The difference between a good season and a great season? That's often determined before the snow falls. A little time in the gym now will pay big dividends on the slopes later. And there's still plenty of time to start. Because what you can't do on skis has a lot to do with what you're not doing in the gym. Here, we outline how to train for a variety of situations on the slopes: enduring big vertical, wrangling rough terrain, charging steeps, and attacking the trees with speed.
Enduring Vertical: Cardiovascular Fitness
Staying power on the slopes demands three kinds of cardiovascular fitness: an aerobic base (essential for recovery), a high lactate threshold (so you can ski longer before you feel the burn) and lactate power (which provides the oomph you need for intense efforts). Here's a plan to help you do all three.
- Aerobic Base: Choose your training modality (biking, running, swimming, rowing, power walking) and commit to three to five weekly aerobic sessions per week for three months. Sessions can range from 20 to 90 minutes, depending on your fitness level, but slowly increase the time (five minutes per week) to build up your aerobic base over the three-month period. Building an aerobic base takes time. Each training session should be moderately challenging but not unbearable. You should be able to converse during your training time—no huffing and puffing.
- Lactate Threshold: Choose a cardio training modality and warm-up for 10 minutes. Then do a two-minute interval at 60 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, aiming for a level of intensity that is challenging but can be sustained for the length of the interval. (If you use a heart-rate monitor, visit active.com/fitness/calculators to determine your max.) Back off the intensity to an easy pace for two to three minutes, then repeat. Do five or six intervals at the same pace, followed by a 10-minute cool-down. As you improve, gradually boost the intensity. You can also increase the interval time to up to three minutes.
- Lactate Power: Warm up for 10 minutes. Then do a 10- to 12-second all-out effort. Rest for 30 to 90 seconds, depending on your fitness level. Do six to 10 intervals, then end with a 10-minute cool-down.
Wrangling Rough Terrain: Mobility and Balance
Handling erratic conditions is like dealing with erratic people: You need flexibility and balance to get you through intact. Perform these next exercises before each workout and ski day, paying close attention to form and alignment. The payoffs: effective training and smooth skiing.
- Standing T: Stand with feet together and your arms straight out from your sides. Lift your left leg straight out behind you and lean your torso forward until it's parallel to the floor. Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your left heel. Hold for five seconds, return to the starting position, then switch legs. Continue alternating legs for 20 reps.
On the Topic: Four Yoga Moves to Improve Balance
- Curtsy Lunge: Stand in a half-squat position—feet shoulder-width apart, knees behind your toes, weight on your heels, torso lifted and hands in front of you for balance. Cross your right leg behind and beyond your left (like in a curtsy), and drop as low as you can, keeping your pelvis and shoulders straight ahead and your weight over your heels. Push up to return to starting position. Do 10 reps with your right foot back, then 10 with the left foot back. For a well-rounded warm-up, mix in forward, backward, and lateral lunges (10-15 reps with each leg for each exercise).
- Knee-to-Chest Raises: Stand upright on both feet with your legs shoulder-width apart. Bend your right knee, and place your hands on your right shin just below your knee. Pull your knee as close to your chest as you can without leaning forward. Keep your abs tight and your head lifted. Hold for two seconds. Release right knee and repeat with other leg. Continue alternating for 20 reps.
- Fast Feet: Stand with your knees slightly bent and your weight over the balls of your feet. Run in place as fast as you can for 10 seconds, letting your arms swing easily and rhythmically by your sides. Rest for 30 seconds. Do five sets.
- Dynamic Stretching: Contemporary research shows that static stretching (holding poses for several seconds) before physical activity can hinder muscle performance. Experts now advocate warming up with mobility exercises: controlled, dynamic stretches that take your joints through a full range of motion accompanied by low-intensity drills that mimic the activities you'll be doing afterward.
Read more: Skiing and Your ACL
Charging the Steeps and Moguls: Explosive Power
Without tension, a spring is ineffective, and without explosive power, a skier's brawn is wasted on steep terrain and in the mogul fields. The following medicine ball exercises develop spring-loaded strength and mobility in your legs and core, granting you the power you need to rule the steeps and bash bumps.
- Overhead Slam: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a medicine ball with both hands, and extend your arms above and slightly behind your head. Drop into a half-squat position. Simultaneously bring your hand down in front of you and slam the ball to the ground as forcefully as possible. Retrieve the ball. Do 10-12 reps.
- Lunge Knee Toss: Stand with your left foot forward, right foot about three feet back. With your right hand, hold a medicine ball on top of your right thigh. Drive your right knee forward and upward, "tossing" the ball with your knee. Continue the motion by taking a large step forward with your right foot and dropping into a lunge. You can throw the ball into a wall or have a partner return it to you. Do eight reps, then switch legs.
- Wood Chop Slam: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent slightly. Hold a medicine ball with both hands, extend your arms upward and to the right, and shift your weight in the same direction. Then, shifting your weight to the left, bring the ball down across your body and slam it into the floor to your left. Retrieve the ball. Do eight reps, then switch sides.
Attacking the Trees: Agility
Glade-skiing is a head game: To do it well, your mind must trust that your feet can react quickly to whatever comes your way. Use these four speed and agility exercises to convince yourself that you're up to the task. With all of these, go lightly. Use your imagination to get the most out of your agility training: Pretend the ground is covered in burning coals, and keep your feet moving. The less time they spend on the floor, the better. Work out when you're well-rested, and don't overdo it.
- Single-Leg Target Bounds: Tape four 12-inch squares on the floor in a zigzag pattern about four feet apart. Push hard off your left foot, land inside the first square with your right foot, then immediately leap to the next square, landing on your left foot. After you hit all four squares, turn around and bound back to the start.
- Two-Legged Target Hops: Tape a four-square pattern on the floor. Stand in the back right square, and hop with both feet to the front right square. Immediately hop sideways to the front left square, then to the back left square. Continue that patterns for 20 seconds. Rest for two minutes. Next, repeat in clockwise pattern, starting from the back right square to the back left square. Do four sets, alternating patterns.
- Ladder Crossover: Stand to the right of the first rung of an agility ladder. Push off your right foot and land in the first square with your left foot. Immediately cross your right foot behind you and land on it to the left of the ladder. Hop onto your left foot. Repeat that pattern in the other direction, and continue crossing back and forth until you reach the end of the ladder. Rest for one minute. Then repeat the pattern, jumping backward through the ladder.
- Footwork Ladder: Use an agility ladder or tape a 15-foot-long ladder pattern to the floor. Run through it as quickly as possible, touching down with each foot inside every square. Rest for one minute, then repeat, running laterally. Rest for another minute. Repeat running backward to complete the circuit. Do three circuits, resting for three to five minutes between each.
Want more injury prevention tips and ski-specific strength and mobility exercises? SKI and AIM AdventureU teamed up with JC Cole, certified strength and conditioning coach at the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, to design the online course, Ski Injury Prevention. Get access to the comprehensive eight-week training plan that focuses on increasing joint mobility, strengthening core skiing muscles, and building endurance so you can ski bell-to-bell and injury-free all season long. Register at skimag.com/injuryprevention.