By Jake Hutchinson
It’s that time of year, when most of us start to daydream about skiing but aren’t quite ready to give up on flip flops and t-shirts. Some die-hards are probably still finding patches of snow to ski and nearly all of us are enjoying the trails in one way or another.
But soon, the seasons will change and the climbing gym will replace your local crag or trail system. This summer, there are a few things you can start doing to prep your body for ski season without sacrificing whatever warm season activity you enjoy.
Balance is key and no, I’m not talking about your ability to walk a slackline or mastery of the Bongo Board. I’m talking about the strength balance between your quads and posterior chain. For most of us, our quads are dominant while our hamstrings and glutes don’t live up to their full potential. We get away with poor hamstring and glute strength way more than we ought to. Among other effects, tight hamstrings put a TON of stress on your knees (which can lead to injury), and cause lower back pain. (rerad more on ski injury prevention here and injury rehab here)
If you do a lot of cycling, trail running or peak bagging, chances are you’ve allowed your quads to become your go-to strength tool and your hammies could use a little love. This is especially true of anyone who sits daily for extended periods. I’m looking at you desk jockeys.
Too often when I talk about core strength people immediately think six-pack abs. While your abs are certainly part of your core (and one often mistaken as a defining factor of fitness), they are a small part of the complex sets of muscles that support and control the torso. Our legs and arms can do whatever we’re asking of them but the core is the base from which all movement emanates. Think about it this way, would you rather jump from a hardwood table or a hammock? If the platform isn’t strong and stable, it is hard to generate much strength and power when required.
For many years, medical professionals had me convinced the primary cause of my lower back pain was over-tight hamstrings. Because of this, I spent a lot of time stretching. My hamstring tightness is gone, but my lower back pain is not – why? Flexibility was never the issue. I’ve often been very flexible for someone my size: It’s a rare day when I can’t do a forward fold with both palms flat on the ground and knees straight. The problem lies in my hamstrings. They become so elongated that they struggle to contract far enough to properly engage. They aren’t weak, they’re being asked to do something I unknowingly trained them not to do.
So, flexibility – the ability of your muscles to stretch – is important. But, you can have too much of a good thing. If you over-stretch a rubber band, it loses its elasticity. I now focus on mobility. Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion without restriction or discomfort. Mobility takes the focus away from individual muscles and puts it on the entire joint. We don’t do much static stretching before or after training sessions at Gym Jones. We prefer movement to warm and cool the system.
All this is great, but the sun is still shining, the trails are just getting tuned up and the climbing is perfect. Why would I want to sweat in the gym when conditions outside are ideal? I’m with you, and if I didn’t work in a gym, I wouldn’t be inside either. The good news: You don’t need a gym to prep for winter.
Performing this simple circuit three to four times a week shouldn’t make you overly sore or tired. It should complement your regular summer recreational activities. All you need is a little space and a watch (I use an interval app on my phone) and you can do it just about anywhere.
Primal Movements: Do two rounds of each movement. I like to go ten yards or so for each. These will warm you up, move the body through a full range of motion and increase mobility. The first portion of the video below walks you through each movement.
Circuit: This is a body weight circuit that shouldn’t take more than five to ten minutes per round. The idea is not to rest until after the entire circuit is complete. Depending on your fitness level, time available and how hard you want to work, I recommend at least two rounds and even up to ten. I do this three to four times, especially when traveling.
The below circuit starts at 1:17 in the video above. To track improvement, record time for one round and watch it decrease over time. This circuit is designed to strengthen the posterior chain, help it to wake up and fire properly, increase cardiovascular capacity, and strengthen and stabilize the core.
The most neglected part of most workouts is the cool-down. Take a five-minute walk, move through some yoga poses and/or spend a few minutes foam rolling. A proper cool-down is critical to the body’s ability to recover fully from exertion.
At the end of the day, as much as I enjoy skiing, I find it a lot more fun when I’m not fighting my own fatigue and soreness. Hopefully this helps prep you for ski season without taking away from what’s left of your summer fun.
Missed the window for summer ski prep? Check out this 6-week guide to ski fitness.
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 dog handler and trainer and an avalanche safety consultant to the resort and rescue communities. Off the snow, Hutchinson is a Certified Instructor and former Head of Instructor and Seminar Development for Gym Jones in Salt Lake City. He is currently involved in private personal training with an emphasis on high level functional fitness for mountain and military athletes.