Get your clients snow-fit
If you train clients who ski or snowboard, you can help them prepare for the unique rigours of the slopes – while keeping their training fun.
Let’s be honest, riding your planks down the slopes is exhilarating, thrilling and fun, but can also be challenging, risky and tiring if you’re not fit for it. A lot of people assume that they just need to run on the treadmill and do squats to get fit for their ski holidays. Wrong. Snow sports are anything but linear, and although you’re going down from top to bottom (hopefully not on your bum), there’s a constant terrain adjustment, lateral weight transfer, G-Force control and balance that needs to be targeted during dry-land training.
I’ve trained a wide range of skiers and snowboarders, from novice to national team racers, and they all share the same foundations, so here are some tips to train your clients before they hit the slopes.
Conditioning for fun
For the novice skier or snowboarder, it’s important to remember that we are training them so they can enjoy their snow trip. Ski training needs to remain fun while focusing on muscle endurance so they can ski longer and feel less sore the day after. A lot of bodyweight drills using cones are suitable at this stage, such as lateral shuffles, zigzag, colour call, and direction/speed change that will help load the quads and glutes and improve your client's cardio.
When skiers are tired on the slopes, they tend to stand up instead of remaining in the semi-squat position, so you should train your clients to sustain that triple flexion for as long as possible, and to make sure their knees don’t cave in (the infamous skiers’ ‘A-Frame’ problem, when the knees are closer together than the feet). Using a Theraband around the knees during training will force the glute medius to stay active and keep the hip-knee-ankle aligned. You can increase the difficulty by holding that position on a BOSU ball (flat side up) and throwing a light ball at your client for them to catch (up/down and side-to-side), but make sure they keep their knees aligned with hips and ankles.
On the off days when they aren’t training with you, recommend they go for a run outside using hills and stairs (glute work) or a bike ride, or participate in an indoor cycle class. The earlier they start their training, the fitter they will be on the slopes, so you can incorporate these drills into clients' training programs as soon as you become aware that they are skiers.
Conditioning for performance
For the more advanced ski bum, the drills described above are still valid, but you will also need to focus the program you create for them around strength and explosiveness. Chances are, your more advanced skier or snowboarder likes to hit the park, ski powder and ride all day, so their legs and trunk muscles need to be rock solid.
With these clients I always start with some plyometric drills (lateral box jumps, side steps, jump down with side hop). The explosiveness will help in faster directional changes, take-offs and landings, and will also enable them to ski for longer.
The strength phase can be done with any weights, and although squats and deadlifts won’t do any harm, I prefer curtsy lunges, single leg lunges (TRX) and step-ups. You should focus on time under tension with a long eccentric/short concentric ratio to push the muscle fatigue threshold (Koller et al. 2015). Pistol squats are often a favourite drill with athletes, but they take time to master. Any drill that will make gluteus maximus/medius and VMO (vastus medialis oblique) work together to stabilise the hips and knees is a winner.
Of course, legs aren’t everything, and if your client doesn’t have a stable trunk, there will be a lot of arm flapping on the slopes! Obliques are very important to counteract the G-Force effect and avoid over-rotating when turning (shoulders should always face down the slopes and arms remain forward). Cable or band drills like Pallov Press, horizontal wood chop and single arm row work just fine, and you can increase the difficulty by standing on a BOSU and increasing eccentric timing. Loaded movement using a ViPR is also very efficient, as it trains the body for changes of terrain (DeadShifts, halos and rotations).
I may make a few enemies out there by saying this, but here goes: I don’t believe in planks. To work my clients’ core I prefer to use some primal movement drills such as the Animal Flow Static Beast (with limb lifts), Underswitch, Scorpion Reach and Side Kickthrough. These work the oblique, anterior and posterior slings to increase stability while carving the snow.
Conditioning for injury prevention
Always remember that snow sports are very different from other physical activities, particularly with regards the footwear and weight of equipment used. Ski and snowboard boots lock you in a semi squat position and totally change the user’s gait. The most common ski injury is ACL/MCL rupture due to the ski torque force and hamstring weakness, whereas snowboarders are more often prone to fractures (ankle, collar bone and wrists).
Because skis and snowboards are controlled through micro-movements of the feet, it’s important to get your client to really connect with the base of their feet. For this reason, it’s advisable to check their ability to dorsiflex, and to implement some barefoot training.
There is a strong correlation between the deep foot stabilisers and the deep core stabilisers, so I recommend including barefoot drills like lateral lunge and single leg deadlift/squat, as well as fascial tensioning drills using small dumbbells that mimic ski movements. Dr Emily Splichal (ebfa.com) offers some great advice on barefoot and fascial training.
Another key body part that is often forgotten during snow sport training is the hamstrings. They are extremely important for counteracting anterior-directed ACL shear forces and for increasing the dynamic stability of the knee (Aagaard et al. 1998, Tourny-Chollet & Leroy 2002) when it comes to breaking a fall and stopping the knees from hyperextending. Usually when the hamstrings are weak, the cruciate ligaments of the knees take the toll and tear during a fall. One of the best exercises to strengthen the hamstrings is the Nordic Curls (eccentric loading of hamstrings).
Finally, a body that moves well is a happy body, so mobility is very important when it comes to carving the winter slopes. Unfortunately, most of our clients are stuck behind a desk for most of the day and lack hip mobility and proper spinal rotation. I always take my clients through a mobility and release session that I order them to do once to twice a week on their own. We start with releasing the plantar fascia by standing on massage balls or battle rope and then move up the calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes and lats using a foam roller or a myofascial release stick. Thoracic rotation drills help maintain the upper body fluidity.
If your existing clients are heading to the snow this winter, you can easily implement these sport-specific drills into their programs to make them better prepared for a great time on the slopes. Snow sports are a very different type of activity due to the nature of the equipment and terrain, so it’s important to prepare accordingly in order to minimise the risk of injury. Just remember that clients are going on ski holidays, so keep their snow training fun!
Guillaume ‘Gee’ Tual is a Sydney-based movement and snow sport conditioning specialist with over 15 years’ experience in the ski industry. As a personal trainer and Animal Flow instructor, he trains his clients to be better movers and maximise their time on the snow. peakmovement.com.au