Life is filled with uncontrollable circumstances and the question is not if, but rather, when we will encounter hardship. Despite this reality, one thing we can control is how we react to negative occurrences.
The recent pandemic that’s plagued our world leaves most of us without access to a gym, and for ski racing athletes, zero access to training on the mountain, as well. Despite this inconvenience, one can choose to throw in the towel all together or attempt to make oneself better through daily in-home workouts.
I’ve told a lot of my athletes to think about how they react when the course set is differently than they anticipated or the conditions are not as optimal as they hoped for on race day. In most cases, they adapt and find a way to get it done. As such, this particular situation is no different, you must adapt and do the best you can do for the situation you find yourself in.
Being stuck at home with little to no equipment is not an excuse to drop your workout routine; it’s a challenge and opportunity! This routine will help keep you strong and ready for skiing no matter the equipment or setup you have access too.
The warmup or movement prep
Any proper workout starts with a warmup or movement prep as I like to call it. Just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean you skip this piece and get right into the meat and potatoes of the workout. We warm up to ensure our body is ready for the movements we will soon be asking it to do, as well as improve and maintain our mobility and stability. This doesn’t have to be overbearing and can simply be four to five movements targeting areas important to your workout that day, as well as the sport you participate in, in this case ski racing.
1) Three-way hip mobility
During this exercise, you are mobilizing everything through the hips and glutes which can get rather tight through being sedentary or inadequate recovery methods following activity. The key here is to dynamically move through each motion and only hold for approximately 5 seconds each rep. We are not looking to static stretch here because research suggests that is likely more harmful to performance than it is helpful when done prior to exercise (3). This movement is fantastic for ski racers because it addresses the internal hip rotation many are forced into during extreme carving and edge angles. Adequate hip mobility ensures the athlete’s knees stay safe and don’t take the brunt of the force every turn. Repeat this exercise for 3 reps at each angle, each side, and hold for no more than 5 seconds each.
2) Ankle dorsiflexion mobility
It is no mystery that alpine ski racers put a tremendous amount of force through their lower limbs during each and every turn. One motion of particular importance is ankle dorsiflexion, and the use of the tibialis anterior while flexing through the boot. Poor ankle mobility puts a racer at a major disadvantage and certainly at greater risk for injury. For this exercise, start in a half-kneeling position approximately five inches away from the wall. While keeping your forward foot grounded, rock your knee forward over the middle of your toes attempting to reach the wall. Your heel should stay down, and your knee should not collapse inward. Hold this motion for again around 5 seconds and repeat for upwards of 10-12 reps each side. The goal obviously is to eventually touch your knee to the wall, and if you can already do so great! Just don’t lose that ability.
3) Half kneeling groin stretch and thoracic rotation
Ski racers find themselves tucked and in tight positions on a frequent basis to maximize the angle around each and every turn. As such, they can get extremely tight and imbalanced from excessive internal rotation and less than ideal postures. To combat this, I make all my athletes do the half kneeling groin stretch with thoracic mobility. This movement is fantastic in that it opens up the thoracic spine and provides some rotational movement in a fitness world often dominated by movements through the sagittal plane. Do this exercise for 10-12 reps each side holding for 3-5 seconds at the top and bottom ranges.
4) Sumo Squat and Reach
We’ve already touched on the importance of hip, thoracic spine, and ankle mobility for ski racers thus it is no mystery why this movement is amazing. I have my athletes do nearly every squatting variation under the sun because it is a critical fundamental movement pattern that develops lower body strength necessary to succeed in sport. What this movement does is ensure they can get into, hold, and move effectively through the squat motion. Squat down, hold this motion and perform opposite reaches for 10-12 reps each side resetting into posture when you need to if you can’t hold the position. If you find that you can properly get into position, start with slightly elevated heels by place something approximately 1” under the back of your feet.
Once you’ve mobilized your body and gotten yourself ready to move, the next step is to prime your nervous system for coordination and producing force. I like to choose movements that challenge the single-leg strength as well as unique neuromuscular qualities necessary during ski racing for this section.
1) Y-Balance Reaches
Although the Y-Balance test was originally developed to assess relative risk for injury in the knee joint for athletes, I like to use a derivative of it for unilateral coordination before strength training. The goal is to reach as far as possible with one leg in 3 directions while keeping the other leg grounded. I like this one in particular for ski racers because it helps them develop greater strength and coordination in odd positions (i.e. when one ski gets away from them) and helps them recover quicker. Perform 5 reaches each direction, each leg, and repeat for 2-3 sets.
Snap-downs are fantastic because they teach ski racers to absorb force eccentrically as they will encounter quite frequently during racing. This is a progression into further plyometric exercises such as vertical jumps and hops, but it is ill-advised to prescribe athletes plyometrics until they can master simpler exercises first such as these. When you master these, then you can move on into more advanced progressions which I will highlight in upcoming articles.
For this exercise, I emphasize that one should reach full extension and get their arms completely over their head, coming all the way up on their toes and then forcefully snapping their arms down landing with the feet in a solid squat position or knees in line with midfoot. Do this exercise for 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps.
