Components of Ski Fitness

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Cardiovascular Fitness

The science

It is important to build an aerobic base since this boosts your body’s ability to consume and deliver oxygen to your muscles which means less overall fatigue, more endurance on long runs and increased capacity to ski all day. A more efficient aerobic system will also mean you will recover quicker, between each run and from day to day.

To improve your cardiovascular fitness you should aim to do a minimum of three sessions a week for a minimum of 30 minutes with your heart rate between 55 and 90% of you maximum heart rate (220 – your age).

Adding some interval training trains both aerobic and anaerobic systems and is very effective in building fitness.

Key benefits

  • Reduction in body fat
  • Quicker recovery
  • More endurance

Example Exercises

  • Running (Interval training in FFTS sessions)
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Cross-trainer
Balance and Agility

The science

Balance and agility training will greatly enhance the connection between your muscles and your brain. This means your reaction times and balance will improve. Balance will help you stay upright and recover quickly when other forces are working against you particularly when you encounter changing terrain and snow conditions and momentary losses of balance.

Key benefits

  • Quicker reaction times
  • More stable on slippery and uneven snow

Example Exercises

Balance Board Squats

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BOSU Single Leg Squats
Cone Touches
Agility Ladders

Muscular Strength and Endurance

The science

Training your anaerobic system through strength training improves your body’s ability to process lactic acid, characterised by feeling ‘the burn’. This will improve your ability to ski for longer without being compromised by weakness and pain.

Movement based

Exercises should be functional and movement based ‘train movements, not muscle’ and combined with balance and coordination exercises; training through the whole range of movement. This approach means more muscle fibres are stimulated since as well as using the large muscle groups in your body (prime movers eg quads, hamstrings, biceps) the stabilizer muscles are recruited as well. These are the smaller muscles which provide balance and support. This also has a benefit of making the muscles more metabolically active and therefore boosting metabolism and increase fat burning.

The posterior chain

The muscle group that everyone associates with doing all the work in skiing is the quads. However it is also critical to train the posterior chain which comprises the calves, hamstrings, glutes and lower back musculature. This is particularly important for back health since you spend a lot of your time skiing in the forward flexed position, leaning forward from the hips. Similarly for knee health, since strong hamstrings provide protection for the knee and help prevent injury (particularly anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) trauma).

The core

Training the muscles of the core: abdominals, obliques and lower back musculature, in all three planes of movement is also vital for stabilisation during movement and providing protection for your spine. This will help keep your upper body as still as possible when you ski whilst your legs move beneath you (upper / lower body separation). It will also ensure your core doesn’t collapse when other forces work against it.

Injury prevention

A balanced strength training programme will also help in injury prevention since it will improve the strength of tendons, ligaments and bones as well as muscles. Strong muscles and tendons help hold the body in proper alignment and protect the bones and joints when moving or under impact. The bones become stronger due to the overload placed on them during training and the ligaments become more flexible and better at absorbing the shock applied to them during dynamic movements. If a muscle is strong and conditioned it can also handle a sudden stress placed on it – which can be easily envisaged when exercising on an unpredictable and slippery surface.

Muscle contractions

There are three types of muscle contractions listed below. The emphasis in ski fitness training should be on the concentric and eccentric contraction which replicates the demands of skiing. When this happens at speed we move more into plyometrics which is covered below.

Isometric A muscle length remains unchanged under tension (eg abdominals doing a plank)
Concentric A muscle shortens under tension (eg a bicep curl or your hamstrings as you land a jump).
Eccentric A muscle lengthens under tension (eg a your quads as you forward lunge or as you land a jump).

Benefits

  • Fat burning
  • Injury prevention
  • Ski for longer before feeling ‘the burn’
  • Ski more aggressively
  • Feel stronger on the bumps

Example Exercises

Wood-chopper with a medicine ball

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Romanian bar bell deadlifts

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Hamstring bridge work with a stability ball

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Kettle bell swings

Single leg, stiff deadlift

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Plyometrics

The science

Soviet coaches first started using plyometrics in the 1960s to train Olympic triple-jump athletes who dominated in their field at the time. It is explosive / coordination training and is a more advanced component of ski fitness. It works by trying to harness the explosive power generated by the muscle’s natural tendency to want to immediately shorten (concentric contraction) after being stretched (eccentric contraction). This is known as the stretch-shorten reflex. Simple examples where this can be seen are in jumping and bounding exercises that incorporate controlled landings with quick and powerful takeoffs. The more dynamically you ski (or strive to ski) the more that plyometric training is important, particularly in mogul skiing where you lower body muscles constantly have to lengthen and shorten to absorb the bumps and explosively power off.

It is designed to improve reaction time and increase explosive power, eccentric muscle control, and the coordination of fast movements.

Benefits

  • Stimulates on-slope conditions
  • Improves reaction times
  • Improves explosiveness in dynamic skiing
  • More athletic on the bumps
  • Help decrease injuries to the knee

Example exercises

Box jumps

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Box drop jumps

Depth jumps

Weighted Squat jumps

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Flexibility

The science

Flexibility is extremely important for the prevention of injuries. When muscles and tendons are flexible and supple, they can move through their full range of movement (ROM) without being over stretched. In the event of having to perform a sudden manoeuvre, a greater range of movement will decrease the likelihood of you pulling or straining a muscle.

Flexibility is also important for good technique particularly of hip and spine. Good flexibility in your soleus muscle (deep calf) is also essential to allow forward flexion in your ski boot.

Benefits

  • Injury prevention
  • Technique not compromised

Example Exercises

All the major muscle groups should be targeted hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, calves, glutes, and trunk musculature. Stretches should be held for 20 – 30 seconds.

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