It's almost time to hit the slopes, so start training now


If you ski, it's time to start training so you'll have much greater endurance when you hit the slopes this winter. The best way to train for skiing is to ski, but for most of us, there's no snow available. You ski by bouncing on your knees and schussing lTC forward from your hips, so the best sports to prepare for skiing are those that stress primarily your thigh and upper leg muscles: skating, cycling or using a cross country ski machine.

Running strengthens your heart and lungs, but it stresses primarily your lower leg muscles. When you run, you land on your heel and use your lower leg muscles to help control the force of your footstrike and to raise you up on your toes before you step off to the other foot. The only time running stresses your upper leg muscles is when you run hard up hills.

Training is specific. The best way to prepare your body for skiing when there's no snow is to roller ski or to use a ski machine.

You can buy special skis that have rollers so you can pole your way on the roads; or you can buy a ski machine that has short skis that fit in tracks and either a rope or poles that you can pull so that you can imitate the skiing motion in your home.

You rollerskate and rollerblade with the same hip and knee motions of skiing, so these sports prepare you well for skiing. You pedal with your knees and hips, so the average bicycle rider is far better prepared for skiing than the average runner.

Q: My gym has a sauna. Should I use it as part of my fitness program?

A: Taking a sauna may make you feel good, but it will not make you fit and it does not make you more healthy by eliminating toxic substances from your body.

Fitness refers to your heart, and the only way that you can make your heart stronger is to exercise vigorously enough so that your heart beats faster to increase your circulation. When you sit in a sauna, your temperature rises. To keep it from rising too high, your heart pumps extra blood to your skin and your sweat evaporates to cool you off. However, the increased circulation caused by sitting in the heat is not enough to make you fit. It is insignificant when compared to the increased circulation of blood to muscles during exercise. To become fit, you have to exercise.

Healthy people do not need to sweat away poisons in a sauna. Normal kidneys can get rid of all the toxic products of metabolism that your body produces. On the other hand, if your kidneys are severely damaged, sweating will help you to get rid of some of the byproducts of metabolism.

When you use the sauna, always exercise caution. Make sure that the humidity inside is low. Saunas are set as high as 185 degrees Fahrenheit, and wet heat can burn your skin, while dry heat is far less likely to do so. Don't take a sauna after drinking alcohol, and don't stay in the sauna once you begin to feel uncomfortable. Saunas can cause heat stroke.

Q: I have very narrow feet and can't seem to find any running shoes that fit me. Any suggestions?

A: If you wear shoes that are too wide for your feet, your feet will probably hurt and you may develop a thick callous near the ball of each foot just behind the big toe. If you wear shoes that are too narrow, you are likely to develop blisters and abrasions on the front part of your feet.

Some running shoe manufacturers make shoes in various widths, but none make them in all widths. If you are one of the 30 percent of all runners whose feet are not the average width, you may have to improvise to make your shoes fit.

If you have wide feet, to achieve an acceptable fit you may be able to wear very thin socks or remove a thick insole from your shoe and replace it with a thinner one. (You need to wear socks to keep your shoes from smelling.)

If you have narrow feet, you may be able to make a shoe fit by wearing thick athletic socks or by replacing a thinner insole with a thicker one.

If the shoe is too loose around your heel, you can go to a surgical supply store and buy special felt padding that has sticky gum on one side. Cut out a strip so that it will fit on the inside part of the shoe where it touches the sides of your heels.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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