With the Turkey Sale over and five weeks to go to the official start of the 2012-2013 winter season, there's still lots of time to get yourself in shape for opening day.
Sitting on your couch and watching ski movies can inspire, but if you want to be fit enough to plow through heavy west coast shmoo, drop 1,500 vertical metres on top-to-bottom runs, hold onto that long traverse to get to the good stuff, bounce your way down bowls full of moguls and rip through the glades, you'll need to be prepared.
Craig Hill, strength and conditioning coach with Canadian Sports Centre Pacific (CSCP) agreed to provide
Pique readers with a few exercises people can do at home or at the gym to get ready for the season.
Hill trains Canada's national ski cross team, which was tops in the world last year. As well, he also works with athletes in a wide variety of sports — alpine, moguls, hockey, SBX and luge — out of the High Performance Centre in Cheakamus Crossing.
Whistler's Marielle Thompson, the current World Cup overall champion in ski cross, agreed to be our fitness model by demonstrating each exercise. The Canadian Sports Centre Pacific high performance centre in the Whistler Atheltes' Centre was used for the demonstration.
The workout is broken down into four parts; a general aerobic warm up, a dynamic warm up, the actual squat circuit workout, and a cool down recovery. Three to four times per week with one rest day in between is recommended in the months leading up to the winter season.
If you are experiencing knee pain, or any type of joint pain at all, stop immediately and visit a physiotherapist to get an assessment. If you're not sure if you can do the exercises, then consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. As well, exercise in front of a mirror when possible to make sure you're doing each exercise properly. Ensure proper exercise technique to maximize effectiveness and minimize chance of injury.
Step 1 — Aerobic Warm-up
Hill recommends a general aerobic warm up that includes 10 to 15 minutes of light jogging, a spin on your bike or any of the cardio machines in the gym. If you're at home and can't get outside, you can skip, do jumping jacks and burpees, run on the spot, whatever. "A lot of (fitness) is just being creative and working with whatever you've got," says Hill. "The goal is to get your heart rate elevated gradually, which in turn gets your muscles warmed up and your joints lubricated."
Step 2 — Dynamic Warm-up
This is a slightly higher-intensity part of the warm-up that focuses on key muscles and joints. Hill suggests these five dynamic warm-up exercises to prepare your body for the main workout. (That's getting off easy — the dynamic warm-ups he programs Thompson and other elite athletes can include 20 to 30 different movements before their workouts even begin).
Lateral Shuffle — You only need a space about three metres long (10 feet) and shuffle sideways back and forth 10 to 20 times without crossing your legs over. Gradually get lower and lower until you are in a half-squat position by the end.
Hip Openers — Stand up tall with your hands on your head; lift your knee, rotate your hip outwards and then bring it back. The goal is to maximize the range of motion around your hips. Repeat 10 to 20 times on both sides until you feel your hips loosen up.
Toe Touches — Keeping your legs stiff with a slight bend in the knee, touch your toes (or shins if you're not that flexible) then as you come back up reach up for the ceiling. Repeat 10 to 20 times. Don't bounce; the goal is to gradually warm up and lengthen your hamstrings and lower back muscles.
Body Weight Squats — With your feet parallel to one another about hip-width apart, do 10 to 20 squats with your fingers interlocked behind your head. Try to get your butt low while keeping your chest high. Your upper torso can lean forward slightly, but your spine should be maintained in a neutral position. Your patellas (kneecaps) should be aligned with your second and third toes at the bottom of your squat.
Walking Lunges — Take a medium step forward with one foot, lowering your back knee almost to the floor while keeping your torso upright. Come back up, stepping forward with your back leg to repeat. Do 20 lunges or 10 per side. You can put your hands on your hips or hold them out to the side for added balance.
Step 3 — The Squat Circuit
The circuit consists of five variations of the squat exercise. Perform two to five sets of the full circuit, and complete the entire circuit with a maximum of 30 seconds rest between exercises. You get a three-minute rest at the end of each circuit.
"Squats are a great exercise for skiers; they work your quads, glutes, hamstrings and lower back; all the major muscle groups that are important for skiing," explains Hill. "Squats also utilize the same joints that you use in skiing; the hips, knees and ankles."
