Close

Member Login

Logging In
Invalid username or password.
Incorrect Login. Please try again.

not a member? sign-up now!

Signing up could earn you gear and it helps to keep offensive content off of our site.

PRINT DIGITAL

Build the Ultimate Skier

Be Strong
posted: 06/16/2004

A brief history of the people who invented winter sports: They were in shape. It was the Ice Age, there was no off-season, and they worked out in yak fur. They'd strap on some wooden boards and roar down glaciers, kill a few mammoths, and then ride on for days, their blood-crusted beards flapping in the wind. So how are you honoring that legacy? By treating skiing like it was softball or golf—some leisure activity that can be picked up after a five-month layoff without consequences. You forget about having to hold tucks until your eyes burn, grind through knee-deep powder, and posthole up 14,000-foot ridges. And every year while your friends ski until the lifts close on opening day, you limp pathetically into the lodge around noon and get stuck in the lunch line with the cocoa-drinking NASTAR moms.

Thanks to Andy Walshe, those days are over. The training director for the United States Skiing Association, Walshe has provided us with a can't-miss, three-month preseason plan designed to set you loose on the hill this season with a solid foundation of endurance, strength, and stability. "The goal," he says, "is to use the off-season to build endurance so you can withstand high volumes of on-snow training." Put the time in now, in other words, and Walshe can transform you from the guy everyone's always waiting for into the lead mastodon hunter.

Beginning this month, you'll kick-start the program with six weeks of cardio training (running, cycling, or swimming—you choose) aimed at building your endurance base. In October, Walshe will throw you in the weight room where you'll run through ski-specific upper- and lower-body workouts similar to those that get freestyle skier Jeremy Bloom into preseason form. Finally, in November, armed with full-body muscular endurance, you'll polish things off with a core training regimen designed to help turn near crashes into catlike, Bode-style recoveries.

And don't worry if you've spent all summer playing softball and golf. The best part of Walshe's program is that it will ease you in slowly and not leave you nursing muscle pulls on the couch after week one. "It's always hard to get started on my off-season workout program," says six-time U.S. downhill champ Kirsten Clark, who has worked with Walshe for a decade. "But once I get going, it gets easier every day." All you have to do is invest in a heart-rate monitor (you can pick one up for less than a day pass at Vail; see "Heart Smart" below) and follow the formula we've laid out for you on page 144. Your caveman skiing forefathers will be proud.

September: Building Your Endurance Base

Head out on an easy jog, ride, or swim, and your body uses oxygen to convert glucose, its main energy source, into muscle fuel. Put the hammer down—a hard run or sprint—and your body switches to a secondary energy production system that creates a byproduct called lactic acid. In short, this leaves your muscles burning, your breathing labored, and your body unable to perform without either slowing down or stopping altogether.

Recreational athletes (most of us) typically can't continue more than five or 10 minutes once the body starts generating lactic acid. But by training smart—just below the pace where lactic acid starts to be produced—over time you can increase the duration your body can tolerate the burn. For skiers, this translates to faster runs and longer days on the slopes. "It's what it feels like to get to the end of a downhill or super G with endurance," says Clark. "You're winded, but not fatigued. And even then you get your breath back pretty quick."

The secret to really ramping up your endurance is to determine the heart-rate zone that corresponds to the point at which your body starts producing lactic acid. This is called your lactate threshold (LT). Find it and you can utilize heart-rate training to train your body to burn lactic acid as fuel, allowing you to ski with a burn, but not burn out. Here's how to get started.

St 1
Pinpoint Your LT
To find your LT, Walshe prescribes the following stationary bike test. Grab your heart-rate monitor, hop on a bike, and follow the steps below. The whole process should last between 30 and 45 minutes. Be sure to take the time to build up to your LT slowly and incrementally, says Walshe. "If you just start out pedaling your hardest, the test won't be accurate."

0—10 minutes
Warm up with no resistance.
10—13 minutes
Raise resistance slightly, maintaining the same cadence as above. Note your heart rate.
13—14 minutes
Spin with low resistance.
14—17 minutes
Raise resistance until your heart rate exceeds that of the first interval. Note your heart rate.
17—18 minutes
Spin with low resistance.
18 minutes and up
Continue the interval/rest cycle and slowly increase the resistance on the flywheel, taking note of your heart rate after each interval.
Around 30—40 minutes
You will reach a point at the end of an interval when your legs and lungs burn intolerably. You'll want to stop. You'll want to hurl. Note your heart rate. This number is a rough estimation of your LT.

