Using Sports as a Training Tool
Skiing is a fabulous sport and activity and hobby all at the same time. Ask any ski instructor what they do on their day off and you can guess what the answer is; "ski". And like any sport, whether you do it all year round or just when you can, you can get so much more out of it if you are physically prepared. Indeed the preparation is often a part of the pleasure but when training starts the fun does not need to stop, and certainly when training becomes year-round and the planning long-term.
Off-season training often only occurs in the gym with a few ski-specific exercises, and a trip to a glacier. But is this really what creates a champion; skiing, and only skiing?
In a recent interview with Marcel Hircher he stated:
"I think there is too much stress and focus on that [glacier skiing]; you don't become champion…and in any case not just by skiing extensively on the glacier during the summer; which I never really enjoyed anyway. Yes, it's true [I won a lot as a child] but it was by practicing all-round sports, not just by focusing on skiing..."
Spending time training doesn't necessarily means practicing a single, specific movement. Skills can be transferred across (with correct training and time) from one sport to another, and one sport can develop a skill as well as, if not better, than it could be developed in the discipline where it is needed.
Where coaching become decisive and where the good coaches distinguish themselves from the average ones is being able to plan ahead and working today to pick up results tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and beyond, without burning out because "glory can't wait". This where a good coach will look at the season, at the athlete, their likes, other interests, hobbies and come up with an off-season training plan.
We've highlighted just a few but the options are endless.
Sports for Skiing – Running and Cycling
Running and cycling are probably the most common ways for people to train for skiing.
The 400m in athletics is possibly the closest match to skiing in terms of the energy system required.
The "queen of disciplines" requires activation of all 3 energy systems (anaerobic lactacid and alactacid + aerobic).
One way to get some training off-season could be just by joining the local athletics team! After a few training sessions and a mock circuit race you will realise why it's called "the death lap"…
It's worth mentioning that many coaches in a lot of sports have abandoned only doing long steady pace sessions. Instead, interval training (HIIT) has become the method of reference to build a better endurance.
Short periods of high intensity followed by periods of active recovery have been found to be more efficient in cardiovascular improvements than prolonged, steady paced efforts. This comes from the research by Dr Tabata which is now seen in gyms across the country in HIIT classes.
Getting out on a bike means the terrain already alters the training by itself, but a workout can be easily constructed whilst enjoying the environment.
Sports for Skiing – Hockey
Field hockey is a team sport requiring quick reactions, continual sprints and the ability to read the game and make decisions.
Consider the common body posture for playing field hockey; low crouched position, hands in front of the body holding the stick, head up and body weight going forwards. Sound familiar?
As hockey is a fast paced game, with players running approximately 60-70% of the game at sprint pace, in a 70min game a lot of sprints are packed in.
This is advantageous to skiers as again all three energy systems are being used in a game and being trained at the same time; ATP-PC (anaerobic a-latic), glycotic (latic acid) and oxidative (aerobic). Perfect as all three are also used in the typical ski training day too, but much more fun playing a game than treadmill running drills.
Leg strength is vital to a skier but endless reps in the gym can be dull. The quadriceps to hamstring strength ratio in hockey players is roughly equal due to the crouched playing position. In skiing having a good level of strength in both sets of muscles allows to maintain body position with ease and react to the turn phase and terrain.
Another way hockey can help skiers is "Heads Up". Skiers have an obsession with looking at their feet to see what they are up to, especially when new skills are being worked on, but we need to develop awareness and proprioception in order to be capable of moving and understanding where our body is whilst observing the changing environment in front of us and react to it.
Sports for Skiing – Gymnastics
Simply look at any pro-skier's social media and you will see videos of gymnastic-type assault courses. Our coach Caroline George was a competitive gymnast as a child and firmly believes it sets anyone up for a lifetime in any sport.
It is a very disciplined sport requiring high levels of body control, strength and dynamic power. It is the strength, flexibility and body control elements that are the most applicable to improving skiing. It is also brilliant fun.
The different planes that the body moves through during many gymnastic moves means gymnasts develop high levels of proprioception; the understanding of the body in time and space. Skiers need to develop an awareness of the body before they can start using proprioception to influence their skiing so spending time in different planes and in movements will allow them to train this particular skill.
Consider what regular feedback a skier is getting. If it involves altering the position of a body part, then training your proprioception in the summer will have huge benefits on your ability to change that movement whilst skiing.
Balance is generally trained alongside core strength. The core is the most vital part of balance and without it many people just can't hold a position or recover from a fault. Training this through gymnastics is fun, challenging and has endless variations.
Many gymnastic clubs have open sessions or adults only in the evenings. If that's not an option, try a parkour class or set up an assault course using a variety of equipment and travelling methods. Alternatively tie a slack line up and get practising.
Sports for Skiing – MotorSports
Can motorsports for skiing make sense? An alternative and effective way to train those elusive skills of attitude to speed, your reflexes and line awareness. And some body management awareness too.
Our Head Coach Federico Sollini once worked with professional riders. There were two aspects of the training program that he picked out as curiosity for skiers: neck training and attitude to speed.
Competing inside a car, strapped to a seat and cornering at high speed, motorsport drivers have a unique requirement for very specific neck training. Skiing of course requires a strong neck as well, to resist impacts and protect all the important joints it carries around. What is important to take away from this aspect of motorsport is: check the correct posture of the neck and the shoulders.
The other was attitude to speed. Training this skill is difficult to explain in detail, as it greatly depends on the athlete and the athlete-coach relationship, however, the general guideline would be to follow a soft learning curve. Risk and speed, although belonging to the "extreme world", are better trained in smaller steps, not in large overwhelming experiences. A big mistake many coaches made in the past and even nowadays.
We've picked just a few sports as examples but there are so many options out there.
Training programmes should always be specific to the person so have a good look at your off-season plan and decide if it is really individual. Has it got variety, interest and new challenges? Are there goals on there that could be achieved in another way?
There is no set way to the top. If there was, Lindsey Vonn would not be a household name. So why not enjoy the training in a variety of ways and make sure you don't lose the love of the sport by too many endless laps of the same old thing.
Mileage is important, but no one ski's other than for the love of it!
About the Author
Our partners at Subzero Coaching are passionate coaches offering a range of training, strength and conditioning programmes to ski instructors. They are dedicated to helping professionals find new challenges and to progress in their careers.