Before I lived in a place where I could be on snow seven to twelve months per year I had to get my fix in a one-week ski trip that was less like a vacation and more like a skiing Tour De France (sans dope).
We would race to make an early flight to Salt Lake, ski bell-to-bell for six days or so, and try not to get snowed in up the canyon the last day so we could sprint back to the airport. In reality we needed a vacation when we got back.
After a rude awakening our first year we started to think about getting in some kind of ski shape prior to landing on snow. Now that we live at the source and ski almost year-round on skinny, fat and PHAT skis we still think about staying in shape for that first day on snow. And truth be told, even Bode Miller and his team of downhill pros spend a good deal of their off-season doing dry-land training.
If you’re like most ski vacationers you probably do some other athletic activities during the year, and perhaps those things get you ready for the big ski trip. Or maybe you live in ski country and ride your bike all summer and have no arms or core. But what if….you hate the gym, want to save your pennies for those $10 hamburgers slope-side and don’t need some skinny, perpetually motivated, annoying fitness professional cheering you on while you do pushups? Then this is for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a personal trainer, I don’t have a degree or professional experience in this area. What I do have is: a lifetime of needing to strength train and also hating gyms, a huge background in cycling and a small background in Nordic skiing, twenty-seven years of alpine skiing, eight years of ski vacations plus four years living in ski country, and a system that works to strengthen the muscles used for alpine skiing. Every year I’ve been working on this I have seen improvement. And I still don’t go to a gym. And I don’t do Crossfit either.
Equipment: Weights (an Olympic bar and free weights are great, but varied barbells will work), medicine ball, fitness ball, inflatable balance discs, pull-up bar, a step (like that old Reebok aerobics thing in the back of the garage gathering dust). If you do belong to a gym you can probably find most of these things in the fitness area. If not, these items will set you back anywhere from one to three months in membership fees at a gym, but they are yours to keep. You can find it all at Dick’s, But don’t google that at work.
Philosophy: Alpine skiing hammers your quads. But it also relies on balance, which comes from core strength. Additionally, people commonly forget about the upper body in skiing. Once your hands get behind you it’s all..ahem..downhill from there.
Arms and shoulders get tired from pole plants and risk injury from strange falls. Protecting them with a layer of muscle gives them the strength for that little knuckle drag or tree grab. Because I know, you never fall. Neither do I. Never once.
The workout: Each exercise is done for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds rest. Correct form is always preferable to speed; as you get stronger your speed will improve while your form stays consistent. Start with one circuit and work your way up to as many as you can.
Math Moment: If there are 12 exercises, each taking 30 seconds with a 30 second rest, it takes…..12 minutes to do a circuit. We max out at three, and have seen excellent results. So 36 minutes of effort for an awesome ski trip. If you have a training watch that can be programmed, set it up to beep at you every 30 seconds. Otherwise get a big clock or count or something. You get the point. The exercises are listed in an order that allows certain muscle groups to rest while working on the other, but they can be done in any order and even with a ski buddy.
Twisting squat: Extend your arms, start in a squatting position and slowly rise and twist side to side. This works your obliques and quads in a dynamic motion related to skiing. Alternate sides on each rep and don’t swing; place yourself in each position solidly.
Pushups: Alternate one hand on the medicine ball and the other on the ground. This varies the angles to hit every part of your shoulder and it also gets you in the gut.
Can be done on your knees “girl style” and eventually as full pushups. Keep your back flat. Starts out easy and begins to suck at the 20 second mark. Hang in there.
Superman: Arch your back, tighten glutes, raise arms and legs. Pass the weight around your back in circles. Every few, switch directions. This strengthens your lower back (core) and works your shoulders at a unique angle. If you’re pregnant do this one standing…your baby will appreciate not being squished. If that’s not a baby in there then you have work to do.
Oblique crunch: Can be done without weights to begin with. Alternate sides while keeping legs stationary (don’t use them for help). As it gets easier try holding a weight to your chest as you crunch.
One leg hops: Helps with dynamic strength. Spring from your ankle from one foot onto a box and land on the ground with the other. Repeat. Don’t miss the box. Or alternatively, wear shin guards.
Ball crunch: Isolate the upper abs by resting your lower back on the ball. Can be done with or without weights, but if you are using weights keep your arms static. It is a core exercise rather than an arm exercise. Don’t use momentum because that’s just cheating.
Pullup/Chinup: Hands facing you is easier than hands out. If you’re like me, and the most of these you’ve done was for the President’s Physical Fitness test in the 80’s, start with hands facing you. If you can’t do one, use a stool to start at the top and slowly lower yourself. Eventually work up to about ten, then switch to hands out. This works your core and lats for those steep hill pole plants.
Side Plank: Fifteen seconds per side. This works your obliques and lower back. Can be done with or without weights. Make sure your body forms a straight line.
Ball smash: On a hard surface, bounce the medicine ball hard against the ground, follow through backwards with your hands, catch it and repeat. This helps with dynamic strength for your shoulders and skiing-wise, helps you return your hands to the front where they need to be for proper form; hands front. It is also a fantastic way to work out frustration…the harder you
slam, the higher the ball returns. Please don’t do this if you live in an apartment (your downstairs neighbor might maim you).
Plank: Works the whole core. Be sure to keep your back flat – no cheating. Can be done with or without weight. I didn’t post a picture because you probably know what a plank looks like and posting pictures of planking is just so 2009.
Military Press: With bar or barbells. Works the shoulders and helps prevent rotator cuff issues. Also helps your beach muscles, but not as much as curls.
Balancing squats: Hands down my favorite. This is far more effective than a regular squat for the precise balance of skiing. It takes much less weight to be effective and it reinforces the point that skiing is about strength while balancing. You’ll expect to feel it in your legs, but don’t be surprised when your core tries to crash this party. Be sure to use very good form and start light – these are harder than they look. Also, don’t do them drunk because you’ll fall backwards on your arse.
There. That’s it. Go do this three times a week starting now and until your ski trip. Then you can come home, hopefully with both knees and shoulders intact, and sit on the couch until you book your next trip, panic, and look at this again in October. Better bookmark it.