Train like an Olympic athlete: Tips on how to avoid sports injuries

Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series of features about sports medicine provided by Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital.

The Winter Olympics are over, but some of the sports of winter are still being played. No matter the sport–skiing, skating, luging or snowboarding–these athletes have trained their entire lives for this moment. All those years of training have brought them to the world stage.

With all the excitement of the Olympics, you might want to hit the slopes, rink or halfpipe yourself.

But if you’re less than sure about your skill level, or if it’s been a while since your last practice, you may want to think twice before bombing down that double black diamond run or speeding through a sharp turn.

Winter sports are a lot of fun, but they can be dangerous, too, especially if you overestimate your skill level. Before you go out on an Olympics-inspired run, take time to train and make sure you’re in top shape.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Always warm up: Just because winter sports happen in the cold doesn’t mean you should start off cold.

Every pro from Shaun White to Lindsay Vonn has a warm-up routine. Warm-ups are important for them to perform at their best.

Make sure to warm up your muscles and joints before you go out. By stretching and doing small exercises, you can reduce the risk of injury and also ward off fatigue.

After stretching and warming up, take it slow. This may mean going down smaller hills and moving slowly. This can help you get your bearings and remember techniques you may have forgotten.

When you participate in winter sports, you have to know your limits.

Mountains are full of advanced options such as steep slopes and terrain parks that appeal to advanced athletes. The problem is that people who aren’t advanced may try to go down these runs as well. In some cases, the less-experienced riders lose control and crash.

One of the most important ways to avoid getting hurt is to maintain an appropriate speed.

While it may seem exciting to go fast like the pros, they’ve trained for years to be able to handle themselves at high speeds. Even for pros, it takes everything they have to stay under control. For most people, high speeds can be extremely dangerous.

The faster you go, the harder it is to maintain control–if you lose control, you can get seriously hurt. For ice skating, this means keeping a slow, steady pace. For skiing and snowboarding, this means choosing a hill that isn’t too steep and using techniques to slow down and stop.

If you’re a beginner, consider taking lessons from a professional. The knowledge you gain can help you avoid serious injuries.

Winter sports are exhausting, which is why professionals train in intervals over the course of several years to build up their stamina and endurance.

By the end of the day, your muscles may be sore, and you may be less precise with your technique.

Consequently, most serious injuries happen at the end of the day.

It’s best to call it a day before you feel totally exhausted, Don’t push yourself through one last run or one more race. If you feel tired, stop.

Dressing for winter sports can be tricky. The best approach is to wear layers. By wearing multiple layers, you can dress for any weather. Bring more layers than you think you’ll need in case it’s cold. If you find that you get hot during the day, take off some of your layers and leave them in the lodge.

Depending on the sport, it’s also important to wear a helmet. While some people think helmets aren’t cool, they are a necessity, no matter your skill level–even Olympians wear helmets. Wearing a helmet can be the difference between life and death during a bad fall.

If you hit your head or have a bad accident while skiing, snowboarding or skating, see a doctor. Don’t shrug off a head injury–especially if you’re dizzy, seeing stars or feel disoriented.


Dr. Harry Dinsmore Jr. is a fellowship trained orthopaedic surgeon who is a part of the Geisinger Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics in Mifflin County. He is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.