Practical Tips from the Guard Get You Ready to Shred.
Ah, November. For the dedicated skier, that means one thing (in addition to Thanksgiving, of course). This is the time to set some goals for a winter on the slopes.
And who knows more about “setting and achieving goals” than a professional ski patroller like Eliza Allen at Snowbird Resort in Utah, whose job description includes being responsible for medical response on the mountain, avalanche mitigation, and risk management. Or maybe a military veteran? Michael Johnson is a PSIA-certified ski instructor at Utah’s Solitude Mountain Resort who also served in the United States Navy for 25 years.
“While in the Navy, I was generally the fittest in any command I was in,” said Johnson, now 67. “I installed fitness equipment onboard aircraft carriers, Navy surface combatants, submarines, and Navy bases, and ran fitness programs for as many as 6,000 military and civilians.”
After retiring from the Navy, Johnson went to work for American Express as a financial adviser.
“I encouraged all my clients to get fit and be fit so when they retired they could enjoy the freedom the money they were accumulating to do what they wanted and the freedom their good health afforded them,” he said. “I would tell them ‘Wealth without health is a tragedy.”
“I would send my clients to the gym closest to them, and then I’d call the trainer to make sure they showed up,” said Johnson. “I’d tell them to stay with the trainer for at least a year. And I knew they had the money to afford it.”
Today, Johnson is also a personal trainer, and currently assisting the Utah National Guard in revamping their fitness program to improve combat readiness using a functional fitness approach.
Why does any of this matter? Because a military operation, a financial plan, a medical procedure, a risk management policy, and a fitness regimen all start with setting goals. It’s important to know where you want to go, how to get there, and then be able to gauge whether you’re making progress. Goals help you do that.
“I think the biggest mistake people make is remembering how and what they were skiing at the end of last season and thinking they can just start right back at that place,” said Allen, who is also a licensed massage therapist. “Even if you do a lot of training and other athletics, there’s a period of readjustment for balance, strength and proprioception.
“There are a lot of skiers out there who train hard in the pre-season, both aerobically and with strengthening and plyometrics,” she said. “But the majority of our weekend skiers don’t do as much preseason training, so it’s really important to be patient and start out slow at the beginning of the season.”
Not surprisingly, there are short-term goals, and long-term goals. Let’s start with preseason preparation.
“Having a baseline of general fitness is essential, and that seems to be the most common start to the ski season for active people,” said Allen. “But if you get off the couch right onto a pair of skis, you’re more likely to fatigue, strain and get injured. The skiers that have been active – hiking, yoga, and lifting weights – will have the balance, agility and endurance that will get them in shape on the snow much faster.”
Obviously, goals will differ between different ability levels. Here are Allen’s suggestions for green circle, blue square, and black diamond skiers.
“Remember to go back to your basics,” said Allen. “Flatland skills such as side-stepping and herringbone promote movements that will be useful later.”
“Repetition is your friend,” said Allen. “When it comes to building the muscle and endurance you need, it’s worth stepping back to slightly easier terrain so you’re able to use really good technique and establish good muscle memories and movement patterns.”
“Don’t be rushed to get right back into the gnar,” said Allen. “Setting a new foundation of strong movement patterns will be more beneficial in the long run. And sometimes it can be really helpful to get out with a coach, trainer or ski instructor. A simple cue like ‘lift your big toe’ can make a big difference in your edging, which will translate through your balance and stability and take your further in your skiing.”
Regardless of your ability level, skiers should consider a sport-specific fitness routines. Johnson recommends the following regimen, even if it’s just a month prior to the start of ski season. Commit to at least two sessions a week. If you’re skiing regularly, stay with this through the season.
- Learn to foam roll, and develop a flow stretch and warm-up routine. “This is critical, and should be done every day prior to skiing,” said Johnson.
- Incorporate speed, agility, and quickness routines with a ladder, or tile in the hallway, or sidewalk chalk in the driveway. Do progressive jumps, hops, and bounds.
- Use mini-bands for activation, doing side-stepping and monster walks and kickbacks.
- For your core, do cable or super-band Palloff Presses, lifts and chops. “I especially like the Palloff Press, as it creates a neuromuscular connection from the heels all the way up to the shoulders,” said Johnson. “Perfect for skiing.” Add wheel or barbell rollouts.
- For power, learn to box jump, correctly. Do medicine ball wall and floor slam work, overhead floor and wall, scoop throws forward facing and side facing, push and chest throws. Learn the basic dumbbell hang snatch and hang clean. “For skiing, I prefer doing both as a split squat for the balance element,” said Johnson.
- Do unilateral or one-legged squats and lunges, as opposed to the traditional recommendation of wall sits and back squats. “Just like we run on one leg at a time, we ski with balance on one leg at a time,” said Johnson. “Doing bilateral, or two-legged, squats requires little or no activation of the stabilizing muscles as the posture position stabilizes us.” Unilateral work also strengthens knees and the connective tissue better than bilateral work. “Learn to accentuate leg work and make it a regular part of the routine,” he said. “You’ll be really glad you did this to minimize the leg burn” in skiing.
- Do bridges, or hip thrusts. “I like them standing, with a super-band around my hips. Do straight-legged unilateral and bilateral dead lifts, along with trap bar dead lifts and box squats,” said Johnson.
- Do upper body work, concentrating more on the posterior (back) compared to the anterior (front.) “Do a lot of horizontal and vertical pulling moves,” said Johnson. “Do dumbbell high pulls, hang cleans, overhead presses, and rows. Stop doing arm curls, and no more sit-ups and crunches or Russian twists.” Since the core protects the lumbar spine, it shouldn’t be repeatedly flexed, twisted, or extended. “Do face pulls and chest pulls with the cable machine standing up or with super bands,” said Johnson. “For skiing I really like single-leg cable stiff leg dead lifts with a contra-lateral single-arm row move.”
Lastly, vacationing skiers can also set vacation-specific goals. As former professional mountain bike racer Pete Webber, an avid skier, once told me, “There’s no magic bullet to get you ready the day before a race. The fitness you have the day before is the fitness you’ll have on race day.”
That means there’s little you can do to increase your fitness the night before you hit the slopes. But you can still have short-term goals, and those include simply giving your body a chance to adapt to the climate and take advantage of whatever fitness you do bring to the hill.
“The biggest mistake people make is not preparing themselves to adjustment to the altitude and exertion at altitude,” said Johnson. “They get up in the early morning, probably after not getting a very good night’s sleep. They probably don’t get a good breakfast, sit on a plane all day, drinking very little water, and then arrive in a different climate, probably colder, which means their body is also needing to adjust to that.”
Add alcohol – not a shocking consideration for a skier on vacation – combined with dehydration, and vacationing skiers can suffer a classic “double whammy” that can sap them of the energy they need to succeed.
“Then they show up for a lesson at this higher elevation, dehydrated, fatigued from travel and lack of sleep, without very good nutrition in their system, and not having exercised all summer or fall,” he said. “What do you think happens by noon? And, of course, over the next day, delayed-onset muscle soreness sets in.”
Being sore, or hurt, isn’t a goal that any skier aspires to. So be smart.