Want to get in shape for ski season?

Raise your hand if this sounds like you:

You book a great week-long ski vacation somewhere out west. Maybe Heavenly? Lake Louise? Whistler? You can’t stop thinking about knee deep powder, and 3,000+ vertical feet, and runs that take half an hour to ski down. Then you start thinking about that, and you remember the last ski vacation you took:

  • Your legs were tired by lunchtime on the first day;
  • You woke up on day 2 and they felt like cement pillars but you pushed through.
  • Day 3 was more of the same, and
  • by day 4 you decided that you needed a break so you spent the day in the village.
  • Day 5 was better although you didn’t really feel up to the long runs but you realize vacation was nearly over so you pushed yourself, and somehow survived.
  • Then you woke up on day 6 and you were just exhausted, so you opt to check out the local town again, which is not so bad as most ski resorts are surrounded by great shops and interesting towns, but if you wanted to spend your vacation shopping, you probably would have picked a sunnier village. You enjoy your last day but can’t help thinking to yourself that next year you’ll get in shape so that you can really enjoy the week and take advantage of the six-day pass you paid for in advance.

The good thing is that there is a solution. And a pretty enjoyable one. Enjoyable if you like to work out that is. :) Even if you don’t, working out doesn’t need to be that bad. Get yourself an mp3 player or a friend to workout with and it might turn into a nice escape.

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Now the real question: what do you do to prepare for a ski trip – or for ski season for those that hit the slopes locally? Most people who work out use machine-based exercises that isolate certain muscles and then do “cardio” by sitting on a bike or jogging on a treadmill at the same pace for 30-40 minutes.

You could do that to prepare for the trip, and you would be better off than if you had done nothing. But there are much better ways. There are a few problems with the machine approach to training. For one thing, machines isolate muscles, but when you ski, your muscles work together to generate movements. To train your body to be ready for what the mountain has to offer, you need to strengthen the movements. This is not possible on machines. Thankfully, this is possible with cables or bands, dumbbells and in some cases just your own bodyweight.

Traditional cardio involves working at the same effort for an extended period of time – it is aerobic. Skiing, on the other hand, involved intermittent bursts of energy for shorter durations – it is anaerobic. Very few people ski for more than a couple of minutes consecutively. This makes intervals a much better approach. Research very clearly shows that intervals are a much more effective way of conditioning your body for anaerobic work. In fact, the research also shows that interval training can even improve your aerobic conditioning more than steady-state cardio!

So now you know what not to do, but what should you do?

For starters, you should work on mobility. Ever experience low back pain after a day of skiing? If so, it may actually be due to a lack of mobility in your hips or thoracic spine (or t-spine – the area between your shoulder blades). This is because when your hips and t-spine don’t work well, your low back has to pick up the slack. You’ll also notice that you turn better when your hips work well. Ideally your warm-up will also address specific corrective exercises to address any imbalances you have accumulated.

Short of a custom dynamic warm-up, Michael Boyle’s “Essential Eight” is a nice alternative, and includes exercises for the hip, the t-spine, and ankles as well as activation exercises for your glutes.

After that, think about a program that works on strength and power.

  • For power work, think about medicine pall chest passes against a wall and lateral and medial hurdle hops (that is one leg hops in both direction). Make sure you work on sticking the landing between hops and then you can progress to hopping for speed, distance and height. Keep the volume low with power exercises.
  • For strength think about pulling something (rows or chin-ups), pushing something (bench press or push ups), doing something with your hips (Romanian deadlifts or stability ball leg curls) and something with your knees (some form of squat), and don’t forget to go for the core. When you are talking core, make sure you stay away from flexion and that you address the front (planks or stability ball rollouts), the back (glute bridges or bird dogs), and the side (side planks or cable anti-rotation press). That’s a lot of exercises, but it becomes manageable if you split it into a 2 day program.

Once you’ve done the strength work, it’s time for the intervals!

One of the beautiful features of intervals is that you can get more benefit out of 15 minutes of high intensity intervals than you can from 40 minutes of steady-state cardio. There are many options to try with intervals. Think about a 1:2 or 1:3 work to rest ratio (1:3 would be 30 seconds hard then 90s easy).

One final part of the equation is soft-tissue work. Massage is great, and should be something you do regularly, but you probably can’t afford it every day. Buy yourself a foam roll, though and you can get a daily fix of self-myofascial release.

If you’re in Ottawa, you can get all of this with our semi-private or group training options at Custom Strength. Not in Ottawa? Or just prefer to train on your own? All of this is set up for you in my ski training ebook.

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3 thoughts on “Want to get in shape for ski season?”

  1. Hey Ryan, I just skimmed through that video, so can’t really comment. What I will say is that for most people, getting stronger is your best option for improving your vertical. Do you workout? Strengthening? Particularly legs and core. Vertical jump is an expression of power, which is a combination of speed and strength. Strength is more often lacking than speed. although not always.

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