a snowshoeing, skiing, game of ultimate, or go dancing! Sure you are feeling tired, and that spot in front of the TV is so comfy, but if you can set something up with a friend you’ll be more likely to get out the door, and once you are moving you will find your energy level restored. It’s a bit of a paradox, but get your blood flowing and you’ll feel rejuvenated.
  • Learn how to set up your core, and hold it there. It will give you a near instantaneous boost in performance, stop your back and knees from hurting and make you look better too. At first it takes a bit of time in front of a mirror and some concentration, but once you learn how to do it, setting up will be as easy as saying “set up”. Find a cue for yourself and use it. Every time you brush your teeth, lift a pair of skis or a snowboard, get on and off the chair, see an orange jacket….. and before you know it your core will become your center of strength.

Have a look at the Fit for Snow manual, it will give you step-by-step information about how to maximize your fitness time, how find spinal neutral and activate your core, your pelvic floor and your glutes.  And stay tuned for future tips, each of these items will be showcased in a single tip as the season progresses.

It’s all about pacing!

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You’re settled in at the job and have met all kinds of new friends, there’s always something going on after work and it’s often late when you finally pack it in for night. As exciting as it is to get to know that cute new instructor, it’s also a time of early season conditions, crowds at the resort, new team members learning their tasks and legs not yet conditioned to ripping. So here are a few tips to help you survive the first few weeks of your season.

  • Pace yourself. You have the whole season to party, the whole season to get maximum air, no need to do it all in the first few weeks.
  • Be aware that sleep loss and alcohol consumption will radically increase your risk of injury for up to a week. Get hurt now and there won’t be a season.
  • Alcohol is dehydrating. So much so that it will impair your physical and mental performance for days after a binge. That means poor attention, slow reactions and a large increase in the risk of injury. For every serving of alcohol sip a glass of water. Chug it all at once and it goes straight through you, sip in small amounts and it helps replace lost water.
  • If you forget to hydrate while you are partying and are about to jump into bed, it’s better to chug a sport drink than plain water. Juice with a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch each of salt and baking soda also works well (might not taste quite as good as the commercial product but costs a lot less!).
  • Don’t skip breakfast. As tired as you may be, after a night of partying your ability to control blood sugar is impaired. Reflexes will be measurably slowed. You won’t be able to make good judgments. Making sure that you eat small amounts of whole grain carbs, whole fruits and low fat protein every 2-3 hours will go a long way to correcting this deficit. Half a sandwich made with whole grain bread, a couple of slices of lean chicken and some sprouts make a great snack. Likewise a small container (1/4 cup) of cottage cheese, tuna or a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fresh fruit are great choices.
  • Catch a nap. The next day when you get home from work grab 20 minutes of shut-eye. And consider taking a night off. If you get caught up on your sleep you’ll be sure to enjoy the rest of the week more.

Hip strength & alignment

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Now that I have your attention let’s talk about how important those butt cheeks are in carving a turn, landing big air and just staying stable on your feet. In fact, hip strength and alignment are the best predictors of non-contact knee injuries, especially ACL tears.  Most people just let those awesome muscles jiggle along for the ride, and that’s too bad for both viewers and users.

Tightening up is not all that hard to do; like core it’s more about activation than strength.  Once you learn how to get your glutes working they will automatically build that nice shape that is so attractive AND generate the power that you need to drive the carve you are looking for. Whether you are talking deep powder in the trees, technical turns or putting your board where you want it in the terrain park, hip strength will keep you on top of your ride.

So what is the best exercise for activating your glutes? It starts with a piece of physio band, a bungie cord or even a belt. Make a loop that is snug enough that it presses inwards when placed around the outside of your thighs, just above your knees. Then keeping your knees in line with your shoulders and hips, lower your butt like you are going to sit down on a chair, while pressing your knees outward against the resistance band. Don’t forget to keep your spine in neutral – you will have to activate your core and pelvic floor to keep the slight lumbar curve (if you cannot hold your spine in the correct position try placing a thin platform under your heels). You should feel your glutes harden as you press outward against the band and lower your center of gravity with the squat movement.  Practice this movement until you can do 20 squats and keep the correct technique.  Now you can add load, anything from a pair of skis across your shoulders to barbells, but even more important than “strength” is to practice that glute activation without the elastic banding – every time you get off the chair. Clip into your board, ski off the unloading area and do two or three squat movements to turn on your butt before you head off !

What’s “healthy eating”?

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We eat for lots of different reasons; taste, smell and appearance, plus eating makes us feel good, filling us up and satisfying hunger and emotion, and food provides a great venue for socializing. But what does your body really need?

What we eat gives us the building blocks and supplies we need to keep our body tissues and processes strong, but food and drink also give us different kinds of energy. Making sure that you get the right kind of energy at the right time can make a real difference to your performance in physical, mental and even internal processes.

In the skiing study:

  • Stabilizing blood sugar decreased reaction time by as much as a full second so reflexes work faster and more accurately
  • Stabilizing blood sugar and providing enough amino acids through dietary protein also fueled up the participants immune systems decreasing susceptibility to colds and flus
  • Providing muscle with carbs generated more power to produce high forces quickly, while fats provided lower intensity endurance

 

So what will keep you going the best during a day on the hill?

