How to get back to pain-free skiing after an injury -or even just regular wear and tear- is a challenge many skiers face. Unfortunately, you might fall into an, “I have a bad knee” mindset – not realizing that there is actually a lot you can do yourself to get that knee better again. I have written this page – and the programs that go along with this – to give you motivation to do that part and hope that it can actually get better.
As a two-time Olympic moguls skier, conditioning coach for world class athletes, and life-long passionate skier, I know the power of proper conditioning to get you back on the slopes.
Having returned to competitive skiing after ACL reconstructions and meniscus tears on both of my knees (as well as other injuries), I thought I’d share my experience and let you know that you don’t necessarily have to just accept your knee pain.
While acute knee pain can be caused by an injury, most types of knee pain experienced during or after skiing are due to muscular imbalances and poor mechanics (that may have originated from an injury).
The good news is that in most cases, this can be resolved with proper training.
The following describe common knee problems that skiers experience that can be fixed with my ski training programs. All exercises are shown on video, with clear instructions for proper conditioning to help ensure better form. Be sure to consult a doctor for your pain, too – I always encourage my skiers to take control of their health for stronger, pain-free skiing.
Click on the plus sign at each point below to read more.
Ski-related: Backseat or stiff-legged skiers tend to experience kneecap pain, due to improper conditioning of their thigh muscles.
Pain on the kneecap is often related to – and exacerbated by – skiing in the back seat or skiing with very stiff legs. Make sure you get those legs going before the ski season starts so you can better balance your weight along your whole foot and not just your heel
Conditioning: Strengthening your quadriceps muscles – the leg muscles on the front of your thigh – helps fight this type of pain. My OWN THE SKI SLOPES! program uses a simple suspension tool such as a TRX or Jungle Gym so that you can work up your strength in deep, challenging skiing positions – while always having the support of the handles if needed. The video workout features one-legged standing exercises as one of the simplest yet most efficient techniques to beat patellar pain.
Ski related: This pain can arise from forcing your turn too much. You do this if you don’t trust that your skis will turn out of the fall line as fast as you want, so instead of edging the ski and pushing against the snow, you try to force your skis around by pivoting your knee and ankle.
Conditioning:Firing up your vastus medialis (the muscle to the inside above your knee) will help. Working to the last degrees of full extension is a way to ensure vastus medialis engagement. Both the FIT SKIING program and OWN THE SKI SLOPES include an exercise to work this specific muscle in a skiing related position.
(If your knee tends to lock or you have swelling, make sure a doctor checks your knee as this pain can also be related to medial meniscal or MCL damage).
Ski related: Although skiing doesn’t commonly cause this type of pain, it can exacerbate your discomfort as the pain stems from muscular imbalances. When you ski, your muscles contract, and the imbalance causes some pulling in your kneecap. The typical pattern is: Weak external hip rotators, strong muscles on the outside of your thigh (vastus lateralis) and a tight ilio-tibial (IT) band that results in a pulling of our kneecap laterally outwards.
Conditioning: You need to strengthen your vastus medialis and stretch your IT band to rebalance your knee. In my OWN THE SKI SLOPES video, you’ll work that in skiing specific positions. Also, a foam roller or similar is a must-have to help get rid of adhesions and stretch to your IT band!
Ski related: If you ski with your weight equally distributed on two skis, you may experience the sensation of having two drivers. This puts your adductors to work to avoid the skis either spreading too far or crossing. If you have more weight on the outside ski (the more exterior ski in the turn, this ski will be the one driver and the other ski will follow more naturally.
Conditioning: Work your adductors by doing a set of lateral leg exercises. All my skiing conditioning programs include lateral exercises.
Ski related: Skiing is about balance and stability. If you have a poor balance, especially when skiing over uneven terrain such as backcountry (off-piste) and moguls, you may experience some soreness behind your knee at your popliteus muscle and the attachments of your calf (soleus) muscle.
Conditioning: By incorporating the balance exercises that I teach in my skiing conditioning programs into your pre-skiing training, you can prevent most of this soreness.
Ski related: This type of knee pain is most common when skiing in slushy snow, and happens when you’re trying to avoid falling forward. The slower surface means your skis go much slower, even as your upper body wants to continue as the same pace – so your hamstrings and lower leg muscles have to react fast to prevent your legs from over-stretching and to keep your hips fairly extended. This stretching motion can lead to pain at the attachments of these muscles just below your knee.
Conditioning: Make sure to strengthen the posterior chain of your legs – your hamstrings and butt. You can do as demonstrated in OWN THE SKI SLOPES video using the suspension training (I recommend Jungle Gym by Lifeline but you can also make one yourself or use a TRX if you happen to have one). After skiing, it is also a good idea to stretch your hamstrings and calf (soleus) muscles.
If you don’t already have it, you can get my free sheet with great stretches for skiers here.
Take action to protect and prepare your knees to ski strong. Join the 100s of other skiers who have beat knee pain with my Strong Skier programs See more here
“I find the program very effective, and it felt like you wrote it for me. Thank you so much for all your help. Despite the reconstructed ACL, I enjoyed the strongest ski legs ever!”Andreea Dragomirescu
“The videos made a big difference to my skiing and I’m pleased to say that as a result, the knee pain due to me not being fit enough wasn’t a problem anymore.”Abbie L
Now you know a little more and maybe you have pin-pointed which kind of knee pain you struggle with when skiing. But best of all – you can now take back the power and work to protect your knees and prepare to enjoy skiing again like the many others who have taken action on this advice.
(As always, do check with a doctor before you start a new fitness routine or if you have any doubts as to your knee pain. I am not a doctor – I’m a trainer specialized in ski fitness and coming back from injuries.)