Shaping Up For Ski Season

With most ski slopes opening in less than two months, now is the time to initiate a sensible ski conditioning program. If you wait until the snow flies you won’t be able to properly pre-condition your musculoskeletal system for the rigors of downhill skiing. So for safe, successful, and sustained ski runs this winter, start shaping-up now.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Although downhill skiing is not considered an aerobic activity, I strongly recommend some regular endurance exercise to enhance your cardiovascular fitness and establish a solid base for active days on the slopes. Endurance exercise is performed at low to moderate effort levels for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Brisk walking is an acceptable aerobic activity, but I advise progressing to jogging, cycling, stepping, or other forms of endurance exercise that enable you to attain and maintain a higher heart rate response. Generally speaking, your training heart rate should be about 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. The table below presents target training heart rates for men and women between 20 and 80 years of age.

Age 20 yrs. 30 yrs. 40 yrs. 50 yrs. 60 yrs. 70 yrs. 80 yrs.
Maximum Heart Rate 200 bpm 190 bpm 180 bpm 170 bpm 160 bpm 150 bpm 140 bpm
Target Training Heart Rate 140 bpm 133 bpm 126 bpm 119 bpm 112 bpm 105 bpm 98 bpm

Because downhill skiing is not a continuous activity, you may prefer an interval training approach to endurance exercise. That is, instead of pedaling the exercise cycle at level 4 for 24 minutes, you could alternate between level 3 for 3 minutes and level 5 for 3 minutes. Interval training basically alternates periods of higher effort exercise with periods of lower effort exercise. This type of training is very effective for enhancing cardiovascular fitness, and is also more similar to downhill skiing than continuous aerobic activity. You should do at least three endurance exercise sessions a week for best results.

Muscular Fitness

Downhill skiing requires intense muscular effort, especially in the quadriceps, hamstring, and gluteal muscles of the legs, and in the oblique muscles of the midsection. While good muscle strength is essential for a successful run, good muscle endurance is necessary for successive trips down the slopes. After all, when you pay for a day ticket, you don’t want to feel fatigued after the first hour of skiing.

Because they are the most important muscles for improved skiing performance, I recommend starting your strength training workout with the large muscles of the legs. If you have access to resistance machines, the preferred leg exercises and training protocol are as follows:

Leg Extension Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Leg Curl Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Leg Press Machine 1 set 12-16 reps 3 days/week
Hip Adduction Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Hip Abduction Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week

The following midsection and upper body machine exercises should satisfactorily round out the ski strength training program.

Low Back Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Abdominal Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Rotary Torso Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Chest Cross Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Pullover Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Lateral Raise Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Biceps Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Triceps Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week
Neck Machine 1 set 8-12 reps 3 days/week

The time to complete one set each of these 14 strength building exercises is less than 30 minutes, and if you can’t find three days a week to train, two weekly sessions will produce about 90 percent as much muscle benefit. If you prefer to use free-weights, the following exercises will provide an excellent overall muscle conditioning program.

Dumbbell Squat 2 sets 10-15 reps 3 days/week
Dumbbell Lunge 2 sets 10-15 reps 3 days/week
Bodyweight Trunk Curl 2 sets 20-30 reps 3 days/week
Bodyweight Trunk Ext. 2 sets 10-15 reps 3 days/week
Dumbbell Bench Press 2 sets 10-15 reps 3 days/week
Dumbbell Bent Row 2 sets 10-15 reps 3 days/week
Dumbbell Press 2 sets 10-15 reps 3 days/week
Dumbbell Curl 2 sets 10-15 reps 3 days/week

The time to complete two sets each of these eight strength building exercises is about 45 minutes, if you rest two minutes between sets. If you are not certain how to perform the free-weight exercises with proper technique, please send a self-address and stamped envelope to Wayne Westcott, South Shore YMCA, 79 Coddington Street, Quincy, MA 02169.

Flexibility Fitness

Joint flexibility is another fitness component that can have a positive influence on your skiing performance. This is particularly applicable to the hip and trunk region of the body, where most of the twisting action occurs. Although you may include a variety of flexibility exercises in your training program, perhaps the single most useful ski stretch is the T-stretch. To do this stretch properly, lie face-up on the carpet with your legs straight and your arms straight out to the sides like the letter T. Slowly raise your right leg as high as possible, then cross it over your body and attempt to touch your right foot to your left hand. You should feel a gentle pull through your thigh, hip, and lower back as you hold the fully-stretched position for about 30 seconds. Return your right leg to the starting position. Now do the same movement with your left leg, and hold the fully-stretched position for about 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch three times to each side, and do this exercise every day if possible.

This ski-conditioning program should help you enjoy a more active, high-performance, injury-free season on your favorite slopes. In addition, if you follow the program consistently for the next two months, you should add 2 to 4 pounds of muscle and lose 4 to 6 pounds of fat. So take your calendar and mark off your training sessions now. Once you complete a couple weeks of workouts, you should begin to see some significant improvements in your cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, and joint flexibility.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is author of several fitness books including Building Strength and Stamina and Strength Training Past 50.

Wayne L. Westcott PhD Written by Wayne L. Westcott PhD

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