Fitness for Skiing

It is ski season again and lots of people are doing their best to lose weight and build their fitness ready for the slopes and the après heli skiing Canada. I like everyone else wanted to get in shape for my annual ski trip so this sparked my interest about training for skiing and the resources available on the internet. Actually good resources about fitness for skiing was sparse and terms of quantity and quality. Clearly their are many components to a fitness programme so I will go through what is required including cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, power and balance. I will also discuss the relative merits of vibration training, and whether there is any point in adding vibration to your programme. The advice I am going to give today is based on the idea of a 8 week programme (this is way too short but I am a realist).

Cardio fitness

Any activity that involved activity for a long duration, say 6 ours per day for 6 days, is going to require cardiovascular fitness. Add to that the fact that most skiing is done at high altitude, meaning that oxygen will be more scarce, which means that having good cardio health and fitness is an absolute necessity for skiing fitness.

Also having high cardio fitness also means that your powers of recovery will be better from each bout of skiing that you do. This means that you will be more ready to ski again after lunch or as you progress through your holiday.

I would suggest a minimum of 3 cardio sessions per week, probably 1 long slow session for up to 1 hour, 1 short fast session of around 20 mins and even 1 interval session lasting about 30-40 mins. Many of the equipment at gyms these days have interval programmes built in. The interval programmes are also good because they relieve the boredom of training indoors.

Other gadgets you can try are altitude simulation equipment, such as hybreathe (a portable altitude simulator) or one of the many altitude tents available.

Muscular Strength

Strength is an absolute must for skiers, especially novices. Most of your time will be spent climbing off your bottom and it takes a hell of a lot of strength to perform basic turns if technique is not yet perfected. Quad strength is absolutely paramount but also core strength and some upper body strength for using your poles.

Strength is the muscles ability to develop force, which in terms of skiing means lifting more than your normal body weight, often on just 1 leg. You will often be travelling at speed meaning that when you perform turns you will be lifting multiples of your body weight, and before you can actually turn you have to work eccentrically to stop your body from collapsing (I will talk a little bit more about this in the section on vibration training).

To develop strength there is no alternative than to lift heavy weights, close to your maximum with low repetitions – 2 sets of 5 reps is probably ideal. You need to train for strength minimum 2 times per week. The exercises I would include squat or dead lift, bench press, bicep curls and some core exercises front and back. You can supplement with other exercises to keep your training interesting. You can also find machines that incorporate vibration training into your strength by using machines with Vibrex, this technology is very new so might not be available to everyone yet.

Muscular Endurance

Once you have increased your strength it is then time to develop your muscular endurance as when you are skiing it will be for maybe 6 hours per day so being fatigue resistant is important. Muscular endurance is the ability to lift a submaximal force many times. You will be performing turns and stopping repeatedly so this could be the most important part of your programme, we have all felt our legs start to burn when we are only half way down a slope!

To develop muscular endurance ideally you need to lift around 50% of you maximum about 15 times, and I personally would do 3 sets of this per session. Keep the exercises the same as your strength training. As a shortcut you can even put the exercises in a circuit and include this as one of your cardio sessions.

Power

To develop power there seems to be good evidence that this is where vibration platforms can be very useful. Please click here for a PDF document showing different power exercises that can be performed on a platform. I would stick to dynamic squats, dynamic wide stance squats, dynamic one leg squats (this will also help with your balance) and jumping on the platform. As mentioned earlier the vibration platform will also help with eccentric strength, which is the strength you need to stop your body from collapsing especially when performing turns at speed.

When training for power you need to reduce the quantity of sessions you do as it is important your muscles are fresh each time you train. I would train 2 times per week on power.

If you don’t have access to vibration training, then you can use conventional exercises, lifting around 30% of your maximum but the key is to explode through the lift, and try to throw the bar away (obviously it would be good to have some help with this as safety is the most important thing. Lift about 7 reps per set and perform 2 sets of each exercise.

Balance

Everybody forgets about balance but this is one of the most important elements of a skiing programme. The key to good balance is having a strong internal focus. If you keep focussing on things outside your body then you will fall easily. Keep your attention inside your body and you will find your balance improving very quickly. A good place to focus is on your breathing, just behind your tummy. This is a good thing to remember when you are skiing also.

Again the vibration platforms are very good for developing balance for example doing one-leg squats and jumps. Also another vibration related product I cam across is called flexi-bar. This is very good for developing balance and it will help your core also.

Flexibility

Another frequently forgotten element of the ski training programme is flexibility. Good flexibility is important for proper efficient muscle action, and also to enable you to fall with less risk of injury.

After every training session stretch each muscle of your body (especially the ones you have been working) and hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds to develop good flexibility. If you are creative this is a good chance to develop your balance and a strong internal focus.

Breathing Muscle Training

One of the more recent innovations is in breathing muscle training. There are now several devices such as powerlung and powerbreathe. For extra benefit I would recommend a vibration breathing device such as powerbreathe as this can increase growth hormone which can enhance strength and recovery, cardio health as well as training the respiratory system.

Programme Plan

If you have lots of time you can phase your training to make sure you develop each component fully, but if you only have 6-8 weeks left I would recommend 2 cardio sessions per week (1 interval) and 2 circuit sessions per week. In the circuit sessions you can increase muscular strength and endurance whilst also training your cardio fitness.

Enjoy your skiing, see you on the slopes!

Dr Paul Sumners is a neurophysiologist at London South Bank University. His expertise is learning and memory of respiratory and skeletal muscle systems, and performance improvement. He is also an inventor of vibration training related devices whose benefits are being applied to elite athletes and clinical populations. His personal vibration training blog is http://vibrotraining.blogspot.com

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