Strength Training for Skiing

Dr. Westcott
In spite of the fact that chair lifts take you up the mountain, downhill skiing is a very physically demanding activity. The body positions that provide the best combination of balance, stability, control and speed are those that require relatively high levels of muscle strength. In addition to enhanced skiing performance, a strong musculoskeletal system is your best protection against acute and overuse injuries that seem all too common in this sport.

While no one would argue the value of cardiovascular conditioning, aerobic fitness is clearly not the limiting factor in downhill skiing. And though lack of joint flexibility may lead to performance limitations, excessive joint mobility is typically more harmful than helpful. The key to better skiing is greater muscle strength, pure and simple. For overall health and fitness, do your favorite endurance activities and stretching exercises. But for confidence and competence on the black diamond trails, do your strength training.

Downhill skiing is essentially a power activity that emphasizes the anaerobic energy system. Forceful contractions of the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles provide proper body positioning to use the snow and gravity to best advantage. Be thankful for turns, because you can’t hold the power position for very long without formidable muscle fatigue. Turns offer both challenge and change of position. The brief unloading phase provides momentary release and relief for the hard-working quadriceps and hamstrings. The turning action also activates the rotational muscles of the midsection and the lateral movement muscles of the thighs. More specifically, smooth turns are closely related to strong external and internal oblique muscles that control midsection rotation, and to strong hip abductor and adductor muscles that shift the hips from side to side.

Although not as important for power production, the muscles of the shoulders, torso, and arms are responsible for effective pole plants, and for safely absorbing impact forces in the event of a fall. Other muscles that serve an essential function in terms of postural support and injury prevention are the low back and neck muscles.

Finally, the anterior tibial muscles of the shin surround and largely control the ankle joint with respect to skiing movements. While modern ski boots reduce the ankle injuries, strong anterior tibial muscles certainly enhance foot action and functional ability for downhill skiing.

Exercise Selection
Based on our downhill skiing needs analyses, the following machine and free-weight exercises are recommended. To ensure muscle balance and lessen injury potential, it is advisable to train opposing muscle groups. For example, you should work both the anterior tibial muscles and the calf muscles for balanced muscle development in the lower leg. Generally speaking it is best to begin with exercises for the larger muscle groups of the legs, and proceed to the smaller muscle groups of the torso, arms, midsection and neck.

Comprehensive Selection of Ski Strengthening Exercises


Muscle Group

Ski Function

Machine Exercise

Free-Weight Exercise


Quadriceps Power position Leg extension Barbell squat
Hamstrings Power position Leg curl Barbell squat
Hip Adductors Turns Hip adductor
Hip Abductors Turns Hip abductor
Chest Pole action Chest cross Dumbbell bench press
Upper Back Pole action Pullover Dumbbell bent row
Shoulders Pole action Lateral raise Dumbbell press
Biceps Pole action Biceps Dumbbell curl
Triceps Pole action Triceps Dumbbell kickback
Lower Back Poster support Low back Back extension
Abdominals Posture support Abdominal Trunk curl
Internal/External Turns Rotary torso Twisting trunk curl
Obliques Posture support
Neck Posture support 4-way neck
Anterior Tibials Ankle function Toe raises
Calves Ankle function Calf Heel raises

While this represents a comprehensive selection of strength training exercises, some skiers may not have time to do this workout before and particularly during the ski season. In this case, I recommend the “Big Six Ski Strengthening Exercises” that address most of the major muscle groups in a shorter training season.

Big Six Ski Strengthening Exercises


Exercise

Major Muscle Groups


Leg Press
Hip Adduction
Hip Abduction
Chest Press
Seated Row
Rotary Torso
Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteals, Calves
Hip Adductors
Hip Abductors
Chest, Front Shoulders, Triceps
Upper Back, Rear Shoulders, Biceps
Internal/External Obliques, Lower Back, Abdominals

Exercise Technique
It is important to strength train in a safe, effective, and efficient manner. In terms of training technique, this means full movement range and slow movement speed on every repetition.

