By Jake Hutchinson
Jake has spent more than 25 years working as an avalanche professional. He is currently a lead instructor for the American Avalanche Institute, an avalanche forecaster for Glacier National Park, and an avalanche consultant. Off the snow, Hutchinson is the Head of Instructor and Seminar development for Gym Jones in Salt Lake City.
While deep snow is a cure for almost every ill, it won’t forgive you for being out of shape. I use the next few months to train to be a stronger skier, less injury prone, and more capable of nailing that last 200 feet of a big 3,000-foot face in style — rather than stagger to the lift with screaming quads and aching knees.
Hopefully, you’ve kept yourself in reasonably good shape over the summer, so your fall fitness programming requires only an emphasis switch to the major skiing muscle groups. I’ve written this program to require minimal gear. It asks for a minimum of three days a week for 90 minutes each day. For those who venture off-piste and out of bounds, or those who enjoy a little hiking at their local hill, I’ve included a fourth day each week for you.
Photos © Lisa Boshard used with permission
Let’s break our training down to the major muscle groups and primary movements used in skiing.
Everyone just wants bigger, stronger, more efficient quads, because for most of us, this is where we feel the burn after few fast runs. We assume, incorrectly, that the quads the most important muscles to build for skiing. The reality is, the quads are one part of a very complex set of muscle groups that allow us to do amazing things with our legs. Many knee injuries are a result of our quads overpowering or being out of balance with the other major muscle groups in our legs. Our societal habit of sitting all day leads to lazy glutes, lazy hamstrings and bad posture, which directly contribute to imbalance in the legs and increased stress on the knee joint, primarily the ACL which is so crucial to knee stability and skiing strength. The goal is to build strength in ALL the muscles that support the knee.
Primary Movements: Squats, Romanian Deadlifts (RDL), Lunges, Single Leg Deadlifts (SLDL), Glute Bridges, Hamstring Bridges, Wall-sits, Jumps and Step-ups
A strong, stable core dictates everything else we do. You can have the strongest legs in the world but if they are attached to a bowl of jello, you will be unable to utilize all of that strength. When we talk about the core, we often think of the abdomen. But the muscles of the back play an equally important role in our core strength. The core provides front to back stability as we move and allows us to bounce and rotate in our daily lives. A strong core improves balance and the ability to counter rotate and hold a quiet upper body.
Primary Movements: Curl-Ups, Mountain Climbers, Planks, Weighted Carries, Single Arm Planks, and Back Extensions
If you can’t breathe, everything else grinds to a halt. The more efficiently your body moves oxygen to your muscles, the longer those muscles can perform under stress. A solid cardio helps you stay fresh longer and avoid that end of day bonk when injuries become more likely.
Primary Movements: Run, Bike, Swim and/or Hike
Most of us don’t think about how much we use our arms and shoulders in skiing, but no one wants to be that guy screaming down the slope with arms wildly flailing around like a flag in a hurricane. Think about good skiing technique and form, where do we generally want our hands? Out front, right? Ready to plant a pole and pointing the direction for the rest of the body. My dad taught me early on that as soon as my hands get lazy, everything else to does the same and before I realize it, I’m in the back seat, trying to recover. So, we won’t neglect the upper body, but will mostly keep it ready to go with supplemental and complementary exercises.
Primary Movements: Push Ups, Dumbbell Strict Press and Single Arm Bent Rows
One thing I constantly see in big gyms is people just wandering around looking at all of the machines and wondering where to begin. For this program, each daily training session will break down into the same basic format:
This is 10 minutes of moderate physical activity. It can include time on an exercise bike or rower, running or walking, yoga, Pilates and other mobility work (are all appropriate here). The idea is to prime the pump. You should break a sweat but not grow tired. Avoid breathing hard from this effort. Get the blood flowing and focus on the session ahead. This is when I shut off my phone, leave the outside world outside, and get my head into the next 50 to 80 minutes of work.
The specific warm-up can be used to practice technique and build greater work capacity by increasing total work volume. It can also be used when the workout features a technical lift or when the working sets of the day are at a high percentage of a max lift. In this program, the specific warm-up will be used to impose enough work to heat up the specific neurological pathways and musculature required during the working set. It’s generally 5 to 15 minutes.
This is the meat and potatoes, the primary objective of the day and the part of the session involving the highest intensity and volume. Expect it to last 15 to 20 minutes.
This will be one or two blocks of work from 5 to 10 minutes each. This is where we attack imbalance, injury-proof the body, and add extra volume for increased work capacity and greater stamina. The bulk of our core work will occur here each day.
10 minutes of low-impact cardio, foam rolling, stretching and other mobility work. This is where we begin the process of recovery, setting the body up for maximum performance on the next workout.
We don’t have a ton of rules with this program and it does offer flexibility around work and life schedules. Each week has three workouts (plus the bonus day for the hard chargers and backcountry enthusiasts) and you can do them in any order you’d like. One caveat: In order to maximize intensity and still get proper recovery, don’t do more than two training days in a row. The body can only take so much stress and more isn’t necessarily always better. There’s such a thing as overdoing it.
You will notice some repetition week to week, with increasing intensity each week. This is intentional. Variety is great for those who are easily bored, but muscles don’t get bored. They respond to repetition.
If you aren’t familiar with a specific movement, check the video/informational links at the end of the article. If you have specific questions, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here we go! This week will be focused on single leg movements, learning specific movements and building the cardio base.
You can also download and print the workout schedule here: Wagner Ski Prep.
At Gym Jones, we don’t really believe in days off or rest days. We prefer to call them recovery days. We want our clients to take an active role in their fitness even on days they aren’t in the gym. So, I encourage folks to go for a walk, spend 20 minutes on the foam roller, do yoga, meditate, or get a massage. Do as much as you can afford in time and money to be ready for 100% performance on your training days.
So now what? Hopefully the snow is deep, your legs and body are strong and ready for weekend after weekend of uninterrupted powder days. Once you have built the work capacity, you’ll have no problem repeating weeks 5 and 6 throughout the ski season. For more specialized in-season programming or a more intense program for high-end athletes, questions about movements, or this program, feel free to email me for options.
Have a great winter!
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