The U.S. Ski Team's Secret Speed Weapon

The squad's new conditioning coach, Toni Beretzki, is turning power into performance with a retooled fitness plan

Jimmy Cochran, Audi Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek.     Photo: Eric Schramm

This summer, news trickled into my inbox that a new ass-kicking trainer had been hired to work with the U.S. ski team’s men’s speed squad. His name was Toni Beretzki and Speed specialist Steven Nyman wrote me to say, “He’s a machine,” U.S. downhiller Travis Ganong added, “he’s a total badass.”

A former competitive biathlete who studied sports science at the University of Vienna, Beretzki went on to train the Austrian ski team during the legendary days of Hermann Maier and Stephan Eberharter. When I met him, in Portillo, Chile, where Ted Ligety, Bode Miller, and the rest of the U.S. team was training this summer, he was fresh back from working as the strength and conditioning coach for FC Spartak, one of the top professional soccer teams in Russia. He also had a military background, which he couldn’t speak in detail about, though I’d heard rumors that he was both a paratrooper and a sniper. Bottom line: the dude is burly.

Beretzki, 43, was brought on this year as the speed group’s dedicated conditioning coach, charged with revamping the men’s fitness routine. It's not that the ski team guys weren’t fit, but they hadn’t been training efficiently for their sport. Sure, they could squat hundreds of pounds, but they couldn’t, say, balance on a trampoline on one leg and twist their upper body simultaneously, which requires that many muscle groups work together. Beretzki had a plan that was going to change that.

He soon introduced new ways of working muscle chains, or “muscle slings,” as they are sometimes called—systems of related muscle groups. “We exist in muscle chains,” Beretzki says. “For example with jogging, it’s not a question of just having good legs, it’s about having a good lower back, upper back, good abs.”

In skiing, conditioning these muscular networks is vital. “Skiing is a very complex sport,” Beretzki says. “You use your leg muscles down to your toe muscles. So it’s not just about being strong in your lower back, or abs, or quads. It’s a question of combining all of these muscle groups to let them work together, to have them incorporated in a movement. That’s the focus of our workouts here.”

He designed a circuit of dynamic exercises specific to the sport. Instead of doing a classic plank, for example, Beretzki has athlete’s start in a plank, swing their legs out to one side, catch themselves on one ankle while kicking your top leg out, balance, return to center, plank, and then swing to the other side.

“This works almost everything. Upper abs, lower abs, obliques, chest, upper body, hip extenders, shoulders, chest, quads,” Beretzki says, adding that the results are already showing. “At the beginning they were tired after one or two sets, now the guys go through the circuit like animals. Now the quality of their turns on skis is better. They can fire their glutes and their deeper abs better now because these muscles are more sensitive and they can recruit them.”

“I’ve noticed much better control in my skiing,” says Steven Nyman. “I’m excited he is a part of our team and I feel privileged to work with him.”

The Beret-SKI Workout: Combine the following five exercises for a full “core-sling” workout. Aim for 20 reps per side, and complete three rounds of all the drills.

Swing Plank (below)
Start in a plank. Swing your legs out to one side and catch yourself on one ankle while kicking your top leg out. Balance, return to center, plank, and then swing to the other side.

Butt-Up
Stand on one leg with slightly bent knee. Clasp hands in front. Perform one-legged squat while extended free leg straight back and arms straight out in front. Do 20 reps and repeat on other leg.

Side Kick Plank
Get into side plank position (elevate feet on box for more advanced version). Kick top leg forward and while simultaneously reaching out to touch foot. Do 20, switch sides, and repeat. 

Warrior One
In plank position, balance on one forearm and opposite foot. While holding free arm out past head, rotate and pull in leg so free knee passes underneath balanced leg. Return to balanced plank, touch arm free elbow to free knee. Repeat. Free arm and leg shouldn't touch ground. Do 20, and repeat on other side.

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