Solid physical preparation can make the difference between your clients having an incredible experience on the slopes... or an incredibly painful experience! In training the Australian Freestyle Ski Team, there are some basic physical preparation principles that I applied, which could help make your clients' next trip to the slopes a great one.
The Broader the Base, the Higher the Peak
Before considering a sports specific program for any sport, it is absolutely vital to achieve a certain degree of base strength and fitness. Though skiing is a sport that primarily utilizes the legs for power, I believe that an athlete’s strength must be developed across the whole body in order to move solidly as a unit. If a car is front wheel drive, it doesn’t mean you can drive with the back tires deflated. Have a look at Olympic sprinters. Those guys run with their legs, but they use the strength in their whole body to generate speed and power on the track. Have you noticed the size of their arms? Those guys are ripped! With my athletes, I endeavor to approach weight training holistically, generating strength, power and mobility throughout the entire frame.
It is a very good idea to spend a considerable amount of time (six to eight weeks, if possible) if your clients develop base strength across the whole physique, through basic movement patterns: push, pull, squat, bend, lunge and twist. Also pay special attention to build strength in areas of the body that are not obviously in use while skiing or snowboarding - like the hamstrings, and the entire backside of the body. Not only will this help prevent injury by maintaining physical balance in their body, it will harmonize movement patterns and allow the body to work as a unit, instead of as separately developed units and limbs. Overall, by building general body strength first, your clients create an opportunity to achieve much more ski-specific physical force when the time comes.
At the center of all of my programs lies a fundamental focus on core development. Strength and mobility in the TRUNK are vital components to moving dynamically and powerfully in sport. By building solid posture into our movements, and by learning to "move from our center", we take the stress away from our limbs and put it into the power source of our body.
I would strongly recommend incorporating some Pilates into your clients' workouts. Pilates focuses on building control and strength in the subtle muscle fibers, which wrap around our trunk, underneath the outer abdominal and lower back muscles. Developing control in this area enables us to initiate movements in safer and ultimately more powerful ways.
I also recommend utilizing the Fit Ball for abdominal strength development. It is the best way I’ve discovered to attack the lower abs and to safely develop trunk strength while the body is in an exposed and vulnerable state. With my more advanced athletes, I utilize the Fit Ball for almost every area of strength development. They balance on it for seated rows, they lay supine across it for dumbbell bench press and some of them even do squats while standing on the Swiss Ball. For more advanced athletes, this allows them to achieve a core area workout throughout their entire session, and it is extremely beneficial in building strength mobility in trunk area stabilizer muscles.
Along with three good weight-training sessions per week, I strongly advise three to five physical sessions, preferably involving explosive and agility based movements. While it is good to develop a certain degree of cardiovascular fitness, don’t get carried away with monotonous cyclical activity (long street runs, bike rides, stair masters, and treadmills). Repeated cyclical exercise puts our nervous system to sleep, which is exactly what you DON’T want to do in preparation for skiing. On the mountain, your client will need agility, quick reflexes and explosive power, so it is important that you imitate that type of movement in your clients' preparation.
This doesn’t mean you need to go out and start them jumping zigzag down steep hills with ski poles (though we have done that from time to time), but I would encourage you to involve them in activities which, along with improving their general fitness, will add to their agility, mobility and overall movement vocabulary. Activities like soccer, squash, volleyball or chasing a dog along the beach can satisfy this criteria. If they run or ride, do it on varied terrain and mix up the pace.
Flexibility = Mobility
Flexibility training is probably the easiest area of physical development to totally NEGLECT. There is nothing fun about stretching (especially in the early phases) and let’s face it, it’s boring! But I assure you that stretching for your client 15 to 20 minutes a day is less boring than waiting for recovery from a knee reconstruction, dislocated shoulder, neck strain or groin tear.
Take time after each workout to stretch. When clients stretch, be sure to focus on areas where they are LEAST flexible. There is little advantage in having extremely good quadricep mobility if they cannot touch their toes. Probably the best way to gauge their flexibility is to attend a yoga class. One session of yoga may not be enough to find inner peace, but it will certainly reveal any flexibility weaknesses they may have. An alternative is to constantly measure their flexibility on a regular basis.
Think and Move POWERFULLY
Especially as your client comes close to the time of their departure, concentrate on changing mental focus when it comes to movements in the gym, in the grass/court, and in everyday life. If they think spry and explosive, they will become spry and explosive. With proper supervision, most areas of their program can be done in a way that will increase POWER. It is important to move into a power/explosive phase as they get ready to hit the slopes so that their body will be prepared for the type of movements required in skiing. Plyometrics and sprinting are good avenues outside of gym for developing power, but ease into both these activities as they can be very taxing on the joints if used too often.
Don’t Let Clients Destroy Themselves on the First Day
If they’ve been anxious for the big ski trip to arrive, chances are that they will jump off the plane and right onto the slopes. No matter how well you have prepared them physically for the season, their body still needs time to adjust to the altitude and to the specific motion of skiing. If they have traveled by plane, tell your client to respect the fact that their equilibrium may be off for the first few days, so they should go easy on jumping and tree skiing as their overall reaction time will be slower than usual. Also tell them that as much as their enthusiasm will allow, they should take time to warm up properly. If they are too overzealous on the first day, they may ruin days 2-4 with soreness.
Hydrotherapy can be very useful in flushing away lactic acid after the day. This can be achieved in the shower (hot for two minutes followed by cold for 30 seconds, three times) or in the spa (using the same time ratio with a roll in the snow or a dip in a cold pool). And tell them not to spend too much time in the hot tub, or else they’ll be a complete vegetable the following day. Finally, big ski resorts are synonymous with big nights out, and while I am all in favor of boosting the local bar business, I recommend they go easy on the booze. Altitude compounds the effect of alcohol on our system, which makes for less expensive nights at the pub, but it can also cause debilitating hangovers. Hungover, dehydrated and sore is a great way to sustain an injury on the mountain. So tell clients to have fun but take the necessary precautions and don’t beat themselves up.
In conclusion, help your clients take time to plan physically for their next trip to the mountains. If they put in a few months of solid training off the mountain, their prowess on the slopes will escalate dramatically. By building a base of whole body strength, developing their core, cross training effectively and stretching, they will create a platform of physical ability that will enable them to make vast improvements in their skiing skills and have a great time doing it.