If the sandy dunes are morphing into snowy mountains before your eyes and you've found yourself wearing a Day-Glo Puffa jacket and making yourself hot cocoa before bed even though it's 25 degrees outside, chances are you're a snow bunny. Time to book yourself a flight to Faraya Mzaar (now that it has finally snowed in Lebanon). But before you pack the salopettes and Moon Boots, you'll need to be ski-fit to make the most of the slopes.
"Skiing and snowboarding don't tend to offer the opportunities for consistent year-round practice that many other sport do," says Warren Smith, the professional free-skier, international performance coach and ski instructor. "So when you hit the slopes, it takes two or three days for the muscles to catch up. By that time, half your holiday is nearly over." Whether you've got six weeks or six days until you hit the slopes, there is still time to get fit with these exercise plans. They'll give you stamina and strength to spend more time on the pistes and to enjoy it more. And crucially, they'll help you avoid injury. Even if you're more about the après-ski, you will find these exercises useful, as they provide an excellent workout for the heart, legs and core muscles.
The wise will start their ski workout at least two months in advance. If your trip is more than four weeks away, you should start following this regimen as set out by Smith. Ideally, each workout will include each of the four key elements: aerobic, strength, balance and stretching. If you have less than a week before your break, skip this and go for the "panic stations" option.
Pump it up: get your heart thumping with aerobic exercise to improve your slope stamina. Do three to five sessions a week, at least 30 minutes at a time, choosing activities that use your legs more than arms, such as cycling or step aerobics. Alternate with the interval training below. Alternate: fast down a hill, slow over a flat bit, fast, slow, fast, slow, stop (for cocoa). That's the rhythm of skiing. Because the activity takes place in short, intense bursts, it's useful to try to replicate it in your ski fitness regimen. Do this by performing interval training in which you do an aerobic exercise intensely for 60 to 90 seconds, then slow down for 30 seconds. Do this for 20 to 60 minutes. (To truly replicate it, have a mug of hot chocolate nearby and sip slowly after 10 minutes of exercise.)
The thighs have it: legs take a beating on the slopes, so to avoid the burn, spend about 70 per cent of your strength training working on your thighs, calves and buttocks. Do two to four days of lower-body strength training every week, focusing on the squat, the lunge, heel lifts and the dreaded ski favourite - back flat against the wall, legs bent to 90 degrees, as if sitting in a chair, then hold. And hold. And hold. When your eyes start tearing up, hold for another few seconds. Then collapse. Repeat. Add controlled bounding and jumping into your routine. Smith says: "This makes a muscle go from short to long quickly, mimicking the rapid dynamic demands of skiing." To do this, stand in the basic ski or snowboard pose, bend your knees, then jump forward, ensuring you land securely without losing your balance. Repeat this 20 to 40 times, jumping across a room. Finally, add in a movement to mimic the left-to-right swishing of skiing. "By simply jumping from left to right continuously, you can simulate an athletic movement that can feel very similar to skiing in short to medium radius turns," says Smith.
Arm in arm: skiers also use their arms, especially the triceps and the core stomach and back muscles. Snowboarders use their arms less, but core strength is even more important for them. So spend the remaining 30 per cent of your strength training on arms, or around one to three days a week. Alternate the arm days with leg days to give muscles a day of rest in between. Although you should try to strengthen all of your upper body, focus especially on triceps, lats (the muscles that go from your mid-back to your sides) and core (stomach and back). Push-ups will provide a good workout to arm and chest muscles. Add the tricep dip, too. Dumbbell rows, performed from a bent-over position with knees soft, will strengthen lats. Tummy tuck: for the core, in addition to the usual sit-ups and crunches, try the plank. Lie face-down on the ground. Lift yourself up on your elbows and toes, keeping your body as straight and flat as an ironing board from head to heel. Your forearms should stay on the ground for balance. Hold this for 60 seconds.
Where did the time go? The holiday is barely a week away and you've done nothing to prepare. Should you cancel?
Not at all, says the ski trainer Rhian Evans. As a ski fitness instructor for many professionals and teams, and a personal trainer to the international jet-set, Evans has had to come up with exercise regimens to fit into their busy schedules. "With only one or two weeks until your ski trip, there are still some exercises that will help you get the most out of your holiday and help reduce the chance of injury," says Evans.
On the run: "Try to squeeze in at least a few cardio sessions, ideally of around 45 minutes. Sports that require short bursts of energy, such as squash, football or tennis, are ideal, but jogging and cycling are fine, too," says Evans. Strengthen up: it is still worth doing strength training, especially lunges, ball squats (use a Swiss ball to support your back against a wall, then lower into a chair position), climbing stairs and crunches. This includes both normal and side crunches, where you twist your body towards the opposite knee. Even if you've left your training until just a few days before, a couple of intensive workouts will at least prepare your muscles a little for the slopes.
At the resort: before you hit the slopes, do some stretches to warm up your muscles. Evans suggests a morning stretch that includes: big arm circles; quadricep stretches for your thighs (lift your ankle behind you, hold on to and pull towards your bottom, making sure your knees stay together); hamstring stretches (bend over at the waist until you feel it pull along the back of your leg, then lift your toes on one foot, put them down, then the other); calf stretches; back bends and twists (carefully and slowly); tricep stretches (lift arms over head, hold on to your right elbow with your left arm, then bend your right arms down towards your back; do the same with the left arm).
On the slopes: "If you have travelled by plane, be aware that your equilibrium may be off for the first day or two. Go easy on jumping and tree skiing as your overall reaction time will be slower than usual," advises Evans. End of the day: "Hydrotherapy can be very useful in flushing away lactic acid after the day," says Evans. "This can be achieved in the shower (hot for two minutes followed by cold for 30 seconds, three times) or in the spa (using the same time ratio with a roll in the snow or a dip in a cold pool). Try not to spend too much time in the hot tub, or you'll feel lethargic the following day."
Warren Smith runs the Warren Smith Ski Academy in the UK (various snow domes), Switzerland (Verbier and Saas-Fee) and Japan (Niseko and Furano). Courses start from £329 (Dh1,900) for five days, with private lessons from £139 (Dh816) for two hours. For more information, visit www.warren smith-skiacademy.com. Rhian Evans is based in the Three Valleys in the Swiss Alps in winter, and travels with families as their private trainer the rest of the year doing weight loss, muscle building, yoga, Pilates, aqua, massage and beauty treatments. For more information, visit www.skiphysique.com, +33 684 373 692.
Always consult your GP before undertaking any exercise programme.