Stumble on a trail run, skitter out at the apex of a turn on snow, or lose your balance while playing catch on a Bosu ball and your body and mind must work together quickly. Thankfully, the more you react to such circumstances, the more you store that information in muscle memory for future use. It's an idea known as the body's "situation bank," and professional coaches like the U.S. Ski Team's Per Lundstam are increasingly working this kind of situation-specific training into agility and strength programs. Here's how you can, too:
Stand on a Bosu ball ($100; bosu.com) and have a friend throw balls of different weights and sizes over your shoulder from behind. "The athlete needs to see which shoulder the ball is coming over and then react to the size and weight to make the catch," says Lundstam. "They're constantly changing their center of mass."
Running hurdles is hard enough for most of us, but to challenge the balance and core strength of his professional ski racers, Lundstam makes them jump high hurdles laterally (though the move also works over low hurdles or any similar obstacle, like a tennis net). The move pulling your knees up to your chest in quick succession and landing while moving sideways taps the muscles you use to recover balance.
Since most race skis are less than 70 millimeters wide underfoot, and only a fraction of that width is biting the snow at any given time, developing your sense of balance is essential for tapping in to your newfound agility. Start off walking narrow beams, then move on to slacklines ($80; gibbonslacklines.com).
FUN FACTOR: TAKE IT OUTSIDE
Training in a gym can be soul-crushing. That's why all the exercises on these pages can be done outside. Thankfully, the real world provides all the variety you ever need to boost agility, coordination, power output, and reaction time. Just ask Olympian and X Games medalist Daron Rahlves:
"To work on agility, I prefer the changing landscape of a run/jump/hike outing up on Donner Summit, a peak near my home. The trails and granite rock provide an agility supersession. I start with a ten-minute warmup run before diving into a few six-second sprint bursts to get ready. I have two routines. The first is around 40 minutes, running at a good pace with my heart rate around threshold. But if I'm ready to go for a mental and physical blowout, I'll add three all-out hammerfests at max effort uphill for 60 seconds each. To make it tougher, I wear a 25-pound weight vest [$155; weightvest.com]. The key is to think 'quick feet' while driving with the arms to jump over little gaps and keep the pace moving. When you're using everything from arms to core to toes, and then you add in quick decision making, it simulates skiing really well."