Training & Technique
Keeping It Fun With Ski Walking
By STEVE HINDMAN
ITíS TIME TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT SKIING if you want to make the most of the upcoming winter. To increase your success and enjoyment when the snow flies, you need to get outside now. Make friends with the rain and the dusk of fall. Get used to being out in the cold,wet weather.
Walking is grand. Walking with ski poles is even better, since you can raise your heart rate as if you were running without pounding your joints. Trekking poles work fine, as do cross country poles. Alpine poles work in a pinch. The tips, called ferrules, of lower quality poles will wear off,but a good cross country ski or outdoor shop will have replacement tips in stock or can order them.
Donít worry about poling technique. Just swing your arms normally and use your poles to help move forward. Think about skiing as you hike, and get jazzed for the upcoming season. Although you can use poles on pavement, the action is jarring, and the sound drives the neighborhood dogs berserk. Instead, find a nice trail.
If you are taking up skiing for the first time and want to have the best possible experience on your first ski trip, put your skis out on the grass some evening, clip in and tromp around on them. If the grass is short and wet, you should be able to glide a bit. Your goal,however, is simply to get acquainted. Figure out how the bindings work. Practice how to pick up only the tail of the ski and only the tip. Work out ways to change direction. Have fun, and choose a place where the neighbors canít see you.
This fall,Todd Eastman,originally from the northeast, lately from Colorado, and a recent immigrant to my neck of the woods in Washington State, has been helping me get ready for skiing. His advice explains why he has remained one of the top master skiers in the nation over the years.
If you are ramping up for the race season after a summer of hard training, Eastmanís first piece of advice is to calm down.
Since fall and spring are a common time for injuries, add staying healthy to your list of fall goals. Aim to finish November fit and lean, so you can relax, gain a few pounds, and enjoy the holidays with your friends and family. Taking a rest and balancing your personal life with your training plans will enhance the hours you spend both on and off your skis this winter.
As the sun moves south, dark,wet roads diminish the appeal of road and mountain biking as well as roller skiing. This is the season when many turn to running on dimly lit,muddy trails.
Therefore, Eastman recommends ski walking as an alternative to running. It offers specific training benefits while minimizing the risk of turned ankles and tripping over rocks or roots in the dark.
The simplest way to start ski walking is to pick up your poles and go for a hike. Poles should be a bit shorter than those used for skiing. A favorite ploy is to liberate a neglected pair from a shorter family member. As you hike,mimic the ski stride. With no further effort, you have raised your heart rate and are developing ski specific strength and endurance. After getting accustomed to walking with poles, you should focus on three things that will make you a better skier when you get back on snow.
1) The simplest way to improve one-footed balance is to align the body over one foot by lifting the opposite hip, as Eastman demonstrates (photo 1 & 2).
2) Once you master balancing on one foot, practice shifting where you balance on one foot from your heel to the ball of your foot and back. This subtle move is the key to gliding and gripping on the same ski. Notice when Eastman shifts from the heel to the ball of his foot, he increases the bend in his ankle and knee when his weight is over the ball of his foot (photo 3 & 4). On skis, bending your ankle and knee while shifting onto the ball of your foot presses the grip zone into the snow and places you in a coiled,powerful, and "pre-loaded"position to push off.
3) The third element is swishing through the grass with your rear foot as it comes forward. Lift your toe towards your shin as you begin to bring your leg forward. As your toes start to swish through the grass, lift your knee to keep your foot from hitting the ground as your body continues to move forward.
Ski walking, like skiing, is much more than simply the sum of separate elements. What unites the elements into a powerful whole is continuous forward motion, as Eastman demonstrates in the next series of photos. Photo 5 shows Eastmanís rear leg extended and relaxed, providing a counterbalance as he "pauses"to "glide" on his right foot. His core continues forward, however, even as he "glides" as his right leg slowly straightens and his hips rise over his heel (photo 6). Continuing forward, Eastman deepens the flex in his knee and ankle, falling forward as he pushes off his right foot, left foot swishing through the grass, hidden by the right foot in photo 7. His leap is forward, not up (photo 8), and he lands on his heel to extend the stride and to simulate gliding on his heel at the beginning of the next cycle. Unlike the stride shown in these photos, you neednít leap from foot to foot to benefit from ski walking. Pay attention to form and technique, and add power when you have mastered the basics.
Focus on these details when you want,but donít obsess over them. Feel your way into ski walking. Imagine skiing on snow, and have fun.
Poling should complement foot and leg work. Muscling through with your poles will not help your ski walking any more than it helps your skiing.
For more power and flow, Eastman recommends linking up your legs, pelvis and upper body through your core by using your eight-pack, not just the six-pack shown on the cover of menís magazines. These "extra two"muscles lie below your belly button. Practice by raising your rib cage, not your shoulders, as Eastman illustrates in photo 9. Photo 9 shows core relaxed, photo 10 shows torso lengthened, core engaged. Then twist your upper body from side to side. You should feel a connection from one side of your torso to the opposite hip. This action taps into the core strength that is the buzz these days. Lengthen your torso by increasing the distance between your hips and your ribcage as you ski walk, ski, or do anything else. When you get connected, you will feel the difference.
Ski walking up hills, like skiing up hills, requires only a few modifications. Be sure to stand a little straighter by looking at the top of the hill, not at the ground. Bring your pole through and plant it with a more vertical forearm,and land on the ball of your foot, not your heel. Since you basically run up hills on skis, you donít need to simulate the glide phase. Instead, land on the ball of your foot and keep moving up the hill by instantly deepening the flex of the ankle and knee of your standing leg.
If you have your lower abs engaged (the "extra two"), you should be able to lift your leg through with their assistance, which is especially helpful on hills. One way to enhance this connection is to imagine your opposite elbow lifting your foot through and up the hill.
Ski walking can be done casually or intensively. Either way, it provides a great opportunity to train with others. Talking should be easy when you ski walk at a hiking pace, and itís great to have companionship during the downhills and recovery phases after intense hills or intervals. Done correctly, ski walking is a low impact training tool. Youíll be amazed at how hard you can go without paying for it with sore joints and sore muscles the next day.
Keep your training social and fun by being inventive. Wheelbarrow races are a great workout for the triceps (photo 11), and even goofing around in a tuck can be good training (photo 12). Note the greater range of motion and strength of Eastmanís position, something I am aspiring to as I keep it fun this fall.
So get outside and ski walk.