Winter is just around the corner, and if you want to get in ski-season shape by the time snow begins to fall, you need to start training now.
No one knows the benefits of off-mountain training better than pro skier Crystal Wright. One month after winning the 2012 Freeskiing World Tour, she broke her tibia and fibula and shattered part of her ankle in a mountain biking crash. Devastated and sidelined from competition, she focused on training her upper body and core until she could put weight on her legs and begin physical therapy. That's when she discovered that training in the gym can help turn you into a better athlete on the mountain. Less than a year later, she returned to competition. Today, she trains more than 200 mountain athletes at Wright Training, her gym in Jackson, Wyoming.
“I’m the strongest believer in just doing the sport, but people are starting to learn how beneficial the gym is in being able to take you to the next level,” says Wright.
Wright has worked with countless athletes to develop fundamental strength that will translate to better performance on the mountain. Here, she details her favorite do-at-home exercises to avoid a case of noodle legs on your first run this winter.
1. Leg Blasters
This four-part, dynamic set combines lunges and squats to gain more power and control while skiing downhill. “It’s eccentric training at its finest,” says Wright, meaning the moves are intended to lengthen and strengthen your muscles through negative contractions. Perform a full set—squats, alternating lunges, jump lunges, and jump squats—then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat six times.
Squats: Standing with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, lower into a seated position until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your heels grounded and your knees behind your toes. Maintain a strong core and hold your arms by your hips for alignment. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Alternating Lunges: Set your feet shoulder-width apart and step forward with your left foot into a lunge. Keep your left leg bent at 90 degrees, and your right knee almost touching the ground behind you. Pushing off your front heel, return to the starting position with your feet apart. Repeat on the right leg. Do 10 to 20 reps for each leg.
Jump Lunges: Perform a lunge with your left leg forward. Then jump up and switch legs in the air, landing with your right foot in front of you and your left foot back. Repeat 10 to 20 reps for each leg.
Jump Squats: Squat and then shift weight from your heels to the balls of your feet to explode upward before landing softly on the ground. Do five to ten reps.
2. Russian Twists
This core-specific exercise, says Wright, “is great for building those oblique muscles that you’ll need every time you go through turns on the mountain.”
Sit on the ground and lean up slightly with your knees and hips bent at a 90-degree angle. Grab a dumbbell or weight plate and hold it with bent arms away from your chest. With your feet off the floor, engage your core and rotate your upper body as far as you can to the right, touching the weight to the ground. Return to the center and then twist to the other side. One repetition is a twist to each side. Do three rounds of 10 to 20 reps.
3. Lateral Hops with Tuck Hold
This exercise, which combines isometric and dynamic movements, is designed to improve stamina on the hill. While performing a lateral hop, keep in mind that the goal is not to jump as high as you can, but instead to improve strength and quickness. “You don’t hop down mountains," says Wright. "You’re turning quickly and you’re never on flat surfaces. You have very limited recovery time here to ready yourself for non-stop runs without having to take breathers you’re first time out.”
Keep a wide stance and jump laterally back and forth over a sandbag or foam roller. Concentrate on jumping softly and quickly. Continue for 30 seconds, then sink down into a squat position and hold for another 30 seconds, keeping a flat back and open chest. Rest for 15 seconds. Repeat four to eight times, or as many as you can do with good form.
4. Front Squats
This low-rep, high-weight move is meant to improve your core and lower body strength.“This is one of my favorite exercises for ski training,” says Wright. “You don’t want to collapse your upper body while skiing downhill. You want to ski upright.”
Standing with a barbell or kettlebell held up near your jaw, lower your butt to the ground. Take a deep breath as you squat down and exhale as you stand back up. Keep your core engaged and your back straight as you slowly return to a starting position. Do six rounds of four to six reps.
5. Low Back Complex
This three-part circuit is intended to combat lower back pain by strengthening muscles through isometric positions. “I love this exercise because it alleviates that soreness that a lot of people get on their first day of skiing,” says Wright.
First, stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and keep your spine arched and contract your lower back muscles. Starting with your arms at your side, raise them upward and over your head. Hold that position for 20 seconds. Next, perform a lunge with your left leg forward. Hold the lunge position and raise your arms upward and keep them elevated for 20 seconds. Third, kneel on the ground with your legs about six inches apart. Keep an arched lower back and open chest while raising your arms upward and hold that fully extended position for 20 seconds. Repeat the series three to four times.
6. Single-Leg Deadlifts
This body-stabilizing exercise works your glutes, hamstring, and core, and enhances balance while also building ankle stability. “I’m a big fan of single-leg exercises for symmetry,” says Wright. “You want to be as symmetrical as possible so when you go out to the slopes you’re working on all cylinders and you’re not just using one leg or the other.”
Standing upright, extend your hands and slowly lean forward, leading with your chest. Slowly lift one leg out behind you, and keep you base leg slightly bend to maintain balance. While slowly leaning over, keep your back leg straight and in-line with your torso. Remember to take a deep breath in as you go forward and exhale as you return to a standing position. Do six reps. Then repeat on the opposite leg.
7. Jane Fonda
This four-part exercise activates your gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius to improve your balance. Perform the series for two rounds of 30 seconds each on the ground. Then switch sides to work the other leg. “This exercise prevents lower back and knee pains,” says Wright. “It’s great because it helps our glutes and other stabilizers.”
First, lie down on your right side with your right arm tucked beneath your head. Raise your left leg and lower it on the floor behind your right leg. Next, bring your left knee to your chest, while focusing on contracting your core. Then, starting from a straight-legged position, kick your left leg behind you to your rear. Finally, make clockwise circles with your left leg. After 15 seconds, switch to a counter-clockwise direction. Switch sides and repeat the circuit.