Eat Breakfast:  Try for 2/3 carb and 1/3 protein, with fat content kept to less than 25% for stable blood sugar ( = sharp reactions and fast reflexes), carbs for your immune system ( = protection against sneezing clients and your room-mate’s flu) and enough energy to carve, carry and cajole till lunch time.

Some good choices are:

  • 1 cup of low fat, no-sugar added yogurt or ½ cup of 1% cottage cheese or low-fat milk, mixed with 1 cup fresh or frozen chopped fruit of your choice, and sprinkled with ½ cup of low-sugar cereal or cooked oatmeal. Add an extra ¼ cup of dry skim milk powder for more protein.
  • 1-2 eggs + 1 egg white cooked with ½ tsp olive or canola oil on 2 slices dry whole grain toast plus ½ cup (or 1 piece) of fresh or frozen fruit. Scramble the eggs with onions, garlic, peppers and a healthy dash of your favorite spices, and wrap in a whole-wheat tortilla instead of the toast to make a portable breakfast. Add ¼ cup low fat cottage cheese to the scrambled eggs for a bit of cheesy flavor and a lot more protein!
  • 2 pancakes topped with yogurt and fresh fruit. Make the pancakes with wheat germ, whole-wheat flour and extra egg whites or skim milk powder for more protein. You can cook ‘em up ahead of time and just pop them in the toaster to warm.

Someone say packed lunch?

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Sandwiches are the ultimate energy food. Try for 2/3 carb and 1/3 protein, with fat content kept to less than 20% for stable blood sugar, sharp reactions, fast reflexes and a great energy supply!

The wrapping: Bread, bagel, wrap or pocket – think whole grain for flavor, vitamins and fiber. The less processed the carb the longer it will take to digest which is a very good thing when it comes to stabilizing blood sugar. Beware of brown bread, sometimes it’s made with refined white flour and then simply colored brown. It’s a good idea to check the label and try for at least 2 gm fiber/slice what ever your choice is.

The filling: Go for lean protein here. Sliced chicken, turkey, tuna, or bean spreads (see the recipes in Fit for Snow) are the best choices. Lean roast beef, pork or salmon are a little higher in fat but as long as you discard any visible fat they are also great choices.  Left over breakfast omelet also works, add 2 extra egg whites for every yolk (buy a carton of egg whites in the dairy section, they are very economical). Cheeses tend to be high in fat, even the fat reduced ones, so slice thinly and think about using vegetables instead of cheese for flavor.

Accessories: Switch out high fat mayo and butter for thinly sliced vegetables. Lettuce makes a great barrier between the meat and bread to help keep tomatoes from soggifying your bread. Be creative with sprouts, spinach, cucumber, and peppers, to name just a few.  Lightly rub peppers, squash, eggplant and mushrooms with olive oil and roast in a medium oven for an hour for especially flavorful veggies.

Package your sandwiches in halves or even quarters for great pocket snacks to eat on the chair during your lunch break so you can ride instead of standing in line waiting for your food J

Keeping your blood sugar topped up will make you feel better all day. You’ll be more alert, your reflexes will work better and your mood will stay more positive. It’s a sure way to increase performance and protect yourself from injury and illness….  So pack your lunch and keep smilin’!

Immunity

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Working with the public means that you’ll be exposed to those pesky viruses and bacteria on a regular basis. And then there’s the shared water bottles and the nice close environment of the lift or patrol shack. So how do you avoid catching what ever is going around?

Wash your hands:

Most cold and flu causing viruses are transmitted in tiny droplets of mucous when a sick person coughs or sneezes. They get passed around from hand to door handle, to hand, to eyes, nose or mouth, and thereby gain entry into a fresh host. The best way to avoid exposure is to encourage everyone not to cough or sneeze into the air or their hands’; instead use a disposable tissue, or the crook of their elbow. From the recipients standpoint try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth, or be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before doing so, or preparing and eating food and drink. If you don’t have access to running water use one of the hand gels with a minimum 60% alcohol concentration.

Get some aerobic exercise:

Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise (deep breathing but you should still be able to carry on a conversation) will activate the front line defenses in your body. The sooner you can find and destroy the invading pathogen, the more likely that you’ll be able to knock it off before it starts replicating, and avoid the cold or flu altogether.

Eat well:

Antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals; should you spend the money on supplements in the hopes that it will help your immune system fight off a cold? Sadly there really isn’t any definitive evidence that anything you purchase over the counter can make a difference. But there are lots of indications that there are chemical components in a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are very important for immune function.

We also know for sure that when blood sugar drops, or when a person is exposed to excessive stress the hormone Cortisol is released and acts to suppress the immune system. So eat those frequent complex carb and protein snacks to stabilize blood sugar, include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, get enough rest, lots of hugs (yes, hugs do help) and avoid smoking and excessive but not all alcohol consumption for the best immune boosters available.

Get back on track!

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Today’s tip will help you learn how to unload your spine, and break the bad habits that contribute to back and knee pain.

