It’s that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, when people are dusting off their ski boots and heading for the slopes. For personal trainers, it is traditionally the time of year when we are approached by prospective clients looking to improve their fitness in order to make the most of their time on the slopes. This article will focus on how to design a functional, enjoyable and appropriate training program for skiers and set recommendations on how to best prepare these clients.
I would like to start by making some general points with regards to designing and implementing a skiing program, or indeed any sports specific training regime. Never lose sight of these points because they will act as the focal point of your program.
- Keep it FUN. This may be stating the obvious, but if your clients feel they need to perform hours of monotonous, repetitive and unimaginative exercise, they will be put off skiing forever.
- Keep it functional. Functional training appears to be the latest fitness buzz word, but its underlying principles are relevant to sports specific training. We have all seen the trainer who guides his client around the gym floor from resistance machine to resistance machine. My advice would be, where at all possible, keep your clients on their feet. There are one or two exceptions to this rule, and I will explore these later in this article.
- Keep it specific. Another obvious one perhaps, but if you are training athletes, then train them to improve aspects of their fitness that are specific to skiing, not soccer or basketball. A program must also be specific to an individual’s age, standard and own personal specifications.
That last point brings us nicely onto the first task of a trainer when designing a skiing program, and that is to analyze the requirements of the task. Questions to ask during a consultation include: Have you skied before? Where are you skiing? How much skiing will you be doing (and how much time will be spent in the lodge)? Once you have determined your clients' individual requirements, you must examine the activity demands.
Skiing, depending on the standard and ability of the client, can be compared with interval training. That is, an individual may perform high intensity exercise lasting anywhere up to several minutes followed by a period of inactivity or active recovery at a lower intensity. This puts a demand on both the aerobic and anaerobic systems. Or individuals may choose to participate in less intensive and more continuous skiing, which places different demands on the body. Skiing also places a great demand on the central nervous system with regards to balance, coordination, reaction time and, of course, core strength and stability. While skiing, these components of fitness are affected by variables such as surface area, contact points such as feet and hands, visual effect, movement and external stimulus (i.e., obstacles on the slopes).
It is vitally important to replicate the activity of your clients and train them to cope with the physical demands of such activities. I will now break down some of the above principles and apply them in a programming setting.
The strength component of a skiing training program deals with base strength preparation. This is the work an athlete needs to complete before he can progress onto more advanced forms of training such as stability ball exercise, BOSU integrated training and resisted movement training. This phase should involve familiarizing clients with fundamental large muscle movements such as squats, lunges, deadlifts and body weight resistance exercises such as pull ups and press ups. These exercises recruit high threshold motor units and increase motor unit firing rate. I would never use isolation exercises in a sports specific exercise routine unless it was absolutely necessary, not even for novices. For strength training exercises, I would recommend working on a three sets of eight to 10 repetitions protocol. The base strength preparation phase should last between four and six weeks, depending on your athletes' fitness levels.
Core training is arguably the most important element of any skiing fitness program. Effective core development will ensure your clients are strong and stable in the trunk and therefore able to support quick, powerful dynamic movements. In his article "Principles of Skiing Preparation," Chip Richards highlights the importance of moving from our center, thereby taking the stress away from the limbs and promoting core function.
I use several methods in order to develop core stability. The first and most simple is single leg training. As mentioned above, skiing places great demands on the CNS due to changing surface area and contact points. Single leg training reduces available surface area and halves the body’s contact with the ground. Also, skiing requires rates of force production generated by a single leg. Appropriate exercises include single leg backwards lean, opposite leg and arm reach and resistance exercises such as single leg shoulder press and single leg squats. (Examples of these can be found in the PTN Exercise Library.) Exercise on unstable surfaces should be incorporated into all snow sport training programs.
The stability ball plays a vital role when training skiers. Its versatility coupled with the fact that you can really stimulate the core makes it one the most effective exercise tools for skiers. Effective exercises include dumbbell chest press (supine) and bridge raise with tuck. For more advanced athletes, do jack knife, press ups and lateral raise kneeling on the ball.
Unstable surfaces should be incorporated into a winter sports program, with the most effective piece of equipment being the BOSU integrated trainer. Skiing requires high frequency muscle contractions with a restricted range of motion. Therefore, squats and lunges on the BOSU ball are ideal. Conventional standing strength training exercises such as deadlifts, shoulder press and woodchop as well as single leg exercises can also be performed using this piece of equipment.
The Resisted Movement Training protocol developed by Premier Training International in the UK is an idea based on dynamic movement patterns to promote healthier human function with particular emphasis on exercise along the kinetic chain. The type of exercises promoted through resisted movement training is relevant to winter sports training.
There has been little research conducted in the area of flexibility for snow sports. I don’t prescribe any static stretching for my clients unless they have a specific muscle imbalance, and even then, I consult with a physiotherapist before prescribing a static routine. It is my belief that dynamic stretching is a safer and more effective way of improving flexibility. Some of my favorite exercises include leg kicks, star jumps, hip swings in the saggital plane and dynamic hip adduction and abduction. Ensure your clients have conducted some form of aerobic activity before performing such exercises. I would reserve five minutes every session for flexibility work.
Due to the aerobic and interval nature of the sport, there is a requirement for skiers to undergo some aerobic training. This is best conducted in the form of explosive and agility work, which requires clients to complete short bursts of aerobic activity with a rest period. Exercises involving short sprints, agility ladders and vertical cones/poles should be high on the agenda. This will also increase quickness and reaction time. If you are seeing your client for two hours per week, then I would spend a total of 30 minutes per week on agility.
In summary, it is very important that trainers consider all of the above theories, principles and exercises in order to plan an effective training program for skiers. Sometimes, the amount of time we can spend on the program is affected by our clients' schedules, and it is very common for someone to approach a trainer two weeks before their holiday. Ideally, a trainer would have at least two months to prepare their client, but we can only do our best. Your ultimate goal should be to design a fun, functional and sport specific skiing program.
- Heatlie, M. (2006) Strength Training for Winter Sports. FitPro Network, October/November 2006. pp 16-17.
- Pratt, B. (2006) Progressive ski-matics. FitPro Network, October/November 2006. pp 14-15.