Shape Up! Your Guide to Lower Extremity Strengthening for Winter Activities

January 6, 2010
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It’s no secret that your risk of injury decreases as your level of physical fitness increases. The older you get the less agile you become and the more important it is that you keep your body healthy, which includes eating right and exercising on a regular basis. Not only does a healthy lifestyle decrease your risk of injury with athletic activity, but also it decreases your risk of adult onset (Type II) diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol…and the list goes on and on!

This guide will attempt to provide ideas for strengthening exercises to keep you going throughout the winter season. It will increase your ability to perform your best on the slopes and on the hiking trails while helping you to avoid injury. As always, it is important to consult your Primary Care Physician before engaging in any exercise routine in addition to staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest.

Cardiovascular Workout – Anything that can get your heart pumping and your body sweating constitutes as cardiovascular activity. “Cardio” workouts will increase your endurance and improve your overall strength, in addition to burning calories! Some easy and fun suggestions for this type of exercise include: walking with a friend around the neighborhood while catching up, taking your favorite “kick-boxing” class at the gym, or jogging with your dog after work. Twenty to thirty minutes, three times a week is an attainable goal.

Core Strengthening Exercises – Keeping a strong core will help increase you posture, place your center of gravity centrally in your body and improve your overall balance. Standard crunches on a mat and single or double leg-raises while lying on your back are great exercises for increasing core strength. Pikes and the use of an exercise ball for these core strengthening exercises increase the outcome, but are technically more difficult. Abdominal exercises have no minimum or maximum, so doing 3 sets of 25 in the morning and in the evening 6 days per week, will only make you stronger! For proper technique in performing the standard abdominal crunch and for other core strengthening exercises, click on the link below which will take you to a video from the MayoClinic.com (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/abdominal-crunch/MM00725)

Thigh Strengthening Exercises – Step-ups, squats and lunges are all exercises that are great for strengthening your quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles and will help protect your knees from injury. It is important that you remember to stretch and strengthen both the anterior and the posterior muscle groups of the thigh equally. If one group overpowers the other it can lead to patello-femoral pain, which is pain in the anterior part of the knee or pain posteriorly located behind the knee. To see a video on how to properly perform these exercises, please click on the link, as it will redirect you back to the MayoClinic.com (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/squat/MM00724)

Calf and Ankle Exercises – Increasing your calf strength and the strength of the muscles passing from the leg, across the ankle joint and into the foot will improve balance as well as decrease your risk of high-grade ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis and tendonitis among others. Simple exercises for the calf include jump-roping, single-limb heel raises with your heel hanging off the edge of a stair (3 sets of 15 reps each side), and a weighted toe raise. The weighted toe raise can be done with something as simple as a sack of potatoes hung from the mid-foot with the leg at 90 degrees and dangled over the edge of a table. Pull the toes up towards your head, hold for 3 seconds and then lower the toes back to neutral; repeat for 15 repetitions, 3 sets. Exercises for the ankle focus on stability and include a single-limb stance with the knee slightly bent held for 30-45 seconds. Balance boards, used under the instruction of a trainer can also be effective for increasing ankle stability and decreasing your risk of injury. For fun, lie on your back with one foot in the air and trace the alphabet with your foot. When you get to “z” switch to the other side.

The thigh and calf exercises can both be completed on the days in between your cardiovascular workouts, in sets of 3, 15 repetitions for each exercise. It is important that you give yourself at least one, if not two days a week for rest and recovery period so that you don’t fall victim to overuse injuries. Should you start to feel pains that feel out of proportion on one side of the body versus the other, consult your Podiatrist or Primary Care Physician for a referral and discontinue all exercise until further investigation can be completed.

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