During a typical off-season, 40-year-old Heather Schultz—Skiing's Women'sAlpine Test Director—spins thousands of miles on her road and mountain bikes, runs around her home mountain of Vail, and hammers leg, core, and upper-body drills in the gym—all to lay a foundation for a ski-specific workout based on two moves you did back in first-grade Phys Ed: forward and lateral leaps.
Known as plyometrics, and first used by Eastern Bloc track athletes, explosive bounding exercises are now a staple of the U.S. Ski Team. They give you the power to lay it over at high speeds and endure big shocks and g-forces—especially in tough terrain transitions and landings. Schultz added twice-weekly 40-minute drills to her training routine last year and consequently had her strongest season ever. Better still, she says: "Plyos all but eliminate first-week-on-snow soreness.
After reading the tips below, check out the slideshows to see the lateral leap and the forward leap. Plug these exercises, demonstrated by Schultz (and myself), into your workout four to eight weeks before your big ski vacation.
You've no doubt heard of the slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers responsible for strength and endurance. (You use slow-twitch for repetitive, long-distance moves, and fast-twitch for heavy lifting.) But your muscles contain a third group of fibers that are even faster than fast-twitch: super-fast-twitch. They kick in during the split second between landing a jump and taking off again, contract up to 10 times faster than their slow- and fast-twitch counterparts, and perform best with little oxygen—which means even when you're cooked, they'll keep you ripping around like a pro.
Once you've established a good strength and endurance base, add these jumps—which target the body's super-fast-twitch muscles—to your workout. Find a quiet area that's level (like a tennis court or synthetic track) or slightly uphill (like a bike path) with a grippy surface. Warm up and cool down for 10 to 15 minutes before and after your workout.
1. Do one workout per week for at least the first six to eight weeks; then do two workouts maximum per week.
2. Increase forward leaps from six sets of eight reps to a maximum of 10 sets of 30 reps (for World Cup or pro-level big-mountain skiers).
3. Increase lateral leaps from two sets of 16 reps to a maximum of five sets of 50 reps.
4. Add a few reps to each set every two to three weeks. Add complete sets as you feel comfortable. If you're in agony, don't progress. If you're a little sore, go for it.
5. Use sidewalk chalk or tape to measure maximum distance attained per set, and to find your peak set—the set after which your distance begins to drop. These exercises are about quality, not quantity.