The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and the mercury is falling as quickly as the rain.
Winter is officially descending - which means that some snow lovers will be thinking about dusting off their skis and hitting the slopes.
Around a million Brits descend upon the mountains each year and the sport’s Royal fans include the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who frequent the slopes annually.
FITNESS PREVENTS INJURY
A day on the slopes can burn up to 3,000 calories - but you can injure yourself by turning up unfit, transforming a dreamy break away into a stiff, achey nightmare.
British freestyle skier James Webb, 25, dislocated his knee after a bad fall last winter and believes it might have been prevented if he had been stronger.
He said: “For people who go on holiday, it’s crucial to go out with a decent level of fitness.
“Whether you are advanced or learning to snow plough, skiing puts a huge strain on your body and you will get the most enjoyment out of it if you’re in good shape.”
GETTING MY SKI LEGS
With this advice in mind, I headed to a Ski Fitness Circuits class, run at Central Health Physiotherapy Centre in London, to prepare for an upcoming trip to the Alps.
Started six months ago, the class was originally intended as rehabilitation for people with anterior cruciate ligament (knee) injuries.
But it swiftly developed into a lower limb strengthening class - targeting everything from quads to glutes, hamstrings and calves - all the muscles used in skiing.
The exercises also strengthen joints including knees, ankles and hips, and works the core, which is key when you’re on the slopes.
Paul King, a physiotherapist and member of the coaching body UK Strength and Conditioning Association, runs the sessions.
“It’s a group class but it is tailored to each individual’s needs,” he said, handing me a towel as I pitched up on a Tuesday evening.
“You want to get fit for skiing, but you might be partnered with someone else training for a triathlon, or recovering from an injury, doing slightly different exercises.”
INDIVIDUAL ASSESSMENT AND VIDEO ANALYSIS
Before the class stated we spent half an hour in a ‘pre-class session’. First Paul asked me questions about my fitness, skiing ability and injury history.
Then we moved into the gym area so I could practice the exercises I was about to do in the class, and so Paul could set my individual programme based on my fitness.
After some quick side steps and lunges to warm up, Paul whipped out his phone. “Time for some video analysis,” he said, switching on his Coach’s Eye app.
Paul filmed me jumping off a 35cm-high box, then played back the footage in super slow-mo.
“Here we are looking for the quality of the movement and how well you are able to control the impact of the land,” he explained, pausing the clip at the point my feet touched the floor.
My mistake was glaringly obvious. I had thought my landing was pretty solid, but here was the photographic evidence of an uneven footing and a badly buckled right knee.
In skiing, this unbalance could result in anything from a wobble to a full-blown crash.
“If you came to these sessions frequently, we would film the same movements and expect to see an improvement week on week,” Paul said.
Next, Paul got me to lie down on the floor in front of the box, and placed a bit of threadbare string at my feet.
I was meant to be able to jump this distance - my height. But standing at the baseline as Paul filmed, the tattered twine looked rather far away.
Bending my knees and exploding forwards, I made it - just. The idea is that after six weeks of classes, I would have more lower limb strength to be able to jump further and higher.
The class is made up of six exercises - two for quads, two for hamstrings and two for glutes - with up to 15 repetitions of each one. This circuit is done three times.
For me, Paul selected a series of deep squats, hamstring curls, lunges and side planks, correcting my positioning as I practiced each one.
JOINING IN WITH A CLASS
When the class started, five others arrived and I was paired with John, a snowboarder who injured his ankle two years ago and has been coming to the class for a month following surgery.
“I wanted to rehab properly,” he told me, explaining his goal for the sessions. “It’s gets me really sweaty, too, so it’s good for overall fitness.”
I found out what he meant minutes later, as I panted for breath and reached for my towel. One of my legs twinged as I slunk between stations to rotate with him.
Paul describes the exercises as ‘ballistic’ - meaning fast, explosive and cardiovascular. But it really translates as ‘knackering’.
My thighs were throbbing as I sunk lower into my squats - with a 30kg bar on my shoulders - before wobbling upwards, again and again.
I jumped from side to side over a block - a movement to mimic skiing over moguls - hopped on and off a high block, and held weights as I did split squats.
But nothing could prepare me for The Prowler - a big, black, ridiculously heavy sled that I was expected to push across the gym floor.
I heaved with all my might but the thing wouldn’t budge. “Use the power in your legs,” Paul said. “Keep them ticking over to drive it forward.”
I tried again, using everything - my calves, quads, core, shoulders and the encouragement from the class - and, at last, it moved. It was painfully slow but I made it to the end of the room.
I emerged from the class a sweatier, achier more trembling version of the person who had walked in an hour ago. It was a similar sensation to after a hard day on the slopes - so what better way to prepare?
Wills and Kate should give it a go.
WHERE TO TRY SKI FITNESS CIRCUITS:
Central Health Physiotherapy run Ski FItness Circuits on Tuesdays (6-7pm), Fridays (8-9am), and from November on Thursday mornings (8-9am) Prices start from £15 per class or £120 for a block of ten.
Packages (including physio assessment and 15 classes) start from £ 230. See central-health.com.
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Will you give it a go? Let us know in the comments!