On August 24, 2001, Austrian Hermann Maier was riding his custom-made motorcycle near the town of Radstadt, Austria, when he swerved into a ditch to avoid colliding with an oncoming Mercedes. Pinned beneath his bike with a crushed leg, the two-time Olympic champ experienced massive bleeding in his muscles. Damaged nerve tissue paralyzed him from the waist down. In a seven-hour surgery, doctors repaired his compound fracture with a 15-inch rod—and they couldn’t say if Maier would ever walk again, let alone ski. Forget withstanding six g’s in a Hahnenkamm downhill.
But just 521 days after the accident, Maier won a World Cup Super G in Kitzbühel, and last season he took the overall World Cup title. What’s more incredible than the comeback is how he pulled it off. Though his massive quads would suggest marathon weight sets and hours of plyometrics, Maier’s training was—and had been for some time—90 percent cardiovascular. Post-crash, he lost nearly 40 pounds and his calf swelled bigger than his thigh. He simply couldn’t train like a heavyweight. What made him so strong—and brought him to full recovery—was the 10 hours a day, six days a week he spent pedaling the wheels of a stationary bike. In essence, Maier was training less like a ski racer and more like Lance Armstrong.
Maier’s trainers say that what makes his program so effective is the careful monitoring of lactate levels in his blood, which they measure with a pinprick to his earlobe every hour. If the levels are too high, he spins slower; too low, he ratchets up the intensity. Training in this window of efficiency increases his oxygen-carrying capacity without overtraining or injuring his muscles. “It’s all about easy cycling in the right amounts, says Maier.Before meeting his trainer, Heinrich Bergmüller, Maier trained like a pro weight lifter. It wasn’t until 1997, when Maier broke his arm in a bad fall, that he switched to Bergmüller’s philosophy of endurance training. “Someone should have slowed me down…and thrown me out of the weight room, says Maier. Six weeks after relinquishing his power training for stamina training—and all but giving up weight lifting (the heaviest weight he works with is a mere 11 pounds)—Maier won his first World Cup race, a super G at Garmisch.
If you like the idea of dumping the barbells and getting stronger, try these sample workouts, cribbed from the Herminator’s book The Hermann Maier Performance Program. Though the exercises don’t require dumbbells, your strength gains should be intense.Click the articles below for the workouts.
Train Like a Turtle: The Acid Test
Ask a personal trainer, physical therapist, or endurance coach where you can get a lactate test in your hometown. Cycling clubs like Carmichael Training Systems Performance Center (ctsaspen.com) in Aspen offer the test, which usually runs about $100. If you plan to check your lactate often, get a credit card—sized Lactate Pro Portable Lactate Analyzer at hdosport.com; the starter package is $400.
“It is not your pulse that is decisive, but the lactate which controls the heart rate, Bergmüller says. Figure it out, stay in the saddle for the long haul, and you’ll be skiing longer, stronger, and injury free. Just be careful on the Harley.