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In any sport, the less your body can handle, the less you’re capable of. You’re not going to be able to crush Pali Face all day if your definition of exercise is the walk from your car to the office. We talked to Dr. Mark Pitcher, a chiropractor and physiologist in Vail, as well as a specialist in TRX suspension training, to get a better understanding of pre-season training.
“In general [skiers] should focus on creating durability. One of the things we see with skiers is they over-focus on quad development. They overlook the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors, and lose some of the protection against injury,” says Pitcher. "We get better at doing our sport by doing our sport," he says. That said, "We become more durable by using muscles that offset that."
You know those yellow straps you see at the gym, usually in use by annoyingly fit people? Those are TRX suspension trainers. If you’ve used them, you know that suspension training forces your core to engage with almost every exercise, and targets muscle groups much more acutely. If you’ve never used suspension training, you’ll understand as soon as you try: it burns. Luckily, the training kit is adjustable, and it’s easy to find an appropriate difficulty.
"Skiing has a high neuromuscular demand, and it requires balance, agility, strength, endurance and power,” says Pitcher. You can improve those measures of fitness by with these TRX-specific exercises. All of these exercises could be done without the TRX equipment—found at most gyms or purchased online—but the suspension aspect increases the intensity and efficiency of this workout.
The hamstrings are crucial in supporting the knee joint from the back side and act as primary restraints for anterior translation of the tibia on the femur (which happens when skiers get in the "back seat," often resulting in ACL tears.
Translation: Hammies stop your bones from slipping around, which stops you from wrecking your ACL.
How to do it: Place the handles mid-calf, with your feet under the anchor point. Lift your hips and engage your core. Pull your toes toward your body, drive your heels down, and pull knees over hips. Extend your legs toward the anchor point, keeping a slight bend in the knees. Work up to 15 reps.
Lateral stability through the spine is important in maintaining one’s center of gravity and balance during high speed turns.
Translation: Planks tighten your jelly-core—and jelly's the enemy of high speed and fun.
How to do it: Place the handles mid-calf and turn onto your side, keeping your forearm (easier) or hand (harder) stacked under your shoulder, as well as your hips stacked. The heel of your top foot should touch the toe of the bottom foot. Lift your body, keeping weight over your forearm or hand with your shoulders stacked. Lower your hip to the ground with good form. Do four repetitions of a 10-second hold (with three to five seconds of rest in between) on each side.
Inverted Row (w/ hinge)
This is another great core strength exercise that will strengthen the back of the body (the posterior chain.) Often when skiers hit a mogul, the inertia can throw the body forward. This forward momentum needs to be quickly countered by the low back, glutes, and hamstrings for the skier to maintain balance and avoid falling.
Translation: This will help you check yourself before you wreck yourself.
How to do it: Shorten the suspension trainer so you can hang directly under the anchor point without your back touching the ground. With your chest under the anchor, arms extended above your body, feet flat, and knees bent to 90 degrees, pull your hips up to a plank position—aiming your chest for the anchor point and your shoulders down and back. Drive your elbows to the sides of your body. Lower your body back to the starting position, keeping your shoulders down and back. 15 repetitions.
Single-leg stabiilty is extremely important in skiing. Often times skiers find themselves on one leg and they have to be able to "pull it together" or disaster strikes. The lunge not only strengthens the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, but the muscles that control rotation at the hip; creating a stable and balanced platform.
Translation: Because mono-skiing is hard.
How to do it: Adjust the trainer so its handles are at the middle of your calf. Place one foot in a cradle, directly underneath the anchor point, with your shoulders aligned over your hips. Drive the suspended knee back and lower your hips until your back knee is two inches above the ground. Your front knee should be bent at a 90-degree angle at this point, and not jutting out over your toes. Drive through the heel of your grounded leg, squeeze your glutes, and lift your chest to return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times on each side.
Lateral agility is a hallmark character trait for all proficient skiers. Being able to finish a turn and quickly start another is similar to a NFL running back being able to cut and change directions. The skater helps with deceleration and acceleration, translating into edge control on the mountain.
Translation: Ski like DeMarco Murray runs.
How to do it: Keep your suspension trainer adjusted so the handles are at mid-calf. Stack your elbows under your shoulders with your feet together. Jump to one side, driving the opposite leg behind your leg—don’t let that foot touch the ground (Unless your knees hurt, in which case you can touch your toe to the ground). Land in control, with minimal foot noise, then jump to the opposite side. Repeat, alternating sides, for 30 seconds.
Skiers’ legs need power and endurance—and to protect the joints. This drill trains you to keep your legs fresh for the last runs of the day. Focus on the deceleration component of this drill and knee alignment over the feet when you land.
Translation: Jumping is great training.
How to do it: With the handles at mid-calf, stand with your feet hip-width apart and stack your elbows under your shoulders. Lower your hips down and back, with your weight in the heels. Prepare to explode up—drive through your heels to jump as high as possible. Repeat for 30 seconds.