Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Coach and Certified Cross-Country Ski Coach, Martin Benes performing a Glute Bridge.
Backcountry skiing is a challenging sport. In addition to the aerobic component of skinning up mountains, there are the strength demands of carrying your equipment. Skiing down challenges our leg strength, trunk control, and for longer runs, our aerobic system. Add this to the fact that backcountry ski days can be long and often at high elevation, and you've got a sport that requires some serious fitness!
Having good backcountry skiing strength fundamentals will give us better control on our skis and also allow for faster approaches and climbing. So, what muscle groups should we focus on to make the greatest gains toward fitness for backcountry skiing?
Leg strength is an obvious answer, but skiing requires strength in almost every muscle group of our bodies. Often, the first days on skis each season make our quads sore, but performance and injury prevention in backcountry skiing requires more than just quadricep and hamstring exercises.
Core stability and strength are essential to backcountry skiing fitness. Having control over our core makes us stronger and also helps with injury prevention. It also makes our bodies better at withstanding long days of ski touring with backpacks and ski gear strapped to our feet.
The core is more than just abs. it actually includes hips, glutes, lats, and chest. Let's dive into exercises that will help you prepare for backcountry ski season by building critical leg and core strength without weights or going to the gym.
In the following 5 Essential Bodyweight Exercises for Backcountry Skiers and Snowboarders, we'll show you how to build core strength, leg strength, upper body strength and balance to get the most out of your ski season - without going to a gym! The video demonstrates the exercises and the techniques and benefits to each exercise are described below.
Video of the 5 Essential Bodyweight Exercises for Backcountry Skiers
1. Deadbugs: Core Stability and Strength
Lie flat on your back. Put your arms straight up in the air and bring your legs up so that your hips, knees, and ankles are all at 90 degrees. Keeping your low back pressed into the ground (You can visualize pressing a piece of paper into the ground) extend opposite arm and leg, reaching one arm overhead and pushing the foot away from your body.
Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Coach and Certified Cross-Country Ski Coach, Martin Benes Performing a Three Way Lunge.
2. 3-way lunge: Leg strength, balance, and control.
Stand tall with your chest open. Put your hands on your hips. Shift your weight onto one leg. With the unweighted leg, reach the foot out in front as far as you can, squatting on your standing leg as you do so. Come back to center, without putting your foot down, and stand tall again. Then, without putting the foot down, reach out to the side with your foot, repeating a squat motion. Come back to center. Then reach behind you with the unweighted foot, squatting again on the standing leg. Keep your hips level throughout and your torso tall.
3. Glute Bridge with Marching
Targets: Posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, back) development, core stability, hip strength.
Lie flat on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your knees hip width apart. Touch the backs of your heels with your hands. Pressing through the heels of your feet, lift your hips towards the sky/ceiling. Once your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to knees, pull one knee towards your chest and then the other. Then slowly lower yourself back down to the ground.
4. Push Up Openers: Thoracic control, upper body strength, core stability.
Start in a high plank position. Shoulders stacked over your wrists, and on the balls of your feet. Lower yourself down until your elbows are about 90 degrees. Then push up and as you come up, open into a side plank on one side. Come back to center and lower yourself down again. Push Up and open onto the other side.
5. Alternating Drop Lunge: Leg strength, hip strength, core stability.
Stand tall with your chest open. Have a slight bend in your ankles and knees. Put your hands on your hips or clasp them together in front of your chest. Step back with one leg and cross that leg behind you. As you do this, squat down and place the back leg behind and to the outside of the front foot. Press up and back to center. Repeat on the other side.
The Progression: How to Use These Exercises to Prepare for Backcountry Ski Season
Time Required: roughly 10 minutes per session
Sessions per week to see results: 2-3 Sessions per week (year-round or in the months leading to ski season).
Each Session: Do 8-12 repetitions per side for each exercise. Do the full sequence of exercises 2-3 times total.
Rest: Give yourself 15-20 seconds of rest after each exercise and 1-2 minutes after you complete 1 round of exercises.
Progression: After you’ve done the workout 4-5 times, shift to doing each exercise by time. Start with 30 seconds on-time and 30 seconds of recovery time. Build up to 1 minute of on-time and 15-20 seconds of recovery time. If you already have a strength program, I’d still encourage you to add these exercises into your routine.
At first these exercises might feel challenging. But within a few weeks, you’ll start to develop a really solid strength foundation. Once you get to doing 1 minute on, you’ll also be developing some good aerobic capacity for skinning and longer days in the mountains. These exercises are a great foundation for backcountry ski strength. Combined with running, hiking, biking, and a solid plan, you’ll be ready to go for the first winter storms!
About the Author, Coach Martin Benes
Martin Benes is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Coach and Certified Cross-Country Ski Coach. He is the Owner and Founder of MVB Coaching based in Truckee, California. As a sport coach for over 15 years specializing in endurance and mountain sports, Martin has coached multiple Olympians, Paralympians and active people from all walks of life. Martin enjoys running, biking, backcountry skiing, and cross-country skiing.