Training and travel simply do not mix well. Unless you have the time and energy to track down a real gym (often miles from your hotel), your workout gets stripped to 30 painfully boring, relatively worthless minutes on a rusty bike in the hotel's basement. "I'm over staying at places with wimpy gyms," says Chris Davenport, world freeskiing and 24 Hours of Aspen champion, who spends up to half the year on the road. "Before I know it, I've lost any motivation to work out at all."
Thankfully, road-warrior fitness doesn't have to be a chore. Wendy McClure, co-owner of Body Dynamics—a Boulder, Colorado—based physical therapy provider for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Teams—has created a high-efficiency workout that holds its own against any home-built regimen. "The biggest advantage to this workout is that it gives you maximum benefits for a minimal time commitment," says McClure.
This interval circuit workout is designed to simulate a ski day: It elevates the heart rate quickly, maintains it at a high level for a short period of time (30—45 seconds), and follows the effort with easier core and upper-body exerises. The circuit is also designed to increase blood lactate levels in your legs—making your thighs burn like they do at the bottom of a long run—and teach your body, over time, to quickly flush out the lactic acid. "Because the rate of lactate relief is related to its concentration—the higher the concentration, the faster it can be removed—interval training that increases lactic acid levels improves an athlete's capacity to remove it," explains McClure.
Don't bother looking for a bike or treadmill. All you'll need is an hour, good shoes, and a couple hundred yards of cement. "When we run or bike, we are typically not using the metabolic systems required for skiing. The interval circuit allows the athlete to perform sport-specific movements at a realistic pace—much quicker than we would do in a weight-room workout or running and cycling."
The circuit does have one drawback, however: Plan on people staring at you. Most folks aren't used to seeing telemark jumps in front of the Washington Monument or Russian twists on its lawn. "And watch out for mean security guys in stairwells," says Davenport. "I was in a hotel in New York doing squat jumps from the 40th floor to the 70th, and some security guy came in and told me I had to leave. I argued, but he kicked me out anyway for 'security reasons.' Still, I was limping after three sets, so I must have been doing something right."
The Circuit Interval
The high-intensity effort packed into circuit training is an invitation to injury, so a good warm up is essential. And we're not talking about Jane Fonda bouncing stretches. Plan on a ten-minute jog at a good pace, which will effectively move your blood from your core to your extremities. (If you find yourself dizzy at any time during the circuit, especially after a tough exercise that drives blood to the muscles in your legs, take a 30-second break of fast walking to move the blood back to the heart and head.)
McClure's intervals have three levels of intensity, based on increases in time, reps, and levels of difficulty. To find a starting point, run through a full circuit at Level 1. (This should take about one hour including the warm-up.) Remember, proper form is paramount. If you compromise technique, then the speed and strength gains will be limited as well. Once you establish the correct intensity, run the circuit as many as four times (if you've got a few hours to kill, or be killed by).
Trains: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Upper Back, Core
Directions: Keep your body on a flat plane and your core tight. Descend until your nose touches the ground, then return to the starting position and repeat. Pick one of the below difficulty levels and perform 15 reps:
- Level 1: Standard push-up, medium to wide hand position
- Level 2: Using the same hand width, descend in a five-second count—this slow descent is called eccentric loading; then explode up, back to starting position
- Level 3: Descend as in a standard push-up, then explode up so your hands leave the ground.
Trains: Quads, Glutes, Hamstring, Core
Directions: Place the top of your right foot behind you on a bench or stable chair. Put your left foot far enough in front of you so that when you descend, your knee is directly over your ankle. Descend until your back knee touches the ground, making sure your knee tracks forward and doesn't shift side to side. Pick one of the below difficulty levels and perform 15-30 reps per leg:
- Level 1: Lunge with back leg on a chair or bench.
- Level 2: Eccentric lunge with back leg on a chair; descend slowly for five seconds to increase eccentric load, then explode back to the starting position.
- Level 3: Alternating lunge jumps; stand with feet together, then jump up and land in a lunge position, descending until your back knee touches the ground. Jump up again, switching feet in the air, and land in a lunge position with the opposite foot in front (this equals one rep).
3. Jumping Squat
Trains: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes
Directions: Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down so your butt touches your ankles (or as low as you can go), then explode up and forward using the swing of your arms to help you jump, keeping your core tight and your back straight. Land on your heels, knees bent and facing forward. Return to the squat position and repeat. Pick one of the difficulty levels below and perform 30-45 reps:
- Level 1: Perform jumping squats on flat surface.
- Level 2: Perform jumping squat up a hill.
- Level 3: Perform jumping squats up steps or onto a bench.
4. Russian Twist
Trains: Core, Back, Rotational Stability
Directions: Begin in a standard sit-up position. Keeping your back straight and stomach tight, lift your upper body to a 45-degree angle. Holding this position and keeping head stationary, rotate shoulders and arms right to left and back, 6 times each side. Return to lying flat on the ground. This is one set. Pick one of the difficulty levels below and do 3 sets of 12 to 4 sets of 20.
- Level 1: Perform exercise with your feet on the ground in front of you.
- Level 2: Perform exercise with your feet off the ground and knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Level 3: Perform exercise with your legs straight and held at a 45-degree angle off the ground, keeping your body in a V-position.
5. Lateral Jumps or Shuffle
Trains: Lateral Power, Knee Stability, Quads, Hips, Upper Glutes
Directions: Stand with feet together, hands up and forward. Shuffle to the right twice, finishing in a deep single-leg squat on your right leg. Immediately explode up and left, shuffling twice and finishing in a single-leg squat on your left leg. This is one rep. Pick one intensity level from below and perform 30-60 reps:
- Level 1: Shuffle twice to one side, do a deep knee bend, then shuffle to the other side.
- Level 2: Bound laterally, ending with a deep single-leg squat. Explode up and back to your starting leg for another single-leg squat.
- Level 3: Same as level 2, but bound forward at a 45-degree angle.
6. Side-Lying Plank
Trains: Back and Shoulder Stability, Core Stability, Hip Complex
Directions: Lie on your left side with your left elbow directly below your shoulder and your right arm pointing toward the sky. Bend your left knee so that your lower leg is at a 90-degree angle to your right leg. Keeping your hips open and core tight (don't bend at the waist), lift your hips straight up (laterally) as far as you can, then return so your hip touches the ground. Pick one of the following difficulty levels and perform 15-30 reps on each side.
- Level 1: Lower knee is bent beneath upper leg for support, top arm pointing toward the sky.
- Level 2: Same movement, but with both legs extended, feet stacked on top of each other.
- Level 3: Same movement, but extend both legs and lift the top leg to a 45-degree angle.