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Australian National Champion Powerlifter, in consultation with Troy Flanagan, Ph.D. , High Performance Director, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA).
As the US snow sports season gets under way, I want to give you five key exercises to include in your program that will make sure you’re training the key muscle groups used in alpine skiing. And here’s a little something that’s been one of the keys to the US team’s success – the inclusion of aerobic training. What? You no doubt think of skiing as a high intensity sport – and it is – but it’s the aerobic system that recovers you between runs and provides energy during the late stages of those long runs. Especially with the trend towards high intensity training in both general exercise training and also for many sports, this type of training is not often done by the average skier in preparation for the winter. It can, however, make a big difference when you’re standing at the top of the hill going for your last run after a long day of skiing!
We recently conducted an EMG (electromyogram) study on our athletes in New Zealand to take a fresh look at the muscles used in alpine skiing on today’s equipment. A lot can change in 10 years, so it is important to take a look and make sure you are training specifically. (This also means that exercises that may have been applicable for equipment 10-15 years ago are not so effective now).
What was really interesting about the EMG results was the timing of the contraction of the different muscle groups, and these results determined the exercises we selected below. We were particularly surprised by the significant role of gluteus medius muscle, so we have included the Mobility Lateral Leg Lift exercise below specifically to work on that. Remember that alpine skiing is primarily about eccentric loading (lowering of the load) and the speed of contraction is not necessarily that fast. If you are a slalom skier, sure the contractions are faster, but if you are cruising on a groomer, the rate of force production is relatively slow. So incorporate the following exercises into your program and you will hit the key muscle groups.
An electromyogram (EMG) measures extremely small amounts of electricity generated by muscles below the surface of the skin. Analysis of this activity helps determine motor-unit recruitment, firing rate and synchronization, which will all indicate muscle function and coordination.
Place a barbell behind the neck with your hands supporting the bar. The bar should be stable on your shoulders. Quickly perform a counter movement jump (from an upright standing position, makes an initial downward movement by flexing at the knees and hips, then immediately extends the hips and knees again to jump vertically). Jump as high as you can while maintaining an upright torso.
Sets: 4 Reps: 3-4
This time a barbell rests on the front of your shoulders – hands are under the bar with wrists bent back. Hold your chest up and look slightly forward. Your feet should be facing forward with the toes slightly outward. Slowly lower down to just below 90° knee flexion and then return to the standing position. Try to maintain neutral curve of the spine throughout all phases of the movement. The neutral curve of the spine is the natural – and strongest – position of the spine, when the cervical, thoracic and lumbar curves are present and in good alignment.
Sets: 4-5 Reps: 4-6
Start in a kneeling position with the hips pushed forward, with your partner holding the back of your lower legs tight, just above the ankles, in order to anchor you to the floor. Slowly lower yourself forward towards the floor, catching yourself with your hands. You may use your hands to push yourself back up until you feel your hamstrings engage again.
Sets: 4-5 Reps: 6-8
Start by standing on one leg on a box, with your foot near one edge of the box. Hold a medicine ball directly out in front. Maintain an upright spine as you slowly squat on one leg down to 90° knee flexion, then come back up to a standing position again.
Sets: 3-4 Reps: 3-5
This one strengthens gluteus medius while also working on your flexibility. Start by standing and lifting one knee up in front of you until it has a 90° flexion. Now abduct the leg out to 90° degrees at the hip and extend your leg. You can rest your lag onto a high box or a rail at this point. From here, reverse the action and return to a standing position. Repeat both sides.
Sets: 4 Reps: 3-5
In the past, some of our skiers who were not aerobically strong would struggle in the later stages of a race. Now we know why.
It is typical for us to take blood lactates and blood pH after a world cup alpine run and see almost 20 mmol/L of lactate and blood pH scores of below 7.10. That’s really acidic! A world cup run typically lasts two minutes and our skiers can average a g-force of over 5 for the entire run. That’s like sitting in a formula one car! The forces are huge and hence the high intensity nature of the sport. However, if you look at the energy metabolism of an all-out, two minute exhaustive exercise bout, the aerobic system can play a big role, particularly in the final 30-60 seconds. Now several studies have shown that in a two minute all-out exhaustive exercise bout, over half of your ATP energy produced in the muscles is done by the aerobic system.
Recently, we’ve really worked on aerobic fitness to complement our training. It’s not uncommon for athletes to gently cycle for at least an hour per day in order to build and maintain their aerobic base. The difference in our athletes’ abilities to finish off a race strongly and to recover very quickly between runs on training days was significant.
So what does this mean for the weekend warrior? If you want to improve your ability to last a long run and to back up for many runs in a day or even several days of skiing in a row, then aerobic training can really help out. Of course, 2XU Compression apparel is another vital component to recovery between sessions and consecutive days of skiing. Our athletes use the 2XU Thermal Compression Tights, which have a graduated fit like all 2XU Compression gear, which promotes increased circulation for faster recovery by reducing muscle damage and fatigue. The thermal range has the added benefit of providing greater regulation of your core body temperature.
For the aerobic training, we typically use bikes to train our skiers to reduce the time they spend on their feet, but you can incorporate hiking or slow jogging or swimming if you prefer. Our athletes will spend 60-90 minutes a day on aerobic exercise. I would suggest 60 minutes at least three times per week to complement your training.
2XU is proud to be the Official Compression Partner of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA).