With the first layers of snow on the ground and the resorts opening up, the ski season is as good as it is here. Are your legs ready to rock an 8 hour resort day or a few thousand feet tour? How to whip yourself into ski shape.
After a mid-season MCL sprain last winter, I made a commitment to be 100% physically ready for the ski season this year. But as a fairly new skier, I really had no idea where to start – other than a whole bunch of squats.
So I called Sam Naney, a professional athlete ski trainer, to find out what it really takes to physically prepare for the rigors of the ski season. Naney grew up cross-country skiing in the magical Methow Valley of northeast Washington and began a professional career before retiring from the sport in his late 20s.
He runs his own ski training business and contributes to it Uphill athlete, a training blog that is based on structured and individual programs for skiers, climbers and mountaineers alike.
Why exercise at all?
The biggest reason to exercise is to be able to have fun! Nobody enjoys going home halfway through that one day of skiing just because their legs couldn’t hold up for long.
It’s a great feeling to be able to show up in front of the first chair in the parking lot and know that your legs will keep you going to the last chair. So go on a ski tour and know that you won’t be the last on your skin.
But there is another reason to exercise: to avoid injury. Tired legs, stuck from all the snow on that first day, will have difficulty protecting sensitive tendons. And should you catch an edge, you run the risk of toppling and tearing an ACL.
“Injuries often happen because a muscle, joint, or ligament goes beyond the trained area and is then either pulled or torn or broken,” said Naney.
Of course, not all injuries can be prevented. But with the right preparation and training, there is a lot you can do to be an adaptable, strong, and prepared skier.
When to train to ski
“Start where you are,” recommended Naney. “Wherever you are, it’s worth it.” If you can find 30 minutes a day to jog, ab workout, or weight training, it’s better than nothing.
And now is the time to begin. As Naney said, it takes time to make these metabolic and structural changes to the aerobic system. These changes will help us work all day once we are in the middle of the ski season. If you try to cram it all in the week or two before you hit the slopes, you’re not ready.
How to train to ski
There are three important factors in ski training: strength, aerobic fitness (cardio) and flexibility. If you are fit in all three disciplines, you can ski all day with less risk of injury or fatigue.
When it comes to building strength for skiing, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is to build gradually. If you end up starting with a lot of weight and time, you risk injury. So it’s best to start by building up the time you exercise and work towards a goal – say 90 minutes. Then add weight to further complicate your workout.
When skiing, you should focus on certain muscle groups that are particularly important.
When working on your core while skiing, it is important to focus on the deep abs. This keeps you upright and supports dynamic movements, emphasized Naney. These six pack muscles won’t help you when it comes to maintaining core tension through laps of skiing. It is better to focus on the transverse abdomen and obliques, the less noticeable muscles.
Core exercises for skiing:
These activities require long-term engagement of the vital abs that keep you upright while skiing. In these exercises, start with your longest time. Work up to 60-90 seconds at a time, then add weight.
Naney recommends all of his athletes get one Weight vestas training in the gym will be less accessible due to COVID-19.
Of course, when skiing, the biggest muscles are in the legs. It turns out, however, that squats aren’t the best way to prepare these quads for skiing.
“The crouch is planted with both feet and you are on a perfect plane. Very rarely are you in the perfect position when skiing, ”said Naney.
While he recommends squats as a way to work those big muscles, he also said that you shouldn’t skip the stabilizing muscles. This way you can adapt if you encounter a rough ice or a piece of ice in the trail and you are on a ski.
Leg stability exercises for skiing:
Training with these balancing exercises will also help your neuromuscular connectivity. “The brain can better tell the muscles what to do. And that is exactly what strength is. Most people have the muscle mass to do the sport they want to do. What is missing is that this mass is smart enough to do so, ”said Naney.
I’ve personally adopted the leg blaster as my main workout for the leg ski season, in addition to those stabilization exercises that Naney highlighted. Leg radiators train eccentric muscle movements. I’m currently working on doing five leg blasters with a 15-30 second break between sets.
“Aerobic fitness is essentially your body’s ability to use fat for fuel,” said Naney. Exercise always burns a combination of fat and carbohydrates. Shifting this percentage towards fat results in less fatigue and is more efficient than burning carbohydrates.
Especially when it comes to tours in the hinterland, but also when skiing with the lift, it is important to have a certain level of cardio fitness. If you’re not aerobically fit on a resort day, you may not be able to do lap after lap or stop mid-run to catch your breath. In the backcountry, however, inadequate cardio fitness can mean you are in a bad situation and too tired to make confident and safe decisions.
A variety of low-intensity exercises is the best way to train the aerobic system for skiing, Naney said. For touring this could be a long uphill time. After a while, adding a moderately weighted package will help simulate what the tour might feel like. Long, slow descents could also be a great way to get the cardio fitness required for all types of skiing.
“A flexible muscle is a strong muscle and a strong muscle is a flexible muscle,” noted Naney. As long as you move through different areas in your strength training, you should also develop a lot of flexibility.
A simple flexibility routine is to spend 5 to 10 minutes moving each joint over its entire range. Start at your feet and ankles, work your way up to your hips and shoulders, and finally your neck.
More information about skiing can be found at Naney 10 minutes of mobility training.
Example of a ski training week
- Cardio: 30-60 minutes of jogging, cycling or hiking
- Kern: Like Monday
- Option 1: Adventure Day! Get out there and do something outside, whether it’s a long distance, a hike, rock climbing, biking, etc.
- Option 2: take a day off
- Cardio: 30 minutes of easy jogging
- Kern: Like Monday
just do it
“You get good at what you do,” said Naney. “If you want the ability to be balanced and strong on one ski, train the ability to be balanced and strong on one foot.”
He said it was specific to your workout and kept your components separate, at least at the beginning of your workout. Before you put it all together, train your strength separately from your cardio to get that solid foundation.
The most important part of training is frequency. Carve those 20 to 30 minutes out of your busy day to start a workout. When you have a routine that works for you add the duration. Hopefully you are in a positive feedback loop looking forward to your next workout.
Of course, if you can achieve more, you’ll get fitter, Naney said. But something is always better than nothing.