As the season moves deeper into fall, many weekend warriors start thinking about transitioning from sports like running and soccer to skiing and snowshoeing.

Many of these active individuals may also think they need to shake up the training regime to get in shape for these different activities, but that’s not necessarily true, says Seattle physical therapist  Izette Swan.

“Strength, flexibility and coordination translate to all physical activities, whether it’s sports or activities of daily living,” said Swan, doctor of physical therapy and owner of Real Rehab Sports + Physical Therapy in Seattle.

In other words, people who remain active should maintain a consistent focus on building strength, improving flexibility, and refining coordination throughout the seasons. According to Swan, these are critical to transitioning easily between different seasonal activities while preventing injuries.

How does one know if she or he currently possesses a solid foundation of strength, flexibility and coordination – one that will allow them to remain active and injury free across multiple weekend warrior-type activities? Swan says she turns to the following two exercises to answer this question:

  • Can you repeat stable single-leg squats 10 to 15 times and then hold the pose for at least 15 seconds, keeping the foot, knee and body aligned?
  • Can you hop on one leg 10 to 12 times each at a time keeping your body stable and controlled?

According to Swan, if someone is unable to perform these exercises in stable and controlled ways, it may be appropriate to see a physical therapist for an assessment of strength, flexibility and coordination before taking on new activities.

Why are these two exercises so telling? Because they require a combination of strength, stability and motor planning to perform.

“It’s the brain-body connection,” Swan said. “Bringing awareness to basic movements and patterns is very important. The more the mind is aware of what the body wants and can do, the more it can support the body in building strength, flexibility and coordination to move efficiently and safely through complex motions.”

Take skiing, for example. From moving smoothly off the lift to navigating the diverse terrain of the slope to sliding easily into the lift line at the bottom of the hill – it all requires strength, flexibility and coordination with the added element of mindfulness.

The mind, Swan says, must be able to determine the next moves and trust the body to carry out its directions in split seconds in order to navigate the path through the snow. If any one of these conditioning dynamics is compromised, performance may suffer and injuries may result.

“Improving on and practicing these conditioning elements is what we stress in physical therapy,” she said. “Initially, we work on repeated motions in a controlled environment and progress to more reactionary patterns so that when the client is in an uncontrolled environment, like a ski slope, his or her body has the functional memory and physical ability to call on the needed movements in a split second.

“Make that turn, jump this obstacle, slide quickly to the left — do you see the similarities between soccer and skiing?” Swan continued. “All demand strength, flexibility and coordination. This is what will take them down the hill or over the field safely and efficiently, regardless of the season.”