Step 2
Learn Your Workout Zones

Once you know your LT, Walshe will structure your workouts around it, using the following four workout intensities. Keep in mind that heart rate is based on unpredictable things like the size of your heart; no number is better than any other.
Easy: A very light spin, jog, or swim well below your LT. Easy to maintain a conversation.
Moderate: Roughly 10 beats below your LT. Breathing is light and it's easy to hold a conversation.
Steady: Just at LT. Breathing is labored and it's difficultto hold a conversation.
Hard: All-out effort, five beats or more above LT. Breathing is very heavy; it's impossible to hold a conversation.

Over the next six weeks, you'll spend most of your workout time in the first two zones, where you'll simply keep your heart and lungs working. Twice a week, Walshe will add intervals—one- to two-minute bursts at higher intensities that prod your body to raise its LT. During the first four weeks, you will gradually increase the duration of these intervals. "If you can do one 40-minute set at your lactate threshold, you're starting to get in really good shape," says Walshe. The last two weeks will be spent performing short intervals in the Hard zone, preparing you to ski comfortably even when your legs are on fire.

Step 3
Get with the program and kick your legs into gear

The six-week cardio phase of Walshe's program is broken down into five workouts a week, lasting between 30 minutes and an hour. On three of those days, you'll simply run, bike, or swim in the Easy zone (well below your lactate threshold) for the time prescribed in the Six-Week Training Plan. Resist the temptation to go fast. "The hardest thing about easy sets is to keep them easy," says Walshe. "If your heart creeps up, slow your pace down. You don't want to work too hard on easy days." On the other two days a week, you'll warm up for 10 minutes, then perform three- to five- minute intervals in the Steady zone. Between each interval you'll decrease your effort level for at least four to six minutes (to let your heart rate come down). Each week, Walshe will have you increase the length of the intervals until you can run at Steady for 10 minutes, with five minutes off in between.

Heart Smart
From mini-computers to simple watches, heart-rate monitors come in all shapes and sizes. Here's how to find what you need.

Starter: Sports Instruments Fit 1
For novice users who don't want an entire laptop on their wrist, the Fit 1 has all the essentials, including a large number display, maximum heart-rate memory, and a calorie counter. The best part is that you can program three target heart-rate zones to monitor your training.
Info:
$60, sportsinstruments.com, 800-223-3207

Intermediate: Polar S120
The fitness geeks at the Boulder Running Company told us, "This is the best deal for a monitor you're ever going to get." With alarms that signal when you've missed your target heart-rate zone and a short-term training log, you can track your progress over time. It also lets you program your intervals before you hit the pavement.
Info:
$120, polarusa.com, 800-227-1314

Advanced: Suunto X6HR
Strictly for high-tech warriors, this combined altimeter and heart-rate monitor lets you track your three heart-rate zones relative to your rate of ascent and descent and altitude for training in the mountains. The downside? Its complex functions and downloadable info matrix—Suunto Activity Manager—might put you out about a month's rent.
Info:
$475, suunto.com, 800-543-9124 —Lindsay Yaw

Running
Pros:
Both skiing and running are high-impact sports that rely on the large lower-body muscle groups—quads, hamstrings and glutes. Cons: High impact—overtraining can lead to joint injuries.
Moderate:
Jog on a flat to slightly uphill grade at a slow pace keeping your heart rate low so your breathing is light and conversing is easy.
Steady:
Run on rolling hills using more arm and leg movement for power. Legs and lungs are starting to burn, and your heart rate is at LT.
Hard:
Grade is steep. Legs and lungs are burning and breathing is very labored. Heart rate is five or more beats above LT.

Cycling
Pros:
Cycling increases the power in your lower and upper body muscles without sacrificing your joints before the ski season. Spinning helps muscles flush lactic acid more quickly than running. Cons: Core gets lazy when you're sitting on the bike.
Moderate:
Spin on flats or rolling hills in the big ring at a low cadence. Breathing is light, conversation easy, and heart rate is ten beats below your LT.
Steady:
Ride on a steeper grade with a high cadence, occasionally getting out of the saddle. Legs and lungs burn and heart rate is at LT.
Hard:
Ride on a very steep grade with a low cadence, often out of the saddle. Legs and lungs burn, heart rate is five or more beats above LT.

Swimming
Pros:
Swimming workouts engage your entire body—lats, shoulders, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core—to create whole body endurance. Cons: Swimming does not build power in the legs like running and cycling.
Moderate:
Swim with a kickboard or use the breaststroke for 10 laps or 1/4 mile. Lap times should be around two minutes. Breathing is light.
Steady:
Swim 10—20 laps (1/4—1/2 mile) around 1—1.5 minutes per lap. Breathing is heavy, arms and legs are burning and heart rate is near LT.
Hard:
Swim 20—30 laps (1/2—3/4 mile) with 45 second—1 minute lap times. Breathing is labored and heart rate is five or more beats above LT.

