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Outside magazine, February 1999

Even the hard core need, well, a hard core

And While
You’re At It …

  • Do the following exercise to keep your legs tuned up on the weekends you can’t ski: In a low tuck position, walk backward up a hill, and then run back down. Do three sets of 20 steps.
  • Make a conscious effort to grip the handles of your poles firmly to help prevent the dreaded tendon injury known as skier’s thumb.
  • Take your boots to a skiing-savvy podiatrist. Perfecting your stance with custom-molded liners or orthotics can keep you from making hundreds of slight corrections on the slope, saving your legs much wear and tear.

The goal of any alpine skier, you’ve surely been reminded by this point in the season, is to turn the lower body into a heavy-duty shock absorber, one that won’t bottom out at an inopportune moment. Like on the first mogul of a double-diamond. As you may have guessed, that means emphasizing not merely strength and power in your
training, but also balance and coordination.

You’ll want to focus on the core muscles of the midsection and the entire lower body, since vibrations ripple from the hill up your hamstrings and quads to your glutes and pelvis. But you won’t be lifting weights in the usual way. Squats, for example, should be done with just one leg. Really.

This forces your body to constantly struggle to stay balanced, mimicking that quivering your thighs start into around 3:00 p.m. on the third day of a ski trip. That’s also why you should use free weights (or your body weight) rather than machines, which restrict your range of motion and thus don’t require this delicate balancing act.

As for the lower body’s other duty, these same exercises will fit the bill. “Power is generated in the butt, and the hamstrings translate it down to the knee and ankles,” says Andy Walshe, the director of sports science for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “Exercises like lunges and squats incorporate all these components.”

In the Gym

Instead of doing Newton’s single drill for legs, choose three of the following exercises and do three sets of six to ten repetitions for each leg: squats, hamstring curls, leg presses, and lunges (pictured below). Be careful and always use a spotter, especially with squats, which are tricky enough on two legs.

And though these drills won’t specifically forward the cause of the snowboarder, alpine adventurers of any stripe obviously need strong abdominals and lower back muscles. So regardless of whether you carve on one plank or two, in addition to the crunches and back extensions you should work the obliques with the broom-handle twist. Sit with a barbell atop your
shoulders and slowly twist your torso 90 degrees to one side, pause, and then twist in the opposite direction. Be sure not to let the momentum of the bar do the work for your muscles. Do three sets of 15 repetitions.

On the Move

Running is fine for your cardio sessions, but avoid simply plowing straight ahead for the entire outing, which does little to develop balance and coordination. Run sideways, crossing one foot over another, zigzag, or better yet, find hilly trails that mimic a slalom course: Lean your upper body slightly in the opposite direction of your turn to imitate the motion of
skiing or snowboarding and focus on making round, S-shaped turns rather than sharp Z patterns.

The most effective aerobic tool to bolster your skiing, however, is in-line skating. The sports’ flexed-knee positions are similar, as are the lateral motions of the legs and the transfer of weight. You can polish your technique while improving your cardio capacity.

T H E   C R U X   M O V E

One-Legged Lunge
Standing with your back to a bench, take a stride forward with your left foot and pick your right foot up and rest it on the bench. Keeping your back straight and upright, lower yourself on the strength of your left leg until your thigh is parallel to the ground, making sure your bent knee doesn’t extend forward of your toes. Stand up and repeat 10 times.
Do three sets with each leg.

Photograph by Doug Merriam