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How to soothe sore ski (and snowshoe) legs 


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Whether your jam is carving through mounds of powder, cross-country skiing in a snow-drenched valley or making tracks on snowshoes, unless you’re a regular exerciser, you’re bound to feel a tad sore afterwards. Thanks to the pandemic, many outdoor adventurers’ fitness routines have been out of whack for the past two years. As public health restrictions lift and we venture into more excursions, here are a few tips so you can perform at your optimum level.

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Prepare the way

If prevention is worth a pound of cure, perhaps the best panacea is to prime your legs before activity. Jake Watson, an exercise physiologist who trains clients remotely and in-person in the Bow Valley, thinks a good offence is the best defence for reducing fatigue and injury.

In addition to proper hydration, rest and a good mix of carbs and protein to give you the energy needed, Watson recommends developing a fitness routine consisting of dynamic movements to mobilize the muscles.

Trainer and exercise physiologist Jake Watson. Courtesy, Tara Gaucher
Trainer and exercise physiologist Jake Watson. Courtesy, Tara Gaucher jpg

“Passive stretching can be good if you’re stiff, but studies show a better approach would be to mobilize deeper ranges into your hips and knees. Actively moving through your joints (by say, doing a lunge) is better than holding a stretch,” he says.

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Snowboarders benefit from having both legs on the floor when doing strengthening movements. For downhill skiers, however, Watson advises incorporating lateral and rotational movements, plus exercises that improve the stability of knees and hips. Some examples include lateral lunges, Bulgarian lunges, single-leg deadlifts and exercises that work a single leg at a time.

As it takes more force and effort to go into a turn when downhill skiing, versus coming out of it, Watson suggests increasing the amount of time going down into leg and glute exercises.

“The more you get used to any activity, the better your response will be. Focusing on the slow, lowering movement when doing leg exercises is similar to what you experience when you’re skiing. This technique helps to prevent muscle tearing.”

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Whereas skiing and snowboarding demand strength conditioning, snowshoers and cross-country skiers need to ensure they have the aerobic capacity to finish the trail. Building up your cardio will help to ensure you’re not wiped out after 20 minutes.

Jake Watson doing hamstring deadlift exercises to prepare for skiing. Courtesy, Tara Gaucher
Jake Watson doing hamstring deadlift exercises to prepare for skiing. Courtesy, Tara Gaucher jpg

Road to recovery

Even if you’ve established a conditioning fitness routine, it’s not uncommon to feel stiff and sore after a leg burner day on the slopes. Snowboard halfpipe Olympian Mercedes Nicoll recommends flushing legs out on a bike immediately after your activity.

“It doesn’t have to be on a hard level or for very long – it’s not a Peloton class,” she says.

Cycling for at least 10 minutes after strenuous activities helps flush out built-up lactic acid and moves blood through the muscles, aiding in recovery. If you don’t have access to a bike, Nicoll recommends lying on the floor and putting your legs up against a wall for an L-shaped leg inversion.

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“That’ll help to flush out your legs and get the blood flowing. That pose is also a gentle way to stretch out your hamstrings and glutes.”

Heated cedar huts will keep robes warm while guests are in the pools at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa.
Heated cedar huts will keep robes warm while guests are in the pools at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa. Calgary

Be bold! Go cold

While it may seem counterintuitive, one of the best ways to relieve muscle tension is with cold water therapy.

“From a recovery standpoint, you want to decrease the inflammation and shorten your recovery time. Hot water helps with circulation and it feels good, but cold water is better. It stops the inflammation,” advises Watson.

Cold water immersion sounds gruesome, but numerous studies cite how effective it is in reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow. The easiest way is to fill a bathtub with water that’s approximately 10° C and immerse yourself up to your neck to shoulders. Finishing off your showers with cool to cold water is a good way to build up your tolerance to the cold.

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If you have access to a sauna or hot water that’s at least 38° C, you can try another form of cold water therapy. Spend one to two minutes in the hot zone, before immersing yourself in cold water for the same amount of time. Cycle back and forth for at least 10 minutes.

Facilities that offer cold water therapy with access to both saunas, hot and cold baths include Fairmont Banff Springs, Canmore’s One Wellness and Kananaskis Nordic Spa.

Restorative therapies

If massage is on your mind, deep tissue, therapeutic massage can enhance muscle recovery by realigning deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. Massage therapists aren’t hard to find, but downhill skiers and snowboarders are sure to appreciate the proximity of Verde Day Spa, offering massages on-mountain at Sunshine Village.

If you’re looking for a clinic with expertise in sports injuries, consider Calgary’s Altitude Collaborative Health, where it seems every practitioner is either a former national athlete or has applied their skills when working for various Olympic teams.

Myofascial release tools such as foam rollers, tennis balls and massage guns are products you can use on your own to decrease tension in trigger areas.

Jody Robbins is a Calgary-based lifestyles writer. Follow her wellness adventures on her blog: Travels with Baggage and on Instagram at TravelswBaggage.

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