Full Movement Range: Strength is best developed in the movement range that is exercised against the resistance. In order to develop strength throughout the entire joint action, it is necessary to train through the full movement range. That is, the target muscle should be worked from the fully-stretched position to the fully-contracted position.

Slow Movement Speed: Slow strength training movements are more productive than fast strength training movements. This is because slow movement speeds produce more muscle force and more muscle tension than fast movement speeds. Slower movement speeds also place less emphasis on momentum and more emphasis on the target muscle. Because downhill skiing involves mostly eccentric muscle contractions, it may be advisable to emphasize the negative (lowering) phase of each repetition. My personal preference is six-second repetitions with two seconds for each lifting movement and four seconds for each lowering movement.

Breathing: It is essential to breath on every repetition, as breath holding can lead to undesirable increases in blood pressure as well as restricted blood flow. The recommended breathing pattern is to exhale during each lifting movement and to inhale during each lowering movement.

Exercise Protocol

Exercise protocol includes the number of training sessions per week, the number of sets and repetitions, and the guidelines for progressing to heavier resistance. Because strength development is more closely related to training intensity than training duration, excellent results may be attained with relatively brief time commitment.

Exercise Frequency

Research reveals that two training sessions per week produce 85 percent as much strength development as three training sessions per week. It is therefore preferable to train three days per week if your schedule permits. However, you may attain the same level of strength fitness over a longer training period on two-day-per-week training.

Exercise Sets

Studies do not show any strength-building advantage for multiple-set training. Although there is nothing wrong with performing warm-up sets, one stimulus set is as effective as two or three sets for increasing muscle strength. That is, one maximum effort exercise set provides the essential stimulus for new strength development. This is good news for me and other individuals who have time constraints on their training sessions.

Exercise Repetitions and Resistance: Muscle strength is best developed by fatiguing the target muscle within the anaerobic energy system, which for most practical purposes is between 50-70 seconds. At a controlled movement speed of six seconds per repetition, this corresponds to about 8-12 repetitions per set. Most people can perform 8-12 repetitions with about 75 percent of their maximum resistance, which is a safe and productive exercise workload. Although you may periodically want to train with higher or lower repetitions, 8-12 repetitions per set is the recommended repetition range.

Exercise Progression

If you use the recommended 8-12 repetitions per set, then you need a sensible progression policy. Because muscle strength develops gradually, you should not increase the resistance more than five percent between successive training sessions. Basically, you should stay with a given weightload until you can complete 12 repetitions in good form. Then add five percent more resistance (usually 2.5 to 5.0 pounds) to your next workout. This double progressive system, first adding more repetitions then adding more resistance, is a safe and sound method for stimulating consistent strength gains.

Summary

Strength training is an excellent conditioning activity for downhill skiing. If you choose a comprehensive exercise program, the training sessions may take about 40 minutes. If you prefer the briefer “Big Six Ski Strengthening Exercises” you should complete each workout in about 15 minutes.

The recommended training program is one set of 8-12 repetitions with approximately 75 percent of maximum resistance. You should perform every repetition through a full movement range at a slow movement speed, exhaling during the lifting phase and inhaling during the lowering phase. Two exercise sessions per week are sufficient, especially during the ski season, but three workouts per week will produce slightly better results. Keep in mind that gradual strength gain is the major training objective, and avoid any tendency to do too much too soon. If possible, train under the guidance of a knowledgeable instructor, or at least with a compatible exercise partner. Maintain a consistent workout schedule, and keep accurate records of your training progress. If you start now, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much better and longer you ski this winter.

Six Week Training Program for the Big Six Ski Strengthening Exercises

The following charts provide a sample six week ski preparation program using the Big Six Ski Strengthening Exercises. The suggested training weightloads should be increased or decreased according to individual abilities. Use an appropriate weightload to complete the recommended number of repetitions in perfect form.

