Are you tuning or terrifying your body?

Correspondent Harriet Wallis bribed son Cal, daughter Alison, and best ski buddy Laurie to demonstrate warm ups at the top of a Deer Valley lift. Credit: Harriet Wallis
Correspondent Harriet Wallis bribed son Craig, daughter Alison, and best ski buddy Laurie to demonstrate warm ups at the top of a Deer Valley lift.
Credit: Harriet Wallis

Some experts say stretching before exercise helps performance and lessens injuries. Others say stretching can cause damage.

So what should you do?

“Skiers who stretch at the top of a lift are crazy!” says Jo Garuccio, a PSIA Examiner, Snowbird ski instructor and Triathlon World Champion. “They’ve been on a cold lift and then they’re going to stretch? That’s absolutely nuts!” she exclaims.

Really good warm ups in ski boots include swinging arms, swinging legs and marching in place, Garuccio says. Get the blood flowing.

Recent studies concur. Static stretching done cold without a warm up hurts the performance of weight lifters and competitive athletes.

Okay. Case closed. Warm up at the top of the lift before you even think about doing something else.

But when I Googled “dynamic stretching” and also “dynamic warm ups” I found – ironically – that the images were virtually the same for both. So it seems it’s your responsibility to ask your body: “Am I getting juices going, or am I straining cold muscles?”

On a humorous personal note, my best ski buddy would stand at the top of the lift and wiggle this way and that. I don’t know if she was warming up or stretching. Nevertheless, she was glued in place until she finished her routine. If it was a powder day I was frantic. “Hurry up. We’re wasting fresh snow,” I’d grumble. She finally learned that fresh powder trumps wiggles.

[Editor Note: Our recent poll revealed 60 percent of our respondents did some kind of stretching, 40 percent didn’t.  Here is an LA Times article on stretching that amplifies Harriet’s point about getting the blood flowing through an “active warm-up”, i.e., moving around a lot.  Short duration, static stretches are just an add on to the moving around part.  But experts certainly haven’t reached consensus.  For a collection of short, light stretches, look here.]



  1. Peter McCarville says:

    Anyone who has PSIA attached to their name and is under 55 has yet to understand what they have done to their body from years of hard charging abuse (i.e. Triathalons, ultra this and ultra that) has yet to really understand their bodies and what they have put them through. She (Jo Garuccio) will experience the overuse and abuse injuries that she has acquired from this youthful behavior, eventually, if not already. We all do age and we all learn about our bodies needs and requirements that may include “stretching” and may include “warm ups” (I put these in quotes because they are a grab bag of a definition). Scientific evidence is great and as a scientist myself I think is essential but in the Physical Therapy/Performance Training worlds (as in the diet world) one must take some of the research as just that, research and not a fit-all prescription. Also, Jo and her like are anomalies, not the norm. Most of us are within the norm and do not have what she has and never had it. I was an athlete my whole life and was close to the elite athlete level in a few sports. But even I had issues with my health then and still do now. Look at any of the ultra marathoners and how long they last in the field. Hockey players are “spent ” by 30-35 years old. Even soccer players wear down in their thirties. I cannot live without my “routine” , which constantly is re-worked and bettered as I earn more about my body and what it has going on. My over-50 wisdom, has kicked-in (finally) and I am going for the long haul. I want to ski and ski smart at 80+. As a ski and hiking guide I have guests that have done just that. They have learned, dropped the ego and competitiveness for the most part. I suggest you explore what works for you and not get hung up on what people with extreme behaviors say.

  2. Patty Elliott says:

    I have PSIA attached to my name….for many years. Started teaching skiing when I was 16. At age 63 I am very well aware of what years of skiing and teaching has done to my body, particularly my feet, knees and hips and lower back. I pay the price every day of the week. My stretching begins every morning sitting on the bed stretching my feet before they even hit the ground. Then I stand up walk to the closest wall and stretch my calf muscles, achilles tendons, hamstrings and so on and so on!
    Throughout my ski day if I feel things tightening up, I stretch. That’s how I get through my ski day. Sometimes before bed I stretch out what may feel tight again.
    I have so many things wrong with the right side of my lower body, they are too numerous to mention. I find that I do what works for me!

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