Here it is December already, and the racing season is heating up. You know there are some races that you want to prep for, but those are still a few months off. The snow has been getting better on a regular basis—a transition to exclusively skiing is finally happening. You couldn’t be happier!
I suspect enough of you share this sentiment. The trick is not who has this inner monologue, but rather how do we respond to it? I like December; it is the time of year when I can decidedly say, "My race season has begun."
To formulate a plan to maintain your fitness and strength, here are two very good questions to ask at this time:
Am I going to train only or race a little during December?
Those of us who like to race throughout the winter will certainly want to get the fast skis on and compete. The trick is not to abstain from racing and competition, but to add these races to a schedule in a structured manner.
Much of this will depend on race availability. If there is only one race near you during December, there’s not much of a problem with over-racing. However, if you approach that single race with high expectations, you could very well be forfeiting a good race down the road. A good suggestion? Leave the first races feeling like there is room for improvement, and you are anxious to work toward that. Also, enjoy early season races. I live in Bozeman, Montana, where Bohart Ranch puts on The Christmas Pole race as a fund raiser for the Montana State University Ski Club. Every year, it proves to be an enjoyable time to visit with good friends and serves only to test the engine early.
In the end, making a transition to ski-specific training should be the focus of this period. You should be skiing as much as possible and feel those ski legs coming back. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself while you do all of this!
Is this the time to give up my strength workouts?
Regardless of what you have done until now, you probably want a change once the snow flies. Why waste precious daylight hours in the gym or precious night time outside the wax room? Instead, aim for specific strength. It’s great to build general strength all summer and fall, but in the winter you need to build the most useful muscles in the least amount of time. One of the Subaru Factory Team’s Olympians, Justin Freeman, recommends focusing on three workouts to maintain ski-specific strength.
For the first workout, find a gradual uphill that takes around a minute to ski (or rollerski) up. For the first part of the workout, double pole up this hill, with good form and high speed, as many times as it takes to get really tired. For the next motion, single stick up the hill (do a diagonal stride motion with your arms while keeping your feet together). Here, it is critical to keep your hips high and your motions crisp; if you feel your hips falling back, find a gentler hill. This is simply the best way to build strength for classic skiing.
For the second workout, ski without poles. If you are skating, find steep hill, but one that you can keep your technique on as you ski up it. As you ski to the top, you should feel a serious "burn” in your thighs. This is the feeling of your quads getting stronger. On the way down the hill, balance on one ski as long as you can. This works the stabilizers in your hips and gives you the ability to glide more easily in all terrain.
If you are classic skiing, find a gradual downhill for the best workout. As you glide down the hill in the tracks, balance on one ski. Count to three, then set your wax hard and drive forward onto the other ski. You won’t feel much "burn,” but you will build strength, coordination and balance.
If you feel the need to go to the gym, make the workouts count. Focus on those exercises that you feel really help you ski faster (not what your training partner thinks helps her ski faster, or what you think Andy Newell might be doing in the gym). As a warm-up, try a couple of my favorite core stabilization exercises.
- sit on a physio-ball with your knees and calves raised so they do not touch to ball and then play catch
- lie down with your shoulder blades on the ground and your heels on a physio-ball and roll the ball up to your butt and back
- lie sideways with your hip on physio-ball and your foot on a basketball and do leg raises
These exercises (or similar ones) develop inner core muscles, making the rest of your workout more effective. They are great all year round and critical whenever you hit the gym in season.
Be positive in the early months of winter. Focus on making this transition as smooth and effortless as possible.
Justin Easter is a member of the Subaru Factory Team and editor of SkiPost.