Vail Daily column: Everything is dependent on strength | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Everything is dependent on strength

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

From a fitness perspective, skiing and snowboarding aren't defined as high powered sports. The fitness requirements for skiing include movement competency, muscular strength and anaerobic work capacity. Last week I detailed why strength development precedes power development and why this is so important. Rumor has it the article was convoluted; I'll clear this up firsthand, and then move onto the discussion of work capacity, and how to obtain it.

Strength is the productive application of force. If lifter A can squat 100 pounds, and lifter B can squat 200 pounds, lifter B is more productive at applying force; he is twice as strong as lifter A (at least in the squat, but this is a great analogy to make this point).

I'll assume both of these lifters are good skiers. I'll also assume that during a turn, both skiers must apply 100 pounds of centripetal force to the snow via the downhill ski to maintain an arc at a reasonable speed of 25 mph. Each and every turn, skier A is exerting 100 percent of his maximum effort to maintain the arc; skier B is exerting 50 percent of his maximum effort, each turn of the same speed and radius.

The reason that strength development precedes power and work capacity training is because these fitness qualities are dependent on strength. All fitness qualities, other than basic movement competency, are exclusively dependent on an individual's ability to directly apply force to the pavement, the bike pedals, the snow or the turf. Power, by definition, is how quickly an individual can effectively apply the strength they possess. So here is where the rubber meets the road. Why are we actively trying to develop power in ski conditioning classes, when the participants don't even have reasonable strength levels to begin with?

A rational response is, "Sure, we have reasonable strength levels." I will argue that the vast majority of individuals do not. Even if you do, I doubt you've advanced to a high enough level of strength that would necessitate explosive, plyometric training. If you can back squat twice your bodyweight, or perform a strict one-leg pistol squat in which your hips touch your ankle on the descent, you probably have adequate strength. Considering that strength training improves power, but power training doesn't improve strength. I rest my case.

Furthermore, skiing isn't a power sport from the standpoint that the rider must make such fast muscle contractions that necessitates aggressive power training. You must be able to react quickly, but quickness can be developed through much safer alternatives than high impact plyometrics such as box jumps; agility ladders, jumping rope, and basic shuffling of the feet will get the job done without putting you at risk. I hope this clears the confusion on power training, and the importance of strength firsthand.

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The greater implication with strength development is the impact it has on work capacity. Work capacity is the ability to maintain precise composure, postural control, and technical execution in the presence of fatigue and lactic acid buildup. Work capacity is a general term for endurance, I suppose. Here's another analogy. Assume two laborers who must move several 50 pound boxes into a moving truck. Laborer A can only lift 100 pounds from the ground safely. Laborer B can lift 200 pounds. Each time laborer A moves a box to the truck, he exerts 50 percent of his maximum effort. Laborer B is only exerting 25 percent of his maximum effort. Who will fatigue faster? Who will be able to endure moving the rest of the boxes? Which skier in the above example will fatigue faster? Skier A, who can only squat 100 pounds, or skier B who can squat 200 pounds?

Everything is dependent on strength. Endurance is specifically the ability to repeatedly apply force to the ground without fatiguing over time. All but highly specialized endurance athletes must focus on developing reasonable enough levels of strength using basic exercises to accomplish decent work capacity. What are basic, reasonable levels for mountain enthusiasts? It varies depending on age, movement ability, and training history. As a general guideline, if you can't pick up your own bodyweight from the ground, you need to focus on strength and forget everything else for a while. Can you squat your bodyweight with a bar on your back, or your shoulders? Can you pick up half of your bodyweight in one hand and walk 100 yards with it? Get to these standards at a minimum which are easy to accomplish for all but special populations with orthopedic challenges. Your work capacity will be there when you need it. Have a great week!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards' passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at http://www.r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.