Six-week training plan
Weeks 1—2
M/W/F: Endurance Workout 30 minutes in the Easy zoneT/Th: Interval Workout
After a 10-minute warmup in the Easy zone, repeat the following interval six times:
3 minutes in the Steady zone
5 minutes in the Easy to Moderate zones
Finish workout with a 10-minute cool down in the Easy zone.

Weeks 3—4
M/F: Endurance Workout
40 minutes in the Easy zone
T/Th: Interval Workout
After a 10-minute warmup in the Easy zone, repeat the following interval four times:
6 minutes in the Steady zone
4 minutes in the Easy to Moderate zones
Finish workout with a 10-minute cooldown in the Easy zone.
W: Interval Workout
After a 20-minute warmup in the Easy to Moderate zones, repeat the following interval three times:
1 minute in the Hard zone
5 minutes to monitor your training.
Info:
$60, sportsinstruments.com, 800-223-3207

Intermediate: Polar S120
The fitness geeks at the Boulder Running Company told us, "This is the best deal for a monitor you're ever going to get." With alarms that signal when you've missed your target heart-rate zone and a short-term training log, you can track your progress over time. It also lets you program your intervals before you hit the pavement.
Info:
$120, polarusa.com, 800-227-1314

Advanced: Suunto X6HR
Strictly for high-tech warriors, this combined altimeter and heart-rate monitor lets you track your three heart-rate zones relative to your rate of ascent and descent and altitude for training in the mountains. The downside? Its complex functions and downloadable info matrix—Suunto Activity Manager—might put you out about a month's rent.
Info:
$475, suunto.com, 800-543-9124 —Lindsay Yaw

Running
Pros:
Both skiing and running are high-impact sports that rely on the large lower-body muscle groups—quads, hamstrings and glutes. Cons: High impact—overtraining can lead to joint injuries.
Moderate:
Jog on a flat to slightly uphill grade at a slow pace keeping your heart rate low so your breathing is light and conversing is easy.
Steady:
Run on rolling hills using more arm and leg movement for power. Legs and lungs are starting to burn, and your heart rate is at LT.
Hard:
Grade is steep. Legs and lungs are burning and breathing is very labored. Heart rate is five or more beats above LT.

Cycling
Pros:
Cycling increases the power in your lower and upper body muscles without sacrificing your joints before the ski season. Spinning helps muscles flush lactic acid more quickly than running. Cons: Core gets lazy when you're sitting on the bike.
Moderate:
Spin on flats or rolling hills in the big ring at a low cadence. Breathing is light, conversation easy, and heart rate is ten beats below your LT.
Steady:
Ride on a steeper grade with a high cadence, occasionally getting out of the saddle. Legs and lungs burn and heart rate is at LT.
Hard:
Ride on a very steep grade with a low cadence, often out of the saddle. Legs and lungs burn, heart rate is five or more beats above LT.

Swimming
Pros:
Swimming workouts engage your entire body—lats, shoulders, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core—to create whole body endurance. Cons: Swimming does not build power in the legs like running and cycling.
Moderate:
Swim with a kickboard or use the breaststroke for 10 laps or 1/4 mile. Lap times should be around two minutes. Breathing is light.
Steady:
Swim 10—20 laps (1/4—1/2 mile) around 1—1.5 minutes per lap. Breathing is heavy, arms and legs are burning and heart rate is near LT.
Hard:
Swim 20—30 laps (1/2—3/4 mile) with 45 second—1 minute lap times. Breathing is labored and heart rate is five or more beats above LT.

Six-week training plan
Weeks 1—2
M/W/F: Endurance Workout 30 minutes in the Easy zoneT/Th: Interval Workout
After a 10-minute warmup in the Easy zone, repeat the following interval six times:
3 minutes in the Steady zone
5 minutes in the Easy to Moderate zones
Finish workout with a 10-minute cool down in the Easy zone.

Weeks 3—4
M/F: Endurance Workout
40 minutes in the Easy zone
T/Th: Interval Workout
After a 10-minute warmup in the Easy zone, repeat the following interval four times:
6 minutes in the Steady zone
4 minutes in the Easy to Moderate zones
Finish workout with a 10-minute cooldown in the Easy zone.
W: Interval Workout
After a 20-minute warmup in the Easy to Moderate zones, repeat the following interval three times:
1 minute in the Hard zone
5 minutes in the Easy zone
Finish workout with a 20-minute cooldown in the Easy zone.nutes in the Easy zone
Finish workout with a 20-minute cooldown in the Easy zone.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • No HTML tags allowed

More information about formatting options

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.
All submitted comments are subject to the license terms set forth in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use