|Fifteen years as a human shock absorber haven't hindered the health of moguls guru Liz McIntyre, a silver medalist at the 1994 Winter Olympics. She attributes her relatively injury-free career to diligently maintaining warm and limber muscles in her idle time, when cold clamps down on unwitting hamstrings. "A lot of skiers think they can do a few toe touches before their first run and they're set for the day," McIntyre says. "What they don't realize is that between runs the muscles tighten again. Staying flexible is something you work at constantly while on the slopes." Or wherever your winter pursuits may take you.
McIntyre's secret is to take the leg muscles through their full range of motion by employing a series of fluid, controlled stretches. After a brief warm-up — skiers can take a few mellow runs — find a level area, take off your skis, snowboard, snowshoes, or whatever, and do ten repetitions of each of the following exercises over ten minutes. They're deceptively simple, but quite effective. Repeat every so often, depending on how far the mercury has fallen, and odds are you'll have the same good fortune as McIntyre.
Pendulum swing (hamstrings): Simply stand with your hips and shoulders square and your weight on your left leg. Keeping your foot flexed at a 90-degree angle and your leg straight, slowly raise your leg in front of you to a 45-degree angle, then lower it back to standing position. Raise your leg higher on each successive lift, being careful not to pull the hamstring or lock your knee. Switch legs after a set.
Bent leg swing (quadriceps): Begin in the same position as above, but bend your leg at a 90-degree angle and swing it behind you. Go until you feel tension in your quadriceps; push a little farther with each swing. Do a full set with one leg; then repeat with the other.
The scythe (abductors, adductors): Keeping your knees slightly bent and your pelvis tilted forward to prevent your back from arching, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Now extend your right leg about a foot in front of your body and, keeping the motion slow and steady, move the leg across to the left until you feel resistance. Then swing it to the right to the same point of tension. After a set, switch legs and repeat.
Calf stretch (calves): Standing at arm's length from a tree and with your feet hip-width apart, place your palms against the tree and lean into it. Bending your left knee slightly, slide your right leg away from the tree, making sure to maintain heel contact with the ground (skiers will want to loosen their boots). When you feel a tug in your calf, hold the position for about 25 seconds; then switch legs and repeat.