Winter sports enthusiasts in Central Oregon have more choices today than ever before. Do we ride or ski? Free heel or clicked in? X-C or snowshoe? Mountain sports offer something for everyone. One thing is certain, how you train off the mountain is as important to your enjoyment and staying injury free as the equipment you use and the conditions you ski in.
A common misconception among athletes is that they can get in shape and continue to improve physically by simply participating in their sport. In fact, the higher the level of performance and consistency desired, the more important it is to design a specific sports conditioning program, regardless of whether the athlete chooses to compete in their sport.
A good ski & board sports conditioning program is about more than time spent on a treadmill or lifting weights. These sports require high levels of endurance strength, power, stability and mobility along with the athletic prowess of agility (changing directions, start and stop) and quickness (reaction time).
Athletes need to train functionally, using not just the “prime mover” muscles in isolation (as in leg extensions), but training muscles that stabilize and balance throughout all phases and the duration of their activity. Effective athletic training incorporates all of the muscles involved in the complex movement of the sport, in multiple planes, and using multiple joints in concert with each other.
Athletic movement is like an orchestra. Can you imagine a well-rehearsed string section that never rehearsed with the brass section? What if the drum section came in at the wrong time? The muscles in your body and your entire nervous system must learn to work in concert with each other, in perfect harmony, with perfect timing. This is how our body moves in real life and in sport.
Although the most effective winter sport conditioning programs are tailored to the athlete and their specific skiing or snowboarding style, components of a winter sport conditioning program should include:
• Cardiovascular Endurance – increasing a heart’s ability to deliver blood to working muscles and the ability of the muscles to use the blood delivered by the heart.
• Strength – the extent to which muscles exert force by contracting against resistance, such as snow and gravity.
• Flexibility – the ability to achieve an extended range of motion.
• Speed – the ability to move efficiently and quickly without wasted movement or effort.
• Power – the combination of speed and strength; the ability to exert maximum muscular contraction instantly in an explosive burst of movement like turning and jumping.
• Agility – the ability to perform a series of explosive power movements in rapid succession in opposing directions.
• Balance – the ability to control the body’s position, either stationary or while moving, like skiing, snowboarding, or cornering on a bicycle at speed.
• Recovery – the body gets stronger in response to training stimulus. Time spent in rest and recovery is extremely valuable.
It may seem obvious that power and speed athletes, like soccer players, skiers, gymnasts, and X-C ski racers benefit from time spent in the gym. Power athletes need a very strong base of strength in order to achieve maximum power. Muscles must also be adequately prepared for the level of stress that they will undergo when training for explosive power. When strength is developed, these athletes can concentrate on improving their power through plyometric, or explosive training.
Here is an example of a workout designed for the recreational athlete looking to train 2 to 3 times per week when getting close to or in season.
Active Dynamic Warm-up (15-30 mins.)
These are movements that will get the body warm, activate muscles, teach athletic skill and increase your mobility and stability. Skipping rope is an excellent starter for developing reaction time and the strength you’ll need in the legs. Keep your toes up so you land on the balls of the feet. This allows you to use your foot like a springboard. Follow the jump rope with some general mobility and movement drills. This can include arm circles and movements such as skipping and walking active stretches.
Movement Skills and Energy Systems (20-30 mins.)
Change of direction and lateral movement drills will help you negotiate the terrain on the slopes while improving your cardiovascular conditioning. Ladders, cones, hurdles and free movement all incorporate speed, agility, quickness and power and elevate the heart rate much like high intensity intervals.
Strength and Power (20–30 mins.)
Strength and power include whole body power, upper and lower body strength, stability, and balance and core strength. Core strength is essential for snow sports. Start with core bridges and side bridges and progress to Russian twists seated on the floor with a medicine ball. Balance can be improved with single leg exercises and various balance tools.
From the variety of available equipment, conditioning classes like Yoga, Pilates, and Core workouts and certified personal trainers, training in the gym has a place in every athlete’s toolbox. For example, in the gym, with the guidance of a personal trainer or coach, muscle imbalances can be addressed. It is not uncommon for even the most fit athletes to develop muscle imbalances. X-C ski racers may experience weak hip abductors (outside of hips), which can affect hill climbing power. Other general muscle imbalances in athletes include quad/hamstring strength ratio, uneven strength in muscles surrounding the knee, which can pull the patella out of alignment, and one side of the body being stronger than the other.
Another major advantage to strength training in the gym is the reduction in injuries. Power and speed athletes are more likely to sustain acute injuries than endurance athletes. Time spent in the gym can insure that the structural integrity of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons is strong so that impacts resulting from playing contact sports like soccer, football and basketball, or crashes sustained from participation in gravity sports such as skiing and snowboarding are not as devastating.
By strengthening the legs, and doing so without pounding the pavement, you are giving your legs a break. Training the upper body in the weight room can help prevent fatigue during long days on the mountain by helping you maintain good posture and economy of movement. Weight training executed with a proper plan will not slow you down or bulk you up, but actually improve physical economy, making you faster!
The bottom line is that whatever you wind up doing in your life, make sure you are having fun doing it. Life is too short. If, at the end of the day, you ask yourself “did I do everything in my power to be better?” And you answer “yes”, then you are having fun and living the good life.
Dr. Vencil Overland, D.C. of Aspire Wellness Center is located at 2410 NE Twin Knolls Dr. in Bend. 541/382-3563.