Hill adds, "Most people have a good understanding of what their current level of fitness is. You know if you're in good shape and you usually know if you're not very fit. How intense you make the workout is up to you. You can increase or decrease the difficulty at any time by adjusting the speed of movement, the depth of movement, adding load to your body weight, minimizing recovery between exercises, adding repetitions to each exercise or adding full circuits."
1) SPEED SQUATS
This is the same body weight squat motion as you were doing in the dynamic warm up. The deeper you go each rep, the harder it is — although you should try to be consistent and squat to the same depth each time during this exercise. The minimum depth should be enough to create a 90-degree angle at your knee joint. The maximum depth would be your thigh parallel to the floor.
Primary Goal: improves muscular endurance
Time: start with 30 seconds, then gradually increase to 45 or 60 seconds
Reps: maximize the number of reps you can do in the set time frame, and try to beat it; aim for one rep per second
2) GOBLET SQUAT
This is similar to the body weight squat, but now we are adding load to increase the intensity. "A medicine ball, a dumbbell, a backpack, a rock from your garden or a round of firewood— anything you can hold in two hands. Even a baby, if that's what you have." Hold the 'load' with both hands against your chest. The depth of the squat is the same — try to go a minimum 90 degrees at the knee joint. deeper equals harder.
Primary Goal: muscular strength
Weight: 10 to 50 pounds
Reps: 8 to 12
Tempo: 1 to 2 seconds on the up phase of the exercise and 1 to 2 seconds on the down phase. Controlled movement is key.
3) OVERHEAD SQUAT
To do this exercise you'll need a broomstick, wooden dowel, length of rope or anything that is long enough to hold over your head with your arms straight, and your hands spaced widely apart. The goal of this exercise is to work your core by keeping your form as perfect as possible through 10 reps. Hill recommends doing these squats with a mirror to one side to check your form.
"With feet flat on the floor, squat down keeping elbows locked overhead. Ideally the load (wooden dowel or rope) tracks directly above the lateral malleolus (boney protrusion on the outside of your ankle). Keep your chest high as your butt gets low. Maintain a neutral spine so that you do not arch or round your spine during this exercise. Your core muscles and low back extensors will work hard to maintain the proper position.
Primary Goal: strengthen core and work lower back muscles in a functional movement
Equipment: broomstick, rope
Tempo: Two seconds lowering, hold two seconds at the bottom, two seconds coming back up
4) JUMP SQUAT
Stand with your knees shoulder-width apart and your hands in front of your body "like you're carrying a beach ball," says Hill. Squat down to your lower limit — at least 90 degrees — and then pop up, jumping to your maximum height. Jump consecutively until all reps are completed. Each landing should be soft as you absorb the shock by starting your next squat. You should be fluid with no pauses in between squat, jump, landing and your next rep. Focusing on getting as high as possible while watching yourself in the mirror to make sure your knees don't collapse inward on takeoff or on landing.
Primary Goal: explosive power by firing fast-twitch muscle fibres and also challenges balance.
Height: maximum on every jump
Time: the entire set will only take about 10 seconds to complete
5) LATERAL JUMP SQUAT
Your form should be the same as for the Jump Squat with your hands held up in front, only instead of jumping in place for height you're going to be jumping from side to side. Try to jump laterally at least a metre but you can go as far as you want. This exercise mimics the lateral forces in downhill skiing, and does not allow you to favour one leg over the other.
Primary Goal: lateral explosive power.
Height: maximum on every jump.
Reps: 6 each direction
Time: entire set will take about 20 seconds
Step 4 – Recovery Cool Down
This step is the most commonly skipped part of many athletes' training sessions. It is key to minimizing the stiffness and soreness we feel in the days after a hard workout.
A 10 to 20 min spin, jog or even walk is recommended, combined with thorough stretching of all the muscles (quads, glutes, hamstrings, low back) taxed during the workout.
Also, utilizing hot/cold contrast baths will aid in your recovery.
There are lots of other effective exercises you can do to improve your ski specific fitness, but if you're short on time the 'squat circuit' is good bang for your buck. Hill's advice is to use whatever you have. If you go to the gym, use barbells and dumbbells, medicine balls, etc. If you're working from home, you don't need much — a few metres of floor space, a weigh of some kind and a broomstick.
"Get creative," he says. "Every little thing you do between now and the start of ski season is going to help. Without question, the best training for skiing is skiing. The better shape you are in by the end of November, the more enjoyable those first few powder days are going to be!"
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