  • Stand sideways to a mirror without your shirt on. Your back should have two curves, slightly outward or convex at your shoulders and upper back, and slightly concave or inwards in your lower back. Imagine that your partner is pulling upwards on your hair (no comments on why they might want to do that). Don’t just lift your chest but rather lengthen your spine and watch in the mirror to see how standing tall smoothes out the curves in your spine. If you currently have back pain this should feel better immediately as you increase the space between your discs.
  • Check that your pelvis is underneath you by placing your hands on your hip bones. When you look downwards, your pubic bone should be in the same plane as your hip bones, neither behind it as most women stand, or in front of it as most men do. You can use this technique to check your posture any time, as it’s easy to feel your hip and pubic bones even through your outdoor clothing. Check it each time you do your standing tall exercise. If your pelvis is aligned correctly you will be able to generate a lot more strength with your glutes and leg muscles. Get this one right and your skiing and riding performance will kick up a notch! It’s better than a performance-enhancing drug.
  • Use your core to hold your newly corrected posture. Do this by drawing your lower abdomen in and up slightly. Your muscles should tighten without any hollowing or bracing. Make sure that you can still take a deep breath and move your rib cage; it’s only your lower abdomen that is doing the work.
  • The final step is to add the pelvic floor. This muscle can be hard to isolate, but having a strong pelvic floor has lots of benefits (it’s the same muscle that contracts during orgasm J). The easiest way to learn how to contract your pelvic floor is to try and stop the flow when urinating. Once you know how the movement feels you can practice it any time, as there is no outward sign that you are contracting. Do 5 slow contractions, holding for a count of 5 each time, and then 10 fast contractions. If you have to lift something heavy, are shoveling or setting up for a jump, activate your pelvic floor for increased strength and stability!

Make this postural adjustment 5 times/daily for a week and it will become automatic. You can do the exercise sitting (like on the lift) or standing (even in ski boots), but before long your spine will stay tall and your core solid all the time, even when you aren’t thinking about it!

To stretch or not to stretch

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Stretching is one of those topics that always seems to come up. Proponents of Yoga and Pilates swear it is the cure for all that ails, but none of the scientific studies actually show conclusively that stretching reduces injuries. In fact, sometimes the results show exactly the reverse! Part of the problem is that there is more than one kind of stretching even though the same word is used to describe them all.

The Morning “Stretch”:

Stiffness upon rising or after sitting is best worked out by gently moving the limb through the range of motion without any force. Start small and gradually increase the range of motion until you reach the full movement, but don’t force the limb beyond what feels comfortable. Be gentle and dynamic, moving the body part back and forth, from side to side, and in circles.  What you are really doing is warming-up your tissues.  Muscle, tendon and ligament are a bit like plastic, rigid when cold but more pliable and elastic when warm.

This type of  “stretching” is great as a start to your day, but keep in mind that any changes in the tissues only last about 20 minutes. The best time to warm-up would be no more than 10 or 15 minutes before beginning your activity.

The Tension Releasing “Stretch”:

Another reason for stretching is to relieve excess tension that results from fatigue or over-use.  When the muscle is irritated the reflex action is to shorten; and can even result in a spasm or cramp. The best way to relieve the tension is to use the nerve loop to stop the contraction signal. Since muscles always work in pairs, if you contract one muscle (the agonist), the opposing muscle  (the antagonist) will relax.  This technique works great to release a “charley horse”.

Fatigue

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It’s a gloomy day, conditions aren’t great and you partied last night; what can you do to keep those eyelids from drooping?

  • Have a long cool drink of water – every process that takes place in your body needs water, when you don’t drink enough everything slows down. It’s like running an engine without oil.
  • Get some fresh air! If you are in the patrol shack or top lift station, or have been sitting in the lodge; step outside even if it’s cold and windy and take 10 really deep breaths. Suck the air in right down past the bottom of your lungs, hold it for a count of 4 and then slowly blow it all the way out.  The change in temperature will brighten things up, and making sure you have lots of oxygen in your blood will also help your brain work better.
  • Activate your core and swing your arms around, jump up and down, run in place and/or do push ups for 15 seconds each. You’ll get your blood circulating to freshen up your whole body!  If you have time for 10 minutes of vigorous activity all the better, but even just a minute will help wake you up.
  • Have a small snack high in fiber, carbs and protein, but low in fat. Be sure to stay away from sugars unless you are currently exercising hard enough to breathe deeply. Your brain needs fuel to stay awake but you really don’t want to get a sugar spike or in an hour or so you will be falling asleep for sure

Half a lean chicken sandwich on whole grain with sprouts and peppers

Half a cup of tuna or cottage cheese with pepper and dill and 3 crackers

A hard boiled egg and an orange, kiwi or banana

A cup of minestrone or vegetable soup

  • If you really are sleep deprived the 4 suggestions above can help in the short term, but not much is going to cure your fatigue except sleep. When you don’t have the option of crawling back into bed, try finding time for a 10-15 minute nap on your break or when you get home from work. The ideal length for a nap depends on the person, but keep it to under 30 minutes. At work, combining a short nap with some caffeine can refresh you for a couple of hours.