Week One: Monday and Thursday


Exercise Sets Reps Suggested Weight Suggested Weight
Males Females

Leg Press
Hip Adduction
Hip Abduction
Chest Press
Seated Row
Rotary Torso
1
1
1
1
1
1
12
12
12
12
12
12
120.0 lbs.
75.0 lbs.
60.0 lbs.
60.0 lbs.
80.0 lbs.
60.0 lbs.
80.0 lbs.
55.0 lbs.
40.0 lbs.
30.0 lbs.
50.0 lbs.
40.0 lbs.

Week Two: Monday and Thursday*


Exercise Sets Reps Suggested Weight Suggested Weight
Males Females

Leg Press
Hip Adduction
Hip Abduction
Chest Press
Seated Row
Rotary Torso
1
1
1
1
1
1
12
12
12
12
12
12
130.0 lbs.
80.0 lbs.
65.0 lbs.
65.0 lbs.
85.0 lbs.
65.0 lbs.
85.0 lbs.
60.0 lbs.
42.5 lbs.
32.5 lbs.
55.0 lbs.
42.5 lbs.

*Add about five to 10 percent more resistance as long as you can complete 12 repetitions in perfect form.

Week Three: Monday and Thursday*


Exercise Sets Reps Suggested Weight Suggested Weight
Males Females

Leg Press
Hip Adduction
Hip Abduction
Chest Press
Seated Row
Rotary Torso
1
1
1
1
1
1
10
10
10
10
10
10
145.0 lbs.
90.0 lbs.
75.0 lbs.
75.0 lbs.
95.0 lbs.
75.0 lbs.
95.0 lbs.
67.5 lbs.
47.5 lbs.
37.5 lbs.
62.5 lbs.
47.5 lbs.

*Add about 10 to 15 percent more resistance and reduce the number of repetitions to 10 per set.

Week Four: Monday and Thursday*


Exercise Sets Reps Suggested Weight Suggested Weight
Males Females

Leg Press
Hip Adduction
Hip Abduction
Chest Press
Seated Row
Rotary Torso
1
1
1
1
1
1
10
10
10
10
10
10
155.0 lbs.
97.5 lbs.
80.0 lbs.
80.0 lbs.
102.5 lbs.
80.0 lbs.
102.5 lbs.
72.5 lbs.
50.0 lbs.
40.0 lbs.
67.5 lbs.
50.0 lbs.

*Add about 5 to 10 percent more resistance as long as you can complete 10 repetitions in perfect form.

Week Five: Monday and Thursday*


Exercise Sets Reps Suggested Weight Suggested Weight
Males Females

Leg Press
Hip Adduction
Hip Abduction
Chest Press
Seated Row
Rotary Torso
1
1
1
1
1
1
8
8
8
8
8
8
170.0 lbs.
107.5 lbs.
90.0 lbs.
90.0 lbs.
115.0 lbs.
90.0 lbs.
115.0 lbs.
80.0 lbs.
55.0 lbs.
45.0 lbs.
76.0 lbs.
55.0 lbs.

*Add about 10 to 15 percent more resistance and reduce the number of repetitions to 8 per set.

Week Six: Monday and Thursday*


Exercise Sets Reps Suggested Weight Suggested Weight
Males Females

Leg Press
Hip Adduction
Hip Abduction
Chest Press
Seated Row
Rotary Torso
1
1
1
1
1
1
8
8
8
8
8
8
180.0 lbs.
115.0 lbs.
100.0 lbs.
100.0 lbs.
125.0 lbs.
100.0 lbs.
125.0 lbs.
85.0 lbs.
60.0 lbs.
50.0 lbs.
80.0 lbs.
60.0 lbs.

*Add about 5 to 10 percent more resistance as long as you can complete 8 repetitions in perfect form.




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

©2001 Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. all rights reserved

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

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