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Last season, Thomas Vonn rocketed his way to an improbable run for glory. Over the span of mere months, the GS specialist literally raced from the development depths of the U.S. Ski Team to a National Alpine Championship title and a top-10 Olympic finish. His ascendancy would not have been possible without leaving serious blood, sweat, and tears in the weight room.
Vonn’s monster regimen includes heavy lifts completed at an explosive pace, brutal speedwork, and hours of jumping and bounding exercises. His mission (accomplished): the ruthless pursuit of power. “I race against plenty of skiers who are technically better than I am,” says Vonn. “But thanks to my power, I can take a straighter line and beat most of them.” And the program works even better for bump skiers. “In freestyle skiing, every movement needs to be quick and strong,” says Jeremy Bloom, 2002 World Cup mogul champ. “With good power, I can absorb a mogul and initiate my next movement right away. It means I can hit faster speeds and bigger air. And that’s the whole point.”
Even if you lack a national title or tree-trunk quads, you can follow Vonn’s lead to build skiing power. And that means working beyond plain brawn. Crack open a physics textbook, and you’ll find a simple formula: Power = Force x Velocity. Put more simply, power (measured in watts, just like a light bulb) is the pairing of strength and speed that lets you sprint faster, jump higher, throw farther, and otherwise kick butt. Olympic lifters, football players, and discus throwers have long trained to unleash a mix of raw force with quickness. More recently, rowers and world-class cyclists have embraced the philosophy, turning watts into victories.
And now top ski racers are using it, too. “We’ve done a lot of research into power, and we know how it can translate out on the slopes,” says Andy Walshe, sports science director for the U.S. Ski Team. “It translates into better reactive ability, meaning you’ll absorb the terrain better and explode into your next move. You’ll be a more confident, comfortable skier.”
The team uses a sophisticated multipronged regimen to dial up the power of each skier. “Some of our racers are strong as hell, but the velocity of their movements is slow. Others are speedy but have gaps in their strength,” says Walshe, who then tailors a workout to help team members (including star pupil Vonn) target their weaknesses. The ingredients of this power plan include traditional weight lifting; jumping and bounding exercises known as plyometrics; and ballistic strength training, which involves explosive movements with lighter weights. “The workouts are a killer,” says Vonn. “But I have no doubt about the results.”