What’s the best way to prepare for ski season?
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
As the ski season fast approaches, many of the valleys 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 good fitness for skiing. The first thing to do is understand the physiological demands of alpine skiing.
Alpine skiing is a unique sport in its 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.
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 alpine skiing.
Alpine skiing places 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 90-120 seconds. During this time, these primary muscle groups are under constant strain in both an 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 feel – especially early in the ski season and when skiers are 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. Since the demands on the muscular systems are unique and they involve the largest muscle groups a skier’s heart rate can get close to maximal during the course of an aggressive ski run. Repeat this many times during the course of day and you can quickly understand why a solid dry land training program is essential for our valley’s ski enthusiasts to have a fun season and minimize injury potential.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Unfortunately, most skiers’ fitness preparations don’t effectively mimic the requirements needed to ski at their best level. Often the activities they do in the summer will create fitness but not in the specific demands needed for alpine skiing.
Let’s look closer at four of the main physiological demands of alpine skiing and 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 skiing 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 maximal. 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 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 4 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 people’s “core” work, they are just one of the muscle groups that are involved with pelvis and hip stabilization necessary for good skiing. This stabilization is what is required for smooth transfer of power through the lower extremities especially on uneven terrain. A good core program for a skier should involve many drills such as plank holds, side planks, medicine ball work and drills controlling rotational forces. This will best prepare the skier for maintaining good posture and technique when they get onto snow.
• Agility: Agility training involves creating unpredictability for the athlete. This creates a neurological response that over time creates a better ability to react and ski a good line. The goal in agility training is to create more efficient motor firing patterns and better skill in rapid motion. This involves drills with quick changes of direction. Drills that are effective for skiers agility can involve lateral hops, ladder runs, alternate single leg bounding and low hurdle hops. When performing the movements, think of quickly controlling the forces in one direction and then changing direction in an athletic manner. Several sets of these drills three times a week will help with your quickness and ability to react well on your skis.
These are all physical aspects that can be trained effectively and will greatly improve your ability to drive your turns have fun on those epic powder days and minimize injury. But it is important to have your fitness training over the next 6 to 8 weeks best mimic the specific demands that will occur when you hit the slopes. Try to do some training that involves the components mentioned above and if you have questions contact a qualified coach or fitness professional. This would be a small investment and a valuable return to help you have a great season and feel at your best.
Dogma Athletica is holding a unique skiing dry land fitness camp this fall. Head coach is Curt Nash, who has over 20 years of preparing skiers for optimum performance. This camp will run for seven weeks and begins Monday and is open to only 10 participants. If you have interest in the dry land ski fitness camp, call Dogma Athletica general manager Casey Gilbert at 970-688-4433.
Rod Connolly is an exercise physiologist and owner of Dogma Athletica in Edwards