3) Isometric Lunge Hold
Ski racing requires a unique array of all three muscle contractions: eccentric, concentric, and isometric (2). One muscle action, in particular, that is not often trained is the isometric contraction which is of particular importance in ski racing. Isometric contractions are seen during gliding phases of skiing and help support adequate postures throughout multiple angles. Implementing and isometric lunge hold for 2-3 sets of 30-60 seconds each side is a great way to train this and feel your body fighting to maintain posture. Obviously, if this is too easy, you can challenge yourself by holding the position for a longer duration or grabbing anything weighted that you can find.
Strength and Power
Once you’ve warmed up properly and done some of the other requisite exercises I’ve highlighted, it’s time to train some strength and power. Obviously, without significant weights, it is a challenge to address maximal strength because we don’t have the luxury of loading a barbell for squats or deadlifts, but we can still get a lot done!
1) One-leg squat
Unilateral strength is of particular importance within alpine ski racing. More often than not, athletes are heavily loaded to one side of their body when carving a turn which necessitates some significant strength.
One of my favorite exercises to work on unilateral leg strength is a rear foot elevated 1-legged squat. Simply put one leg behind you supported by your couch or a chair and ensure your front foot is completely flat. From there, you will lower your body under control until your thigh reaches parallel to the floor. As a general rule of thumb, you should keep your torso and forward shin parallel in their relative angle to ensure you are properly aligned.
Start with 3 sets of 8 reps each side focusing on a slow controlled eccentric motion and pause at the bottom for 2-3 seconds each rep. You can work your way up to 10-12 reps each side and if you have anything that’s weighted you can hold onto while doing this exercise that’s even better.
2) Single-leg RDL
Staying in line with the importance of unilateral strength in ski-racing, my next suggested exercise in the single-leg RDL exercise. In this exercise, we are addressing the posterior chain and postural balance while working on the hip hinge movement pattern.
Ski racers get a heavy dose of anterior loading (i.e. quadriceps) thus I like to implement this exercise year-round in order to keep the hamstrings, glutes and lower back healthy as well as the knees happy. In this exercise imagine that you have a steel rod running through your head to your heel and as you reach your leg back you are trying to maintain that tight posture.
I tell all my athletes to get long here, reaching wall to wall, and only go until their back leg and torso are parallel with the floor. We want to avoid any postural breakdowns seen by rounding of the back or opening of the hips. In the video example, I added a reach with the arms so that we can more easily keep the correct posture. Similar to the 1-leg squat, master this exercise for 3 sets of 8 reps each side and ultimately progress up to 10-12 with an added weight if you can.
3) Pause Push Up
The pause push-up is one of my favorite alternatives to the classic standby variation because not only does it promote better postural technique, it challenges core strength along with upper body strength. It is well known that ski racers need significant core strength and stability to hold postures throughout each and every turn (1).
During the pause push up, you are challenged with keeping the hips in proper alignment where they may want to rise or sag as you fatigue. Focus on lowering yourself under control, keeping your hips head and heels in alignment, and your hand directly underneath your shoulders. I tell all my athletes to imagine balancing a glass of water on their back and to not allow it to spill! Do this exercise for 3 sets of 8 reps to begin with and ultimately work your way up to as many as you can competently do with proper form. You should lower yourself down for 2-3 seconds and hold the bottom position for another 3 seconds every rep.
4) Lateral Lunge
The lateral lunge is another excellent exercise for ski racers as it addresses lower body strength but this time through the frontal plane. Ski racers are required to move through virtually every plane of motion therefore it is critical to improve strength through multiple positions.
Execute this exercise by taking a lateral step and bending your lead knee until your thigh is again nearly parallel with the ground. You want to keep your chin in line with your kneed and ensure that your chest stays upright so that you are not excessively leaning forward. Another 3 sets of 8 repetitions here will burn your legs for sure, and similar to every other exercise add weight if you can!
5) Hamstring Curls
Last but certainly not least is the hamstring curl exercise that can be done in a multitude of ways. This can be done with towels on a hardwood or kitchen floor, or something like a cardboard box on the carpet. In this case, I used two lids from plastic tupperware.
Whatever it is, it just needs to allow you to freely slide your heels back and forth without too much friction. Earlier I discussed the importance of training the posterior chain for ski racers, and this exercise further compliments that demand. You want to start with your heels underneath your knees and extend your legs as far as possible while keeping your hips up. Once you’ve reached an endpoint, continue driving your heels into the ground, squeezing your glutes, and return to the start position. Repeat this for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
While training and exercising for ski racing in difficult situations with minimal to no equipment can be a challenge, it certainly does not mean it is impossible. It simply takes a little creativity, will power, and optimism to make it happen.
Give this routine a shot and stay tuned for an updated version to keep you rolling in the coming weeks. Stay strong, stay healthy, love each other and remember we’ve got this!
1) Hintermeister, R. A., O’Connor, D. D., Dillman, C. J., Suplizio, C. L., Lange, G. W., & Steadman, J. R. (1995). Muscle activity in slalom and giant slalom skiing. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 27(3), 315-322.
2) Hydren, J. R., Volek, J. S., Maresh, C. M., Comstock, B. A., & Kraemer, W. J. (2013). Review of strength and conditioning for alpine ski racing. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 35(1), 10-28.
3) Winchester, J. B., Nelson, A. G., Landin, D., Young, M. A., & Schexnayder, I. C. (2008). Static stretching impairs sprint performance in collegiate track and field athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(1), 13-19.