You think you've got sore quads after a full day on the slopes? Imagine the athletes who compete in the annual 24 Hours of Aspen ski race. From one high noon to the next, they try to rack up the most runs in the shortest cumulative time from the top of Aspen Mountain to the bottom. Combine sleep deprivation with the absurd thigh burn of tucking at speeds of up to 96 miles per hour for 230,000 vertical feet, and you've got an athletic phenomenon that makes your average ski day seem like a cake walk.
Needless to say, training for this torture is intense. But the regimen can be toned down a few notches for your own preseason prep. The same rule applies for 24 Hours racers and recreational skiers alike: Everyone wants to go all day long.
"The basis of the program is similar to standard ski conditioning, only magnified," explains Bill Fabrocini, director of sports performance at the Aspen Club, who has tailor-made programs for Chris Davenport, Kate McBride, Anda Rojs, and other 24 Hours champs. These athletes might do traditional side-to-side jumps-but they'll do them with weights in their hands. Or they'll perform exercises in an order meant to accelerate fatigue, like squatting while holding a weight, then going straight into a balance move. As two-time competitor Matt Ross puts it, "You do a lot of stuff to beat yourself down and teach your body to recover, then do it all over again."
Underlying Fabrocini's program is the concept of strength endurance, which is the length of time a muscle can repeat an activity. Think of how many squats you can perform until your legs just give out-that's strength endurance. Equally important is power endurance, the ability to perform an explosive movement over time-like when you pound an entire mogul field without stopping.
Another part of the workout is what Fabrocini calls "pain training"-it's a way to increase the threshold at which the burning accumulation of lactic acid becomes unbearable. "These skiers are highly motivated to deal with pain," he says. Translation: They know how to suck it up. Many drills also hone concentration. Fabrocini might work on focus by chucking a heavy ball at an athlete who's already worn out.
The program's results can easily be measured-literally. "I went from 184 to 200 pounds-and it was all muscle mass," says Ross. "I could barely get into my shirts, and my sleep pattern was really off because of excess energy."
So if you want to be a nonstop, pumped-up skiing machine by first snowfall, it's time to train, Fabrocini-style. Bring along a partner to push yourself and start with our "sane" workout. As the season approaches, build your way up to the "psycho" version used by the 24 Hours racers-if you can.
(strength endurance): If you don't want to use a machine, you can press your partner. Just think speed-do a lot of reps at a fast pace for the duration of the circuit or superset. If you're at the gym, the weight on the machine should be approximately 30 percent of the maximum weight you can push in a single rep.
Make it harder by: adding more weight as you build up strength.
(strength endurance): Stand on one leg, knee slightly bent, your other foot resting on a chair behind you and most of your weight on the front leg. Do knee bends with the front leg.
Make it harder by: jumping off the front foot rather than just bending up and down.
(power endurance): Jump three times from side to side over a low box, landing evenly on both legs; then squat down on one side of the box and pulse up and down three times.
Make it harder by: jumping continuously from side to side without stopping to squat and pulse.
(power endurance): Stand straight up; then, bending your right knee, spring laterally off that leg to the left side, bending your left knee as you land on that leg. Repeat side to side (think Apolo Anton Ohno).
Make it harder by: looping an elastic band over a stationary object, putting it around your waist, and working one side at a time.
SINGLE-LEG KNEE BEND
(strength endurance): Stand on one leg, your other leg raised in front of you. Do knee bends on the stance leg; get as low as you can while maintaining control.
Make it harder by: holding a five- to 10-pound medicine ball overhead and rotating to the stance-leg side (bringing the ball low) as you do knee bends.
JUMP JACK TUCK
From a low squat position, do jumping jacks (sans the arms); stay low throughout.
Make it harder by: putting an elastic band around both ankles for more resistance and getting into a lower, tuck position.
(power endurance): Stand in a modified tuck or squat position, hands behind your head; jump by exploding upward, then decelerate more slowly by counting to two as you land.
Make it harder by: doing the jumps on a wobble board, which challenges your balance.
(strength endurance): Lean sideways with a Swiss ball between you and your partner (or against a wall) at approximately elbow level-this helps you simulate the angulated position of skiing. Lift the inside leg and bend the outside knee so that you're in a low squat position; then pulse up and down on the outside leg, going only two to three inches each way.
Make it harder by: starting in a lower squat position.
The variations include the basic tuck walk (walking while in a modified tuck); the lateral tuck walk (taking small steps side to side); the ankle hold tuck walk (grasping your ankles with your hands); and the stair tuck walk (walking up and down stairs).