One percent per year — that’s how much we fall apart, physically. We lose muscle mass and cardiovascular capacity. And we get fatter, despite working out and watching what we eat. (Just look around at the starting gate of your next masters race.)
But not everyone who shimmies into a speed suit has a portly appearance, and many ski as fast or faster than they did a decade ago. Mileage in gates helps, but pre-season conditioning is just as important. Here are some things to think about as you plan your workouts that will not only make you faster but also help slow down the aging process:
1. Be consistent
“Some people think if they work out three days per week, they’re doing great, but there are seven days in a week,” says Brian Frost, masters racer (class 6) and a personal trainer in Park City who works with ski racers of all ages. “Having more activity that’s balanced between strength and cardio and doing shorter sessions more often is better than a two-hour workout three days per week.”
2. Do it faster
There’s a reason why masters racers like GS more than slalom as they get older. Fast-twitch fibers deteriorate more quickly than slow-twitch ones because we don’t use them as much in our daily activities. It also explains why, as we age, we have an affinity for distance running, cycling, hiking and other endurance activities rather than activities that require quickness. If you’re not keen on hill sprints, sports such as basketball, tennis, soccer and martial arts that require lithe lateral movements will help your agility on the slopes. “You improve what you practice,” says Frost. “I only let my clients do one long, slow workout a week. Most 50-year-olds won’t take up soccer, but things like lateral box jumps over a low 6-inch box and jumping rope on a pad will work. It doesn’t take a lot.”
3. Increase intensity
Ski racing is an anaerobic sport. To train for it, you need to get your heart rate up to about 85 percent of its maximum during your workouts. “Everyone’s different,” warns Frost. “The formula of 220 minus your age is only a benchmark. The best thing about a heart rate monitor is that it tells when you can go harder. If you can’t talk, you’re there.”
4. Train smarter
If you’re already exercising regularly, training more does not necessarily correlate to being more fit for ski racing, and you might get an overuse injury. Listen to your body. As athletes age, recovery times increase. That said, rest doesn’t mean sitting on your butt unless you’re sore or your heart rate is elevated when you wake up in the morning. “Do something else,” says Frost. “It’s called active recovery. For example, follow hard weights in the gym by spinning out your legs on a bike.”
5. Be open to change
As we get older, we tend to get set in our ways. Try new workouts. Use a new trainer. The challenge is good both physically and mentally. “If you do the same thing for years, your body learns to do just enough to get through, so you don’t improve,” says Frost. “The more you change it up, the more fit you’ll be. Constantly varying the stimulus increases athletic performance.”
6. Get stronger
Strength is the No. 1 aspect of physical training that will help you ski faster. The stronger you are — not just your legs but your entire body — the faster you’ll get out of the start, the better you handle the G-forces in a turn, the easier you’ll stay on line in tough snow conditions, the more likely you’ll recover if you get thrown off balance, and the longer you’ll maintain good technique down a course. Weight training is the classic way to improve strength, but resistance bands and exercises such as plyometrics and using your own body weight work well, too.
7. Lose weight
Easier said than done, especially as we get older. That’s because as we age, we lose muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more calories you can eat without getting fat, which plays back into the need for strength training. If you’re lifting weights but still expanding at the waist, it’s probably because you’re sitting more the rest of the time.
In 2011, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh published the results of a study of 40 male and female masters triathletes, ages 40 to 75 in “The Physician & Sports Medicine.” Each person in the study worked out four to five times per week. MRI scans of their quadriceps muscles showed little difference in lean muscle and body fat between the 40-year-olds and the 70-somethings. What does this mean for masters skiers? The mantra “use it or lose it” comes to mind, but more importantly, staying fit is the key to staying youthful and fast in ski racing.