First off, thanks Elsbeth. Great post and great web site. There's a lot of good material there.
I'm not a certified trainer, like Elsbeth, but I do read a lot and have trained for skiing for a long time. I don't disagree with anything she says, but I would like to elaborate on it a bit and hopefully get a reaction from Elsbeth.Questions first, Answers second
One thing is that I would back up a bit and say that I think the right answer starts with more questions:
1. What kind of skiing do you do?
Obviously, what you need for skate skiing is not the same as what you need for alpine, and there are some specific exercises you might want if tele is your primary sport, but even what you need for alpine touring is still somewhat different than what you need for alpine resort skiing. This determines a bit the balance between power and endurance in your workouts.
2. What are your goals?
Performance? Injury prevention? Ski all day or improve your race times? These are not necessarily antagonistic goals, but they do call for different focus.
3. What's your current fitness state? I
spend my summers running fairly long distances (commonly 15-20 miles) on hilly trails at altitude (I live in Yosemite). That's in addition to rock climbing and backpacking. So working endurance in the runup to ski season is counter-productive for alpine skiing. And since hills skate skiing usually push me into the lactate threshold zone, even for that activity I would second Elsbeth's point about intervals versus steady state. Even the most steady state forms of skiing tend to push my lactate threshhold more than trail running. But if you're sport is skate skiing or backcountry and you've gotten out of shape during the summer, you'll need to start laying down an endurance base before the snow flies.
Meanwhile if you have that base, long distance running generally is detrimental to building power, so for alpine ski performance, I would want to move to more power-oriented exercises.The Core of the Matter
First, though, for recreational skiing, I would want above all to make sure I had a strong core. Strong legs will do nothing to prevent an ACL injury (generally speaking. My old neighbor, Bob Johnson, ran the longest running ski injury study in North America and he noted that the highest injury rates are among top racers who, by the way, have the strongest legs).
A strong core can, however, prevent back problems caused or exacerbated by skiing - lots of bumps and gates will tend to give you very strong back and quads, but not necessarily strengthen the antagonistic muscles essential for a long-term healthy back. I learned that the hard way.
So that means planks, side planks, spiders, TVA strengthening
. To Elsbeth's list, I would add static back extensions
(either on a Roman chair or on a stability ball with feet under the sofa or dumbell rack). Why? Because, speaking of a Swedish study, Owen Anderson says
The main finding in this study, which received the prestigious 1983 Volvo Award in Clinical Science, was that good isometric endurance, not strength, of the back muscles (in other words, an ability of the low-back muscles to maintain moderate levels of force for prolonged periods of time without significant fatigue) was the best apparent preventer of low-back trouble in men and women
Owen's article is a great read in general and if you have limited time, read that instead of the rest of my blathering. My takeaway has always been that I should be able to hold a back extension for 2 minutes (the study says that at 58 seconds your risk of injury becomes quite low).Power Baby
So, if you've had a good summer and laid a good endurance base and you are good about keeping up on your core exercises, which you should do year round for general help, we get to more alpine-specific exercises to build POWER!
If I had to pick one exercise for skiing for recreational skiers, assuming a healthy back and a base level of fitness, it would hands down be the power clean
- I know the Crossfit folks like that one too. Power cleans will work the whole posterior chain, from your calves to your trapezius and help build explosive force in the legs. The posterior chain is important for strengthening all those muscles that fire hard when you get off balance in the bumps and need to recover. Meanwhile, research on vertical jump ability has shown that of all weightlifting exercises (compared to deadlifts, squats, etc), power clean performance correlates best to vertical jump performance and vertical jump performance is, again, a pretty decent proxy for the kind of leg power you need to ski hard.
The downside to power cleans is that you must have good form to avoid injury and a thorough warmup is essential.
For me, second to power cleans are deadlifts
. A lot of the same benefits.
Other favorites that target the legs are front squats and single-leg squats
. I see from Elsbeth's website that she's also a fan of Mike Boyle and Grey Cook, two awesome strength and conditioning coaches. They both think that back squats have a relative high risk/reward ratio compared to single-leg squats and front squats.
Finally, as Elsbeth said, once you've got a base, add in some plyometrics
. For explosive leg strength, plyometrics have to be part of the equation. I do depth jumps
, where you jump from a box and rebound as hard as you can. This is a "quality" not quantity exercise. You want to measure rebound (by touching a point on the wall for example) and stop as soon as you have a decrease in performance. Also, I like "feather jumps" where you try to land as softly as possible, focussing on the ability to control the absoprtion.
For building leg power, lactate threshold "power-endurance" and coordination, I do "shuffle jumps
". Basically drop a glove on the ground. Bend down and touch it with your right hand and then spring as hard as you can to the left. Bring your right foot TO but NOT PAST the left foot and spring again. Take four bounds left, drop the other glove and now go back. See if you can do 90 seconds of bounding between the two gloves, always trying to hit the target gloves you dropped on the first rep. Cycle through that in intervals until you feel like you're going to throw up. Just kidding. Sort of.
I used to do a lot of one-legged jump rope as a warm up and cool down back when I was sitll racing (1976-1981) and just the other day, I tried it again. Bloody hell that's hard. I used to do sets of 100. I'm down to sets of 20! Still, I'd forgotten how fun that is.
And finally a couple of comments on two other exercises she mentioned.Medecine ball
workouts. Awesome! I like to find a big boulder or possible a rough stone wall and use that to throw against. It's easier than finding a partner and the rough surface will bounce the ball in unpredictable ways, which I think is great for reaction and working more variety. Also, as a killer core exercise, hold the ball between your feet and jump in the air and try to toss a 10-pound ball over a park bench or, for quicker reps, onto a park bench so it gets returned to you. Another fun one. The first time my wife and I did this, we were having so much fun trying to beat our previous "throws" that we forgot we were exercise. Could barely walk the next day.
A last really good one is the paper bag game
. With group of friends, you put a paper bag on the floor. In turn, everyone stands on one leg, bends over and picks up the bag in their mouth. Then you pull out the scissors and cut a couple inches off and go round again. Continue until you're either out of participants or out of bag. As you get low, this is a great leg and balance exercise and a fun thing to do at a party. I hadn't done it in years until last weekend and I still managed to snag the bag as low as 1 inch. In addition to the leg strengthening and balance training, I was amazed at how much it opened up my hips and how good my whole pelvis area felt afterwards.
Whew! That was long. I hope it helps someone ski hard this year!