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Your Great Shape Up

Your Great Shape Up

Be in late-season form when the first flakes fall. SKI's pre-season training regimen will get you fit.
By Caroline Johnson
posted: 07/24/2009
Run stairs to work different muscle groups.
Photo by: iStockphoto

Labor Day—the unofficial end of summer—is looming, and with it the realization that your grand plans to maintain last season’s ski legs fell apart sometime around Memorial Day. Soon the kids will go back to school and the pool will close. But before you put your best intentions—and your swimsuit—in a drawer, consider this: A slow-and-steady approach to ski fitness is far more manageable than a post-Halloween mad-dash. Starting today, skimag.com and our fitness experts will help you set the pace with weekly and monthly workout plans that focus on the five key elements of ski fitness: endurance, strength, power, balance and agility.

Technically, there’s still over a month of summer left, so we’d be remiss to banish you to the gym. The weights can wait. Spend August building a good overall foundation without fussing about reps and sets. Robin Barnes, member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America National Alpine Demonstration Team and owner of Tahoe Outdoor Fitness, advises doing activities that will increase both your fitness and your athleticism. “Challenge your reaction time, coordination and balance,” says Barnes. Keep it fun. These outdoor activities prime your body for autumn’s more structured workouts, all while letting you enjoy summer’s fair weather.

Mountain biking: Dynamic balance, agility and leg strength are just a few of the skills necessary for both mountain biking and skiing, which is why pedaling your favorite slopes in the summer is a great way to cross train for the winter. Plus, as you’re barreling downhill, your eyes are constantly scanning the terrain for obstacles, just like they do when you’re skiing, so you’re working your body and your brain as you plan your line of descent.

Ascending works your quads, hamstrings and calves, your legs’ power sources. The stronger your quads and hamstrings, the longer you can hang in the moguls or on long, steep slopes. For added challenge while climbing, put your bike in a high gear, so you have to work harder to get the pedals around. Concentrate on not only pushing down but also pulling up on the pedals, to make the most of each revolution and engage your hamstrings and the muscles around your hips. “Keeping the bike in a lower gear and increasing your cadence is another way to turn up the intensity,” says Barnes. This will increase your quick footedness, a skill that comes in handy when you’re in the trees or making quicker turns. Resist the urge to stand up off the saddle: Pedaling from a seated position will better target your leg muscles, says Joe Friel, author of The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible. Of course, climbing is also an aerobic workout, so it’s a great way to build your endurance.

Although descending won’t raise your anaerobic threshold or muscle power, coming downhill on a bike is great for practicing technical skills that cross over to skiing. “In a tight turn, to keep your bike underneath your body, make your outside long and your inside leg short, just like you would in a high-speed [long-radius] turn on skis,” says Barnes. “You can also practice keeping your steering angle correct throughout your descent. When skiing, if you over turn, your tails will wash out, and you have to skid to recover. The same is true of a rear tire on a bike.”

As you hop your bike over and around obstacles and pick up your front tire, you’ll engage your abs and obliques. As with skiing, you should try to keep your upper body as quiet as possible while riding; let your legs do the work. You’ll also use smaller muscles—like those in your feet and ankles— to make fine line adjustments.

To further mimic the movement patterns you use when skiing and to develop timing and rhythm, Barnes recommends setting up a slalom course in an empty parking lot or on a quiet street. Using paper cups or pine cones, map out a course of 15 to 20 turns. Weave your bike in and out of the cones, and concentrate on maintaining a consistent rhythm. The distance between cones will determine how quickly you turn. Start with bigger turns and gradually move the cones closer together as you get more proficient. When you can navigate the course at a consistent pace, you’re ready to progress. “You’ll learn how to shape your turns, so that you’re carrying the right amount of momentum as you approach each cone,” says Barnes. The goal is to eliminate abrupt braking to scrub speed before making a turn—a concept key for bikers and skiers.

Trail running: Navigating uneven terrain—rather than smooth blacktop or a treadmill—develops your agility and your concentration. Glades are as good for running as they are for skiing. When you’re in the woods, you can’t switch into autopilot, so you’ll work your body and your mind. You’ll practice looking ahead and making quick line adjustments—things that will make you a better skier. Take advantage of nature’s beautiful imperfections, says Barnes. Find a fallen tree truck or big rock and use it to test and improve the following skills.

Power and Deceleration: Stand in front of a fallen tree or rock that’s about knee-high. With plenty of power, jump as high as you can and land on the tree or rock. When you land, stabilize your body as quickly as possible, trying not to wobble or sway. This works the secondary stabilizing muscles throughout your body, from your feet to your shoulders, which are key for keeping you upright in heavy, cruddy snow and for helping you regain your balance if you begin to topple

Coordination and quick-footedness: A tight stand of aspens demands concentration. To keep your skis from getting tangled in the trees, you need flawless coordination and finely tuned agility. Facing the fallen tree or rock, jump onto it with both feet, bending your knees as you land to absorb the impact, then immediately jump back down to the ground, again bending your knees as you land. Continue jumping on and off the tree as quickly as possible for 15 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds and repeat for a total of 5 minutes.

