It doesn’t have to be impossible to get back to skiing after an ACL injury.

Allow me to make that clear from the start 🙂 It does, however, require specific, goal oriented training. In the following you can read a little about what happens after an ACL injury.

I have myself had ACL reconstruction on both my knees. Both my ACL injuries happened in the landing of a jump when I was competing on the world cup in moguls skiing. The first was almost 20 years ago and the second 5 years later. I still go out skiing every year – but I know I have to prepare every year. Otherwise, I will be limited. And knowing that I could have done something to prepare – would just not be fun!!! :-/

Here’s what happens after an ACL injury:

1. Balance suffers

Usually, when you tear an ACL, your balance on that leg gets poorer. That’s because the ACL contains little receptors that tell your brain what position your knee is in. And what you need to do to correct for balance. The connection to these receptors are broken when the ACL is torn. To get good balance reflexes again, you need a lot of balance training, or proprioceptive training as it also called.

The good news is that balance improves quickly, once you start training it – as long as you keep your training challenging.

2. Overall leg strength decreases

The strength of your injured leg will decrease significantly after an ACL injury if you are not aware and being proactive about regaining leg strength. If you don’t train that leg, you will almost inevitably start compensating for that weakness without even knowing it. and get into mechanics that most likely will cause other problems. That is just how the body works. It will go really far to accommodate what we ask of it in the present without always thinking longterm 🙂

3. Compensation

Most people don’t notice when they are compensating. The problem with that is obviously that when you are compensating, you change your mechanics and muscular imbalances will start to occur. If for example your strong leg starts to do most of the work getting you out of your chair, biking, walking etc, then will get stronger and stronger and your weak leg will get weaker and weaker. Another problem is that these imbalances might soon translate to other parts of the body causing other injuries or pains.

So what can you do about that?

So what can you do about that . . .?

Check out the more detailed parts below by clicking the plus sign to the right of each point.
Of course you can also just go get a complete training program by clicking on the orange button.

Keep an eye on the VMO (little muscle above the knee cap to the inside)

It is very important to keep an eye on the VMO ( the little muscle just above your knee to the inside). You don’t want this muscle to weaken too much. It has an important role keeping the knee cap in place and making sure it is not pulled laterally by the other thigh muscles.

It is better to work your legs in closed kinetic chain exercises. This means, do exercises where your foot is against some kind of support. Squats and step-ups fx. are closed chain exercises.

Seated knee extension is an example of an open chain: You kick out in the open. I usually don’t recommend that exercise, but it can be okay for muscle re-activation purposes (i.e. reconnecting with those muscles again after the injury). If you choose to do this exercise, don’t work with very heavy resistance. It may cause you knee pain because of the sheer forces. As you get stronger it is better to replace it with the reverse step-up exercise (closed chain). In this exercise the foot is locked against the step and it is easier to control knee stabilization. Besides, the movement is more functional and you can do it anywhere there is a step.

Hamstrings, hamstrings, hamstrings

It is also very important to strengthen the hamstring muscles (on the back of the thigh). They assist the ACL in holding the tibia under the femur, thus stabilizing anteriorly. If, for instance, you get in the back seat while skiing and you want to pull yourself up, then you would contract your quadriceps muscles to avoid bending your knees further and you hip extensors (hamstrings and glutes) to move the hips forward again. If your hamstrings are strong, they will assist by co-contracting. This in turn helps decrease the load on the ACL. If the hamstrings are weak, they will not contribute as much and the ACL will be under relatively more stress.

If you didn’t have an ACL reconstruction but your ACL is partly or completely torn then obviously hamstring strength becomes even more important. Otherwise you knee will be very unstable and you run a great risk of doing even more damage to your knee. In this case, you will want to make sure that your hamstrings are not only strong – but also that they are not too fatigued when you go skiing.

Do sIngle leg exercises

For skiing, strength training should preferably be performed with single legged exercises. With double-sided exercises such as regular squats, it is very easy to compensate unconsciously and let the stronger leg take more loading. In fact, it is very hard to avoid even if you are conscious about it.

As a bonus, single leg exercises already have a component of balance training incorporated.

Work your agility

You will also be rewarded for training your agility. The communication path to your leg muscles will most likely have gotten a little rusty after your injury and you might not find it all that easy to make quick shifts in direction or absorbing a shock or a landing.
Agility training is what will train those quick reactions and useful movement patterns that give you the capacity to recover from precarious situations.

A good, very safe, place to start, is by simply sitting on a chair, tapping your foot as fast as possible and making small patterns with your foot such as triangles and squares with fast, little movements. From their you can progress on to standing agility exercises and again then more dynamic ones.

Train progressively!

That leads us to the next point. Train progressively!

To continue with the agility example, you would keep progressing as you feel better contact with your foot and your leg is getting stronger and you are ready to progress to movements such as landing or bouncing on a softer surface like a BOSU ball. First on two feet and the on one foot with focus on absorbing the landing. When this is easy, you can add jumping off the BOSU again. Keep progressing this way till your knee feels stable and secure. It takes patience but it is the most direct and effective way back to skiing again after an ACL injury – also long term.

Be consistent and train regularly

This is rule number one for any training program to work. If you are not consistent with your training not even the best exercises will help you much 🙂

The smart way

To help you stay consistent I have made some concise, complete training programs for you that you can get in the SHOP

The smart way

Since you are on this page, I suggest you pick the NO! to sore knees skiing program.

“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

40 yrs, Bucharest Romania

“I bought the program because I needed a cost effective ski exercise program I could do from home without having to go to the gym or buy any expensive exercise machinery. It’s excellent value for money and I feel that I will be in much better shape for skiing when I hit the slopes again.”

Nicolas David Ngan, UK

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