Improve Speed and Endurance.
For diehard powder hounds, the dog days of winter can seem almost interminable. The hot, sticky weather seems almost foreign, as if we were plucked from our “happy place” and dropped in some inhospitable land.
Smart skiers, however, know that summer translates to an opportunity to either recover from the bumps and bruises of the previous winter, or to ramp up their fitness for the coming ski season. We’ve already provided a blueprint for general ski fitness and for improving balance. This post will take a closer look at perhaps the oldest, and the most efficient, training option – Running.
Running often gets overlooked because it’s almost ubiquitous among fitness buffs. Dr. Irene Davis, founder of the Massachusetts-based Spaulding National Running Center (SNRC), said: “Running is in our genes.”
“It’s an activity, just like walking, that we develop naturally without being taught,” said Davis. “It’s an activity of daily living that we need for moving quickly when needed.”
Like, say, when skiing. In reality, if you’re a “slide and glide” type of skier, you can get by without a serious off-season running regimen. But if you like speed, steeps, and the bumps – basically, if you tend to work up a sweat while skiing – then a dedicated fitness program featuring running ought to be part of your warm-weather workouts.
“We love working with skiers and multi-sport folks to help develop running programs that will compliment and supplement their sport specific goals,” said Jeremy Woodward, a certified personal trainer and owner of Jeremy’s Bootcamp in Concord, NH. “There are many similarities between running and skiing, such as body mechanics, form, and the muscles used.
“Typically when a client comes to us to develop a program for skiing through running, we include everything from injury prevention, explosiveness, core development, strength, and an often-overlooked component, recovery,” he said.
Keep in mind that ski-specific running is a very different animal compared to running a distance race. While endurance is important, skiers will typically want to focus on running that enhances their power and quickness. A critical starting point, said Woodward, is an honest self-assessment of the type of “athlete” you are, and the type of “skier” you want to be.
“The type of ski goals the athlete has can dictate what type of training best fits,” said Woodward. “Typically a mix of high-intensity interval training and fartleks is the best.”
A Swedish term for “speed training,” “fartlek” blends hard and easy running efforts. According to Runner’s World magazine, fartlek, unlike tempo or interval training, “is unstructured and alternates moderate-to-hard efforts with easy throughout (a run). After a warm up, you play with speed by running at faster efforts for short periods of time – to that tree, to the sign – followed by easy-effort running to recover.”
Fartlek, which lends itself nicely to both individual and group workouts, is considered an excellent method to improve both speed and endurance, two key characteristics of advanced skiers. The “goal is to keep it free-flowing so you’re untethered to the watch or a plan, and to run at harder efforts but not a specific pace,” said Runner’s World.
Woodward said he was a big fan of fartlek training as well.
“Fartlek workouts are great, especially during long runs because you can add in short bursts of speed,” he said. “One of my favorite training prescriptions for runners is trail running. The same proprioceptor muscles that are used and developed through trail running are also used heavily in skiing. Having strong joints, ligaments and tendons are key to staying injury free.”
Another ingredient of Woodward’s running regimens for skiers is sprint workouts.
“Short hill repeats are great for strength and explosive development,” he said. “The short hill sprints strengthen your muscles and gives you the ability to focus on your stride and efficiency.”
Focusing on your “stride and efficiency” is important not only to build power and speed, but also to hone balance and prevent injury.
“Running is a great way to cross-train and stay in shape, but like anything else it has to be accomplished in a safe manner,” said Woodward. “The goal of the athlete is to not overreach or over train. Overreaching or overtraining can lead to injury, which would be counter productive to the goal of keeping fit when not skiing.”
In short, there’s a right way and a wrong way to incorporate running into your training regimen. In fact, there’s a right way and a wrong way to run, period. And if you’re not running properly, that can lead to a host of issues, such as muscle imbalance.
“More often than not, runners and ski athletes do have imbalances,” said Woodward. “If you look at running and the mechanics of running and skiing, they’re both linear sports. In of all our programming we incorporate laterally based movements. A great tool to use are mini-bands, which typically come in three resistance tensions. By doing laterally based work, you help strengthen both your hip- and knee-dominant muscles.
“Another great way to address muscular imbalances is to incorporate single-leg exercises,” he said. “Any exercises that can be accomplished on two feet can be done on one leg.”
To make sure your training isn’t leading you down the path to injury, consider getting an expert analysis of your running style. At the SNRC, Davis and her team have developed a RunStrong program that pairs runners with therapists who conduct an evaluation that includes a thorough running history, a musculoskeletal assessment of structure and alignment, and a video analysis of running mechanics. This is particularly crucial for those of us who aren’t already runners.
“The biggest challenge to the beginner runner is knowing how to begin,” said Davis. “As with any new activity, you have to prepare your body for the new loads and progress slowly. The Spaulding RunStrong program is ideally designed for the beginner runner.
“It involves an evaluation of the runner’s strength and flexibility in order to identify areas to address,” she said. “A video analysis of the runner’s gait evaluation is also performed to identify any basic flaws in running form such as over striding, excessive lean, excessive vertical oscillation, arm carriage, cadence, etcetera. Instruction in proper form is provided along with an exercise program to address the deficits in strength and flexibility identified. Finally, the runner is counseled on proper training techniques.”
Much like proper skiing technique creates a safer experience, proper running technique is your best defense against getting hurt.
“Dr. Davis has pioneered gait-retraining strategies that can improve running mechanics including alignment and rates of loading, or how hard someone strikes the ground,” said Dr. Adam Tenforde, the director of running medicine at SNRC. “Injuries are commonly attributed to training errors, improper equipment, and other behavioral issues, such as diet and sleep.
“While these can be factors, running mechanics also influence injury and are often missed in the treatment process,” said Tenforde, a five-time All American at Stanford and who ran professionally before attending medical school. “This may explain why approximately 50 percent of runners become injured in a given year and many may have recurrence of their injury.”
While a thorough running analysis may appear to be a perfect fit to newcomers, veteran runners can benefit as well. That’s particularly true if you’re returning to running after a long layoff.
“Even more experienced runners don’t always feel great after taking a break when starting to run again,” said Tenforde. “The body needs time to adapt to the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular demands of the sport. The cardiovascular adaptations will improve with continued running.
“However, musculoskeletal issues can develop or persist if not addressed,” he said “Proper screening to address faulty mechanics early may help reduce risk for injury and provide an overview of problem areas to address. I often find that injured runners have strength and flexibility deficits that can stress joints, bones, tendons and muscle, and contribute to their risk for injury.”
Take care of those injuries, train smart this summer, and your body will reward you on the slopes next winter.
Photo Credits: RunningWild