So you’ve booked your winter holiday, you’re excited to hit the slopes and start skiing, or snowboarding. You’ve worked hard in the gym throughout Summer and Autumn and you’re feeling fit! But are you SnowFit?!? Has all your training being completed on stable surfaces? Have you focused mainly on bi-lateral leg strength and power exercises (double leg movements), predominantly in the sagittal plane of movement (forwards and backwards)? Have you conditioned your muscles to work for 3 sets of 10 reps, with rest periods in between? If so, then you are probably a long way off being SnowFit!
How many sports do you know in which the average person will participate for 4 – 6 hours per day, for 3 – 7 consecutive days, with no specific physical preparation? Im scratching my head …. I can’t think of too many!
If I was training an athlete for any other event / sport with this type of physical demand, I would want a long period of general physical preparation (a block of training that hits many components of fitness, major muscle groups and energy systems. Something along the lines of CrossFit would be a good start). I would also want to follow this with a shorter period of specific physical preparation leading up to competition, or in this case sports vacation, to target the most common movement patterns and injury risks associated with the event / sport. Skiing and Snowboarding appear to be the exception to the rule, many people hit the slopes once per year with no specific physical preparation. Whilst it is true that you retain ‘muscle memory’ following skill acquisition, you don’t retain many of the components of fitness specific to that particular event / sport for up to a year, without having conditioned the body on a regular basis. It would be nice if you did! So although you may pick up the core skills of skiing / boarding after being back on the slopes for a couple of hours, you won’t have the strength and conditioning required to fulfil your potential on the slopes and reduce the chances of injury. Regardless of ability level, or experience, specific strength and conditioning work can be of huge benefit, for different reasons.
For beginners, who lack experience on the unstable winter terrain, using new equipment, specific strength and conditioning work can prepare them for new movement patterns and make them stronger in key positions, reducing the likelihood of picking up a muscle strain from something innocuous like a slip, or loss in balance. For intermediates, who have been skiing / boarding on more than a few occasions, the desire to progress from the green runs, to the blue runs, to the red runs is only natural. With that progression also comes an increased physical demand on the body, not just in terms of applying skills in a more difficult environment, but also to tolerate the more difficult terrain and greater forces experienced at higher speeds. For advanced skiers / boarders who are veterans on the slopes, navigating the black runs and roaming off piste, the desire to improve and excel on the slopes requires focused physical training to get the best out the body. You are only ever as strong as your weakest link. So if you have weak legs, your legs are going to be the limiting factor. If you have stiff hips, your hips are going to be the limiting factor. If you have a weak core, guess what … your core is going to be the limiting factor. By preparing the body specifically for the demands the sport, you give yourself the opportunity to identify your weak links and strengthen them.