By Kim Fuller Published in the Denver Post
A summer spent hiking and pedaling long miles provides a good foundation for ski and snowboard season, but professional trainers and physical therapists recommend some time in the gym during the weeks leading up to your first downhill run.
For skiers and snowboarders, getting ready for snow-sport season means building strength, stability and even cardio fitness — and always working to ensure injury prevention.
Knee injuries are the most prevalent injuries in skiing, said Lindsay Winninger, who has been a full-time physical therapist for World Cup and Olympic alpine skier Lindsey Vonn for two years. “Injuries to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are ranked first and second,” she said.
Snowboarders tend to get more upper-extremity injuries to joints like the wrists, elbows and shoulders, said Winninger, who is based in Vail.
“There are some essentials you want in every preseason program,” Winninger said. “Strength, flexibility and balance.”
Strength and stability
The hardest part about training for these sports is that “it’s really hard to re-create skiing when you’re not skiing,” said Eirik Hole, the U.S. Ski Team’s women’s alpine strength and conditioning coach, based in Park City, Utah.
“Even if you’re really well-prepared and have done everything right, you are probably still going to get sore after the first day,” he said.
But there are many exercises you can do to become a more solid, balanced skier or snowboarder, Hole said, and work on your endurance. To prepare for both sports, he recommends squats, deadlifts and single-leg lunges.
“You just need to make sure your legs are ready to go as hard as you want to go, for as long as you like to go,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to do heavy squats or heavy deadlifts or heavy lunges. You just have to be able to do them for a little while.”
That leg strength is the most important thing skiers and riders can focus on in the gym in the preseason said Alexander Bunt, a high-performance consultant for Red Bull and trainer for Vonn.
Every turn you make on the slopes puts significant force on your legs, Bunt said. But increasing your strength reduces the relative force, resulting in less fatigue and improving the quality of your skiing or riding.
That strength also aids a skier or rider’s ability to progress with new skills and avoid injury.
Watch any World Cup race or snowboard event, Bunt said, and it’s easy to see that both sports are becoming much more explosive and dynamic. That trend that is trickling down to the eager masses of recreational athletes, and it warrants explosive, dynamic training in the preseason.
That’s why, in addition to various kinds of squats, members of the University of Denver alpine ski team do a lot of lateral plyometric work, which helps them train to be able to absorb high levels of force, said Matt Van Dyke, strength and conditioning coach for DU’s alpine skiers.
In skiing and snowboarding, muscles are put under a high level of eccentric force: muscles are absorbing energy in a loaded, or active, position. Think of the impact muscles take in the bent knee position while you’re going down a set of moguls, he said. That’s eccentric muscle contraction. At home or in a gym, side-to-side skater jumps are good eccentric movements to do to create stability.
For preseason training, DU alpine skiers are in the gym doing strength and stability three days a week. They work on their cardiovascular systems, both aerobic and anaerobic, the other two days.
Their aerobic training is a longer hike or bike ride at a moderate pace. For anaerobic work, the team does high-intensity interval-style training.
Both are important for recreational snow sport athletes.
“For the general population, (training) that aerobic system is going to allow recovery to occur between runs,” Van Dyke said. “As soon as they finish and get back on the ski lift, the more well-trained their aerobic system is, the more the recovered they will be by the time they get to the top of the mountain again.”
For more intense on-snow runs, training the anaerobic system will make it easier to tolerate sustained high heart rates and recovering from lactate build-up in the muscles.
Van Dyke, Hole and Bunt all recommend aerobic and anaerobic training for ski preparation.
Build an aerobic base first, with five days per week of training at a moderate heart rate for 60 to 90 minutes. Later, shift the training to more anaerobic work, with two days per week of intervals, like 3 minutes all-out alternating with 3 minutes of easy recovery.
“Start with three to five intervals the first week, and progress to eight to 10 intervals subsequent weeks,” Bunt said.
Warm up well
If you’re driving up to the mountains, it’s important that you warm up a bit after being in the car. Be thorough about it, Van Dyke said.
“The hamstring sit-and-reach is obsolete,” he said. “Focus on a general, dynamic warm-up where you are basically getting that blood flowing to the muscles and getting the muscles moving, and then get your joints working through full range of motion.”
Even if you’re not driving to the mountain, warm up properly. “Lindsey performs an extensive warm-up every morning prior to heading out on the mountain,” Winninger said. “We target flexibility, balance and activating those muscles she will be using the most, such as her glutes, quads and hamstrings.”
To work on the flexibility of your hip flexors and quads (tight areas for most skiers and riders), during the warm-up, Bunt said to use a “stretch and release” method: Letting the breath initiate and complete a movement, exhale and move into the stretch. Then inhale, relax and move out of the stretch. Pre-ski stretches should be performed for three to five rounds of breath, he said.
Bunt said to do some apres-ski stretching as well, which helps to shift the nervous system into a recovery state, so that the body will be ready to go the next day. Post-ski stretches should target any areas that have become tight from a day on the hill, including hip flexors, quads and low back, but can also include more global stretches in the hamstrings, glutes and shoulders.
PHOTOS BELOW COURTESY OF THE DENVER POST
Basic ski workout
Work three sets of one or two leg exercises into your routine twice a week. Do more reps (for 1 minute) with lighter weight for endurance, or fewer reps (6 to 8) with more weight to work on power and stability.
Squats and squat variations: For traditional squats, place feet shoulder-width apart and place a barbell on your shoulders behind your head and keep your chest up as you sit back like you’re sitting into a chair. Maintain a firm core to protect your back. Press through heels to come back up. Variations: front squats (barbell on upper chest instead of behind head); dumbbell squats (hold weights in each hand); single-leg squats (lift one leg forward and hover as you squat on the other leg).
Deadlifts: Holding a barbell and standing with a slight bend at the knee, bend forward at hips to lower barbell. Keep chest forward and spine long, lifting and lowering with hamstrings and glutes.
Lunges: Also called split squats. Elevate rear foot on box or bench behind you. Lunge forward leg into 90 degree angle, keeping knee over ankle. Press through the heel to come up; switch sides to complete one set. Variation: Walking lunges. Also: hold dumbbells in each hand.
Skater jumps: Stand on one leg, slightly bending at knee and hip. Leap forward and sideways onto other leg, landing on the ball of the opposite foot with hip and knee slightly bent to absorb the impact. Do this for 1 minute, between other lifting or individually; three sets.
Planks: Whether performing forearm plank or you’re on your hands with arms straight, place each foot in a suspension strap positioned so that your legs and feet are straight behind you. Hold for one minute; three reps.
Medicine ball: From boat pose (body forming a V while you balance on your rear) with good posture, hold a medicine ball or kettle bell in your hands. Drop weight from side to side, repeating for one minute; three one-minute reps.
Build your base: five days per week of moderate heart rate work, or zone three at a “gossip pace” (still able to talk) for 60 to 90 minutes.
Intervals: Start with two days per week of 3 minutes of all-out exercise (heart rate zones four and five), alternated with 3 minutes of easy recovery. Start with three to five intervals the first week, and progress to eight to 10 intervals subsequent weeks.