Another summer has come and gone. The official start of fall is just around the corner. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp and the days are getting shorter. It won't be long and the peaks will be covered. The mind shifts from dreams of long hikes and bike rides to knee deep powder turns. The prognosticators are predicting a big snow year for the Vail Valley.
As the ski season approaches many of the valley's skiers are interested in preparing themselves for a season of strong skiing. I am often asked questions on the best dry land preparation for creating functional fitness for skiing. The first thing to do is understand the physiological demands of alpine skiing and snowboarding.
Skiing and snowboarding are unique sports with their combination of both physiological and technical components. While the technical side is a primary aspect in skiing performance, the ability to maintain good technique degrades rapidly as fatigue accumulates in even the most proficient skiers and riders.
A solid dry land fitness program should focus on aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, lower body and core strength, agility, balance and power. As sport science has improved over the last decade, exercise physiologists have been able to better understand the particular physical demands that create the relatively quick fatigue that occurs in these alpine sports.
Skiing and snowboarding place a very unique demand on the primary muscle groups of the lower body and trunk. During a ski run the athlete is in a high output dynamic situation for typically 90 to 120 seconds. During this time, these primary muscle groups are under constant strain in both eccentric (lengthening) and isometric (joint stabilizing) contractions. This recruits all the muscle fibers in these muscle groups. When all these muscle fibers are recruited for this length of time there is a restriction of blood flow to the working muscles. This then leads to a decline of oxygen to the muscles and a rapid increase of metabolites in these primary muscles. This is the leg burn that all skiers and riders feel. Especially early in the ski season, or when skiers and riders are really trying to drive their turns. The caveat to this quick leg burn and fatigue is that motor skill also quickly degrades, which can lead to loss of control and injury.
Unfortunately most skier's fitness preparations don't effectively mimic the requirements needed to ski or ride at their optimum level. Often the activities they do in the summer will create fitness, but not in the specific demands needed for alpine sports. It is advantageous to use some of the techniques derived from the top ski teams in the world, even if you may not ski at a competitive level. The physical adaptations you create in following a systematic training regimen will help bring your skiing to a new level.
The big three
Lets look closer at three of the main physiological demands of skiing and snowboarding and some ways to create fitness in each component.
Aerobic capacity: This is often misunderstood for aerobic endurance. While it is good to have a solid aerobic endurance base, the aerobic demands in alpine sports are closely related to doing repeats of intervals at a VO2 intensity. A Swiss study showed a remarkable increase in ski fitness indicators from just an 11 day block of specific VO2 training. These sessions consisted of four minute efforts on cycle ergometers and three minute efforts of dynamic body weight exercises designed to get the heart rate to 95 percent of maximum. The recoveries were three minutes in length. Participants in the VO2 training group had a remarkable increase in all levels of their ski fitness over the control group, which continued their conventional mixed training.
Muscular endurance: Muscular endurance training for skiing should best mimic the specific eccentric and isometric contractions that occur during a ski or snowboard run. This can be achieved from several sets of several lower body exercises putting timed tension on the working muscles and resisting temptation to relax the muscle during the set. One very effective exercise for this would be to perform 10 body weight maximal squat jumps in your traditional ski stance. Then, as you land your last squat, jump drop right into your ski tuck posture and keep low with your hips and thighs and do low pulsing ski tuck squats for 60 seconds. Try to only move your hips up and down about four inches and keep continual motion and tension on the legs and glutes for the full 60 seconds. Four sets of this will create a great muscular endurance demand on the major muscles involved in dynamic skiing.
Core strength: Core strength is certainly a catch phrase in fitness but is often misunderstood. While the abdominals are the go-to muscles in many peoples "core" work, they are just one of the muscle groups that are involved with pelvis and hip stabilization necessary for good skiing and riding. This stabilization is what is required for smooth transfer of power through the lower extremities, especially on uneven terrain. A good core program for an alpine athlete will involve many drills such as plank holds, side planks, medicine ball work and drills controlling rotational forces. This will best prepare the skier or rider for maintaining good posture and technique when they get onto snow.
Dogma Athletica is launching a very unique ski conditioning program headlined by two of Dogma's talented trainers - Jake Wells and Brendan Finneran. The program will be run as small groups so you will be guaranteed to receive the best instruction and support. These classes will begin the week of Sept. 24 and run for eight weeks. This will lead you right into the ski season strong, fit and agile. The program will be composed of three specific training cycles within the eight-week program. Each will focus on a certain aspect of fitness paramount to skiing success. The program will include full access to Dogma Athletica, two specific workouts per week with your designated coach, structured cardio workouts to do on your own, yoga for skiers, beginning and ending body composition testing, and nutritional and fueling advice. The entire eight-week program, including the two-month Dogma Athletica membership, is $475. Participants will also get special discounts at a few local ski shops to gear up for the season. Contact Dogma general manager Sarah Moore at 970-688-4433 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to register or with questions.
Rod Connolly is an exercise physiologist and owner of Dogma Athletica in Edwards. Email comments about this column to email@example.com.