You can read the LinkedIn discussion here.
This is not a question that has a simple one or two line answer. Though it's common for ski publications to give the impression that there is a quick, shortcut method to the process by running articles (usually in October) promoting the "Best 3 Exercises to Get in Shape for the Season". This ‘advice’ doesn’t really offer a true training solution for anyone working to get ready for the snow season. I wrote more about this topic a while back.
I would use the following bullets as my guide to figure out what the client needs to do in terms of preparing for a snowsports lesson session (or a few right?) for the upcoming season:
- Overall Health and Fitness
- Foundation of Athletic Strength and Conditioning
- High-end Sports Specific Training
If the individual does not exercise regularly, or have a history of athletic activities in their life, they need to work with a professional to achieve a basic level of overall health and fitness. A well-rounded program would cover everything from learning appropriate form and equipment use (think “how to exercise right”) to nutritional guidelines (think “how to eat well”) and beyond. So no real sports specific training happening here (though the basic exercises of a squat or lunge could be argued as perfect for mountain sports) – just getting ‘in shape’ will be enough of a change to help them enjoy the day(s) on the mountain.
Once a client has developed an aptitude for working-out and improved their health to a decent degree, they are ready to build a foundation of athletic strength and conditioning (if that’s their goal). I would expect someone in this category is working with a trainer and exercises a minimum of 2x to 3x per week along with other recreational athletic activities (think hiking, mountain biking, etc.). Do they need sports specific exercises? Maybe. If they have a good coach, it’s probably already part of their exercise routine, just in smaller doses. Could they do a few extra balance related drills? Sure. Would it help to do exercises in varying planes of direction? Yes. What about their core? Absolutely.
Again, if they are working with someone who knows what they’re doing, all these topics are already covered, with maybe the exception of the balance related drills. So I’d want someone at this stage to be sure to incorporate a few dual and single leg balance exercises if they are not already present in their program. And they do not have to be crazy, stand-on-a-tightrope style movements. If they work with a good coach at this level, they’ll already be strong enough, poses enough endurance and be mentally used to working through challenges in the gym that a ski or board lesson will be “no big deal”.
People in both these groups could do a few technical movement based drills each day to prepare for whatever lesson is in the future. If a client intends to take a board session, they could stand in a board stance and practice toe/heel movements braced against a wall or other support. A skier could practice moving their hips/knees/ankles from edge to edge, again braced against a support. While these are not fitness exercises per se, they can help the individual develop a comfort level with the new movements they’ll experience in their first several lessons. If they own their own equipment, encourage them to wear their boots while practicing some of these movement patterns.
The two previous categories cover most of the clients who show up at the mountain for lessons. There is a smaller group of clients who use coaching on the mountain (think USASA or NASTAR Competitors, big mountain enthusiasts, etc.), but they generally need no advice when it comes to taking a session. These people fall into the high-end sports specific training zone and probably have used coaching, both on and off the snow for a long time and are physically and mentally prepared for whatever you can throw at them. Many have their own private coach as well or participate with some sort of team training system.
There are a few common mistakes to avoid when it comes to getting someone ‘snow ready’:
- Too much focus on Quad development
- Only trying to improve ‘core strength’
- Not starting a fitness training regimen early enough prior to the season
- Thinking balance exercises need to be ‘crazy’ to be effective
While quad strength is good, ideally you would have a balanced strength compared to your hamstrings (and glutes). We don’t just use our quads when skiing or snowboarding in an isolated manor. There is also a direct link to some knee injuries rooted in excessive quad dominant training. So besides experiencing a performance benefit, for injury prevention a balance of leg strength is encouraged.
Core strength is important, but is not the magic source of all that is needed for mountain sports as some people believe. Sometimes the way people train their core does not translate to how we use our core when skiing or boarding. A mountain athlete needs endurance, strength, speed, power, balance, agility/coordination – which core strength is a part of for sure, but is only a piece of the whole system. If core training were the only thing needed for on-mountain success, the Olympic Training Center facility in Utah (Center of Excellence) wouldn’t have so much weight lifting equipment on the floor. Make your entire body strong.
“Hey it’s the week before Thanksgiving, do you think I should start training now?” Physical adaptations take time. That’s why we spend so much time allowing our students to practice new movements before teaching a new skill (you do that right?). Changes in strength, endurance, power, etc. take time. There is no shortcut, get fit quick scheme or way to speed that process along. Starting a training program in October for a December season isn’t nearly enough time to prep appropriately for the rigors of mountain sports, especially if you expect significant improvement compared to a previous season. The clients I train start their off-snow work-out programs in late April. Do we have a specific pre-season conditioning phase? Yes. That starts in September or October, but they’ve already been training for at least 4 months prior to the pre-season work phase. Start early, work hard and see real results.