Originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of American Fitness Magazine.
The dawning of
true winter—and holiday gifts of down-filled jackets and cozy snow gloves—may
have clients eagerly anticipating a day on the slopes. For those who have yet
to start schussing down the mountain, circling the ice rink or shredding it on
their snowboards, some targeted training can help them avoid injury and build
strength where they will need it most. But even those who have been playing in
the snow for the past month can benefit from sport-specific workouts like those
So can anyone else, for that matter. Mixing up workouts is a great way
to keep clients engaged and excited for their next exercise session, whether
they love the snow or shun it.
Getting Started: Analyze Your Client’s Sport
Because clients enjoy different winter pastimes, it is the personal trainer’s job to be familiar with each person’s sport of choice and train the client accordingly.
Fortunately, whether it’s ice hockey, cross-country skiing or snowboarding, there are certain fundamental movements that are similar. A strong core is essential for any activity requiring balance, and, notably, most winter sports fall into this category. But not all winter activities are identical. With skiing, for example, the best preparation for the grind-it-out, long-haul cardiovascular needs of cross-country treks may be different from the optimal training for downhill skiing’s short-burst intervals. Therefore, analysis of the cardiovascular, strength and flexibility requirements of specific snow sports, along with a deeper consideration of specific movement patterning, is advantageous.
If you are not familiar with your client’s sport du jour, see “Get Up to Speed on Unfamiliar Sports,” right, for tips on how to proceed. You may also want to repeat certain assessments, such as the single-leg squat assessment and speed, agility and quickness assessments, especially if movements required for the sport seem to be beyond the client’s current phase on the NASM Optimum Performance Training™ model.
Cardio Conditioning for Endurance and Intensity
Each winter sport has specific cardio conditioning requirements, so when
you are creating a training plan, analyze the cardiovascular needs of the
client’s chosen activity. Skiing and snowboarding tend to be more anaerobic,
but a solid cardio base is still necessary.
Downhill skiing for the recreational enthusiast requires more
moderate-intensity interval training. Most skiers or boarders schuss down the
mountain for a couple of minutes and then stop and wait for their snow buddies
to catch up before they go (and stop) again—the perfect interval. However, an
elite skier may power through 30–60 seconds of moguls and would benefit from
high-intensity interval training. So would an ice hockey player.
On the other end of the cardio continuum, cross-country skiers are in it
for the long haul and will need to build up their aerobic conditioning. This is
best attained with moderate-intensity continuous training, such as steady-state
long runs, bike rides or laps in the pool.
Bottom line: Interval-train according to the needs
of the sport and the client’s ability.
Core Challenges for Proper Posture
Core training should be at the top of the resistance-training priority
list for every snow enthusiast. Strong abdominals and lower-back muscles support
the spine and are important for rotational movements used in snowboarding,
mogul skiing and ice dancing. These muscles are also necessary when skiing
through deep powder or taking on steep mountain grades. The forward flexion
associated with skiing will challenge the back muscles to work harder than
usual to protect the spine.
To check whether the erector spinae muscles are activated on a forward
bend, have your clients place their hands at waist level and above, thumbs
forward, fingertips spread, touching the erector muscles. Ask the clients to
perform a sloppy forward bend. Next have them hinge correctly, activating their
core and back. They will feel the muscles contract when the flex is done
Introduce a variety of core exercises using either body weight or
various small training tools. Russian twists on the stability ball, side planks
with rotation, V-sit presses with a sandbag or reverse wood chops with a
medicine ball are just a small sample of exercises from the core toolbox.
Lower-Body Moves to Strengthen and Stabilize
Skiing, skating and snowboarding all require strong lower bodies. As
many downhill skiers can attest, the first day on the slopes often results in
last-run-of-the-day wobble legs. Weak legs equal a greater risk of injury—most
accidents happen in the first 1–5 days back on the slopes.
To prepare your clients, developing strength and endurance will be
crucial, particularly for those facing a 6-hour ski mountain marathon. Assuming
their cardio is good, focus on strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings and
glutes. Strong quads will protect the knees and better prepare the body to hold
the forward position used in skiing. Additionally, in both snowboarding and
skiing, the body is held in a flexed position with a forward lean from the
hips. Therefore, it is also important to train the hamstrings and glutes.
Strong hamstrings and glutes will help to stabilize the body and counter any
muscular imbalances arising from dominant quadriceps muscles.
For strong quads, it’s squats, squats and more squats. Also include
glute bridges and other lower-body posterior-chain exercises as part of the
training repertoire. A favorite of winter sport enthusiast Mike Bracko, EdD, a
sports physiologist and fitness educator in Calgary, Alberta, is the heel
bridge to hamstring curl on a stability ball. This exercise works the entire
posterior chain, especially the large hip extensors, gluteus maximus, adductor
magnus and hamstring muscles. In addition, says Bracko, combining concentric
exercises with a focus on eccentric training may lessen the effects of
delayed-onset muscle soreness that many skiers experience.
For ice skaters, include lateral movement training. Look for speed
skaters and you may find them in the weight room, a resistance band wrapped
around both ankles, continuously stepping side to side against the resistance.
Upper-Body Exercises for Planting and Pushing on Poles
Spending most of the day horizontal (i.e., falling down!) is a common
occurrence for first-time snowboarders. Add in the awkward motion of pushing up
and out of the snow to get vertical again, and it becomes apparent that
upper-body training is needed. Even devoted boarders need arm strength to
improve balance and stability, which can potentially prevent a fall. For skiing,
strong arms will improve the ability to plant and push with poles while
maintaining good shoulder stability.
Focus on both triceps training and shoulder work. Triceps dips, triceps
extensions and medicine ball slams are all great upper-body exercises. Various
forms of the plank will improve both shoulder and core strength. Also include
back exercises and choose push-pull combination moves. A fast straight-arm
pushdown using a resistance band anchored in the center will elevate heart rate
and strengthen the upper back and arms.
Balance and Agility Activities for Fewer Falls
With the changing and challenging surfaces of most winter
sports—hard-packed ice, powder snow, variable terrains and tree-lined
trails—good balance and agility are key to avoiding falls and injuries. For
example, boarders need to be able to adapt quickly to various snow-packed
surfaces as environmental conditions change. And skiers may find themselves off
the beaten path and struggling to weave through an ungroomed trail. Having a strong
core will help with balance and movement control in both these situations.
To train specifically for balance, you can incorporate various
balance-board tools. Single-leg exercises (performed with eyes open or closed)
are good nonequipment alternatives.
Agility exercises for fast footwork and directional changes are also
important for winter-sport prep and may come in handy when maneuvering around
an out-of-control skier. Reaction time matters. Use an agility ladder or set up
markers (cones or tape, for example) on the floor for speed, quickness and
agility drills. Also, add in plyometric training if appropriate for the client.
Explosive moves like box jumps, split jumps and ricochets will improve power.
With any winter sport or activity, preparation is paramount to the success of both weekend warriors and elite athletes. Developing a program that is client-driven and sport-specific will enhance performance and enjoyment, keeping your clients injury-free so they can be ready for the springtime sport challenges soon to come!
Sample Winter-Sport Exercises: Beyond the Basics
Take Your Clients to the Next Level
The NASM Performance Enhancement Specialization (NASM-PES) reaps powerful results. Did you know that NASM personal trainers who have the NASM-PES earn 40% more on average than other personal trainers? Expand your knowledge base and skillset while improving your marketability with sports-minded clientele. Athletes will need your comprehensive guidance regarding:
- cutting-edge training processes;
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