Winter Sport Conditioning

With colder temperatures quickly approaching, the mountains of the Pacific Northwest will soon be turning into a winter wonderland. If you enjoy getting out in the snow -- whether skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing -- the time is quickly approaching to prepare your body for the demands of the season. Even with regular exercise winter sports challenge our muscles in ways our normal activities do not: creating greater demands on our lower body, our stability, our cardiovascular system, and all during much colder temps than our bodies are accustomed to operating in. These demands can quickly lead to fatigue and an unwanted injury (and a potential visit to your friendly therapists at Flex PT).
Winter sports are a whole body workout, with fatigue being a major factor for risk of injury. Such injuries are preventable with pre-season conditioning and listening to the body when it is tired or in pain. Before the snow starts falling, it is smart to begin a regular exercise program lasting 20-45min from 3 to 5 days a week. Winter sports involve cardiovascular and muscle endurance.
You want to get the heart pumping, doing activities that challenge the whole body (such as running, swimming, or other dynamic activities). To increase your endurance as the season approaches, these workouts should involve cardio that is longer in duration, but lower in intensity in order to build up your endurance.
Some suggested exercises are listed below, designed to prepare the body for the demands of winter activities. As always, it is advised to talk to your PT about any new exercises you are uncertain of, especially if you have a previous injury. And remember: warm up before participating in winter activities; drink plenty of water before, during, and after; and avoid the slopes if you are tired or in pain. Have fun, and get active!
Back and Abdominals, the “Core”:
  • The back and abdominals make up the “core”, which keeps you stabilized and protects the back from injury
  • Planks, side planks, plank shoulder taps, bicycle crunches, supermans
Glutes and Hamstrings:
  • Provide stabilization to the lower body during the somewhat flexed hip position often maintained during winter sports.
  • Deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, step-ups, hamstring curls
Quads and inner/outer thighs
  • The quadriceps are vital to knee stabilization and protection, while the outer and inner thighs help keep the legs together or moving laterally.
  • Squats, lunges, sliding side lunges, side-step squats
Ankles and Calves:
  • While most winter boots are designed to stabilize the ankle, they also keep it rigidly in a flexed position. The ankle is an important balance stabilizer, and still works to provide stability while strapped into your gear.
  • Standing heel raises, resistance band work for the ankle (all four directions)
  • The arms may not be the main event during winter activities, but they are still essential to push you up off the ground, press through your ski poles, or help pump the upper body when hiking the slopes.
  • Bicep curls, lat pull downs, tricep extension, or add arm movement to an above exercise for a more dynamic movement.
Dynamic movements and Coordination:
  • Step-up march with overhead press
  • Squat hold with bicep curl
  • Side-step squat with leg lift (option for resistance band)
  • Squat jumps
  • Side/side and front/back hops
  • Speed skaters,on%20your%20side%20or%20buttocks.

Tips for an injury free winter

Don't get caught off guard by winter's dangers. Slippery payment, low visibility, shoveling snow, and a sedentary activity level can all contribute to injuries this time of year so here are some helpful tips to minimize your chance for injury. 

  • Wear shoes with non-slip soles 
  • Practice balance activities to improve response time
  • Use a flashlight in dimly lit areas
  • Try to push snow with the shovel rather than lift and swing
  • Take breaks from prolonged sitting to decrease strain to the low back/neck

Bundle Up!

Colder weather means some changes to how we exercise. Of course it's harder to motivate yourself to get outside for a run or bike ride when the temperature drops, and the shorter days compress our schedules, but there are changes in your body that affect your ability to exercise too. For many people with arthritis or other joint problems, cold weather brings more complaints of pain. To stay warm, our bodies narrow blood vessels to reduce blood flow to the skin, and more superficial muscles. That means that there is an increased risk of muscle strains in the cold. There is also an increased strain on the heart because of the narrowed blood vessels. This isn't to say that you shouldn't be active outdoors in the cold, it just means you may have to make a few changes to your routine. Here are a few to consider:


Warm up right

A good warm up is always important, but because of the tendency for joints to be stiffer, and blood flow to muscles to be reduced in the cold, it's even more important that you do it right this time of year. To start, do something to get your heart rate up a bit, maybe a brisk walk or light jog. Follow that up with a dynamic warm up rather than static stretches. This could include walking or jogging while pulling your knees up high to your chest. Maybe some high kicks in front of you with straight knees to get your hamstrings loosened. A walking lunge with an upper body twist can get your whole body moving. Cater your warm up to what you have planned in your workout. If you're not sure how it should look, ask your physical therapist!

Dress right

Dressing in layers allows you to adjust your insulation to your activity level. After you warm up, you might want to take off a layer to avoid getting too hot during your main activity. You'll have it there later to put back on when your activity level drops and you start getting too cold.

Don't forget about the sun either - just because it's cold doesn't mean the UV rays are gone. Sunscreen and sunglasses aren't just for the summer. A lip balm with SPF can protect you not only from the sun but from the wind too.


Stay hydrated

Drink water before, during, and after your workout. The temperature may be down, but you'll still sweat and you'll still lose water vapor in your breath. The drier air in winter lets your sweat evaporate more quickly, so it's easy to underestimate how much fluid you've lost.

Cool down

When you're done, don't rush to get inside and crawl under a blanket. Cool down properly. Keep moving with a walk or another form of active recovery to let your heart rate come down. After exercise is the right place for static stretching. You can also head inside for some foam rolling or self-massage.

The days being shorter and the temperatures being lower don't mean you're stuck inside for all of your exercise. If you follow these tips, you can safely keep moving outside. If you'd like a customized warm up or cool down, or have questions about your exercise routine, your physical therapist is a great person to ask!

-APTA Private Practice Section

Our Promise to You

Flex Physical Therapy continues to be committed to your health and safety during the COVID-19 response. We are available for telehealth and in-person visits to suit your individual needs. We continue to sanitize and clean our office daily, adhere by social distancing standards, provide hand sanitizer for client use, and utilize masks to decrease risk for exposure. If you have any questions regarding physical therapy during this time please do not hesitate to contact our office. We are here to serve you. 

Our Services

-sports injuries
-post-surgical rehabilitation
-work injuries
-motor vehicle accident injuries
-back and neck pain
-joint and muscle pain
-pelvic pain therapy: for men and women
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12900 NE 180th St. Suite 110, Bothell, WA 98011
Phone: 425-483-4270 Fax: 425-483-4268

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Flex Physical Therapy · 12900 NE 180th St Ste 110 · Bothell, WA 98011-5773 · USA