It’s easy to be nothing but smiles and full of excitement standing on top of Telluride on a day like this. It’s harder to feel that same way after a couple of hours of enjoying the snow if you haven’t done at least something to build some strength and endurance as you float and fly down the piste.
If you’re not ready, it’s never too late to start. The main thing is to get up and move, hopefully for an hour or more, 4-5 days a week before showing up on the slopes. If group classes fit your temperament and schedule, join an aerobic, dance, fitness, or other class at a local gym. It doesn’t need to be a ski specific class, but try to find something that combines strength and aerobic conditioning, and make sure it includes lots of legwork. That may sound like Crossfit, but I don’t recommend beginning your fitness regime in such a demanding and competitive environment.
The simplest thing to do is find a gym, a trainer, or a class that gets your heart rate up while increasing your functional strength and endurance. This could be a simple as starting to walk or jog every other day, followed by adding hand weights to your forays after a week or two. If you want to get more involved, focus on three things:
- Aerobic conditioning to build endurance to ski all day (and to breathe at 10,000 feet)
- Functional strength, so that your core and limbs are ready to keep you over your skis and to take you where you want to go.
- Interval training, so you can apply your fitness to the rhythm of skiing.
Aerobic or endurance conditioning
This takes a bit of time. Try to get your endurance sessions up to at least an hour. This can range from a brisk walk to a run or bike, but aerobic endurance is built on longer less intense sessions. Since you will be breathing hard and challenging your leg strength on skis, choose an activity that builds and challenges both.
Functional or core strength is important for almost any other movement. Building functional strength means increasing your ability to move with strength and agility, especially when moving over shifting and varied terrain. Lifting weights and doing planks and push-ups on bosu balls, swinging kettlebells and clubbells, rolling tractor tires, and flipping lengths of heavy sissel rope are all forms of functional training. These are good, but I’ve found you can build specific functional strength without going to the gym that also builds awareness and reactions I can use on the ski slopes even while walking and running. All I do is wave my arms around like a trance dancer at jam band concert as I walk, run, and even bike.
This certainly looks weird, but I’ve discovered several benefits that outweigh (at least for me) the potential embarrassments. For starters, it takes away most of the pain I feel in my knees while running, especially while going downhill. I think that’s because I use my core, or the muscles of my trunk that connect my hips and shoulders, to avoid being flung from side to side as I wave my arms around. Each stride then comes from inside out as I direct each foot toward where it needs to be to keep me on course. As my foot lands, the entire chain of muscles, tendons and bones from foot to core is engaged and ready to absorb and redirect the energy of each footfall. I’ve found I can spend a few minutes finding my focus by waving my arms while running or walking and then take that that inside out focus back into running or walking without waving my arms around. I also do this on my bike, but would not recommend it unless you are already very very comfortable riding with no hands. And if you do try, you didn’t hear about it from me.
The rhythm of higher end skiing requires short and intense burst of high intensity effort as you negotiate a mogul field or steep section, followed either by a break or a section of easier skiing. To prepare for this, be sure to include some interval training, which is working somewhat to very hard for a short amount of time, recovering for about the same amount of time, then doing it again. You can walk, run, cycle, climb stairs or do a wide variety of other workouts to this rhythm. These intervals can be structured based on time and/or distance, or you can simply choose hilly terrain and push up and recover down each hill. A simple way to get started is to find a hill where you go push hard for 3 minutes and then rest as you coast back down (on a bike or roller skis or roller blades) or jog lightly back to the beginning. Then do a 4-minute effort, followed by a 5-minute effort, finishing with a 4 and then a 3-minute push. Adjust your effort so the final 3-minute effort takes you as far or farther up the hill as your first 3-minute effort. If you’re short on time or can’t get out outside, you can do a high intensity body weight exercise programs to get your heart pumping and build strength you can use on the slopes. See http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/projects/workouts/ for body weight program you could do in your hotel rood and Google interval training for more ideas.
Just do it
All of the above are simply suggestions. Please don’t do anything that will hurt you or goes against what your doctor and your common sense tell you not to do. The bottom line is, you’ll have a lot more fun and be able to ski more and improve your skiing more if you do something to get ready for you time on the slopes. Start by getting up right now and walking around your desk or house. Then extend that into at least walking around the block a time or two tonight. After that do more each day until you’re putting in 30-60 minutes a day of activity. Sign up for a group class. Start swimming. Hire a personal trainer. Just do something!