Balance: “Sometimes the momentum of running or skiing will camouflage deficiencies in our balance,” says Barnes. Unlike a stable, flat bench in the gym, a fallen log might move a little as you walk on it, helping you identify balance issues. Walk heel-to-toe the entire length of the log. “Slowing your movement challenges you to be more purposeful with each step, and it gives your body time to be affected by the moving log. As you react to it, you develop your smaller, secondary muscles that control balance, says Barnes.

Independent leg movement: Train your legs to move independently—a key skill for reaching advanced levels in skiing—by stepping on and off a fallen log or rock as quickly as you can. While facing the log or rock, step up with your right foot, followed by your left. Then step back down to the starting position with your right foot, followed by your left. Continue for 15 seconds, then switch, stepping up with your left foot first. Experiment with different step patterns. Step onto the log from one side and off the other, or step sideways onto the log, alternating your feet and moving as quickly as you can.

Stair climbing: Go to a nearby stadium or park and practice running stairs. Of course, you’ll get your heart rate up, but if you get creative, you can also work different muscle groups and movement patterns. Try each of the following drills, ascending as quickly as possible for one minute or until you reach the top of the staircase. Walk slowly back to the bottom and repeat. Do each drill for 5 to 7 minutes before moving on to the next one.

Skipping stairs: Skip one or, if it’s manageable, two stairs between each stride. This not only works your hamstrings, quads and hip muscles but also your arms as you pump them back and forth. When you’re poling across a catwalk or through the lift line, you’ll be glad you spent some time working on your arms. 

Two-footed hops: Jump double-footed, first one stair at a time, then two. Swing your arms for momentum. First, jump quickly from stair to stair, stopping as briefly as possible at each step. Then try skipping stairs. Next, continue skipping stairs, but this time, slow your pace. Each time you land on a stair, drop into a quarter squat and hold the position for a count of two.  

Grapevine: Stand at the base of the staircase with the first step to your right. Using a grapevine pattern, ascend the stairs as quickly as possible. Return to the bottom and repeat on the other side.

Inline Skating: Foremost a great aerobic exercise, inline skating mimics the movement patterns you use while skiing. Take your ski poles out with you and practice your skating technique across flat spots and uphill. Even though you probably don’t spend the majority of your time on snow poling across flats, skating works almost every key muscle you use while alpine skiing. Find a wide, quiet street with a gradual incline. When coming downhill, practice making railroad track turns, keeping your feet parallel and adjusting the length and radius of your turns. With traditional rollerblades, you can’t make a snowplow to slow down like you might on skis. Use the full width of the road: The farther you turn your skates against the fall line and the longer you carry your momentum across the hill, the more you’ll slow down. The same is true for skiing, but unlike skis, skate wheels can’t slide downhill when they’re turned across it, so this is a great way to build your confidence drawing out your turns.

Child’s Play: Next time you take your kids to the playground, get in on the action. Use the monkey bars to work your core, play lawn games to build your upper body strength or set up obstacle courses to test your agility and coordination. Here are a few drills Barnes recommends.

Leg-ups: At high intermediate and advanced levels, ski instructors often talk about body separation or rotational stability—moving your upper and lower halves independently. More specifically, you need to train your upper body to stay strong and square to the fall line while your legs turn underneath it.

Hang from a monkey bar with both hands. Try not to swing as you engage your core to pull your knees up to your chest. The key is to isolate the movements to your midsection by engaging your abdominals, obliques and back muscles. Lower your legs back to the starting position. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps. Next, as you lift your knees, twist them as far to the right as possible while keeping your upper body facing forward. Lower your legs to the starting position, then lift your knees and twist to the left. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps. Finally, keeping your legs straight, lift them straight out in front of you so that your thighs are parallel to ground. Lower and repeat. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Wheel barrel races: Try this one with your kids or spouse at the next summer picnic. It will strengthen your core and upper body.

Cup game: Set four paper cups up to form a six-by-six foot square, and number each cup 1 to 4. Stand in the middle of the square, while a partner stands outside and calls out a number. Move as quickly as you can to the corresponding cup, touch it with one hand and return to the center of the square. Each time you return to the center, your partner should call out another number. This activity is a great way to improve reaction times, quick footedness and deceleration, says Barnes.

Plank pulls: Lie on your back, place your heels in a swing, and lift your hips off the ground so that you are in a plank position making a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. Keeping your hips elevated, bend your knees to pull the swing back in toward your rear to work your core and hamstrings. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps. Flip over and lie facedown with your toes in the swing. Assume a push-up position, and use your abdominal and oblique muscles to pull your knees toward your chest. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

- SEPTEMBER 2009

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