I recently wrote this Racer Next column for Ski Racing, on the importance of adhering to some kind of in-season maintenance program. I did not, however, provide any specific program. This is in part because my own personal maintenance program—though darned good for middle-aged women with past-prime joints and cartilage in search of sanity during a New England winter—has zero relevance to young ski racers. And in part because to my own kids, a maintenance program coming from mom sounds suspiciously like homework.
To up the chances of any kids paying attention, I needed someone with more dryland cred—someone inspiring, fun, energetic and, well, cool. I needed Doug Lewis. The man who can inspire young kids who could be hanging at the pool, to instead do Burpees to failure on a sweltering summer day, here gives some thoughts on in-season maintenance, and some guidelines for U-16’s and beyond. Looking for a U-14 program? Check out the Jackson Hole Ski Club Conditioning Maintenance Program listed on their site. It’s got it all. And with that, I hand it over to Doug:
Doug Lewis on Maintaining Awesomeness
Maintaining or actually improving fitness during the ski racing season was not a priority during my career in the 80s. I think the US Ski Team and the athletes (including me) hid behind the common excuse of “there is no time”. Between racing, on-snow training, the constant traveling, and the need for sleep, I don’t remember a lot of working out after the racing season started the first week of December until we looked towards the new season in April.
This hurt us in many ways:
- First and foremost, our bodies became weaker and weaker throughout the year (although we may have been in better “skiing” shape as we were skiing most every day).
- Second, we would lose weight throughout the year, for me as much as ten pounds between December and March. This weight loss also affected our ability to fight sickness and fatigue.
- Lastly, we missed an opportunity to bond more as a team.
This focus has changed thankfully on today’s USST. They travel with Strength & Conditioning coaches, nutritionists, and all the necessary weight and workout equipment. The athletes follow workout routines custom fit for their training and racing schedules. (It’s one more reason to be jealous of the current USST athletes!)
But what about kids who don’t have all those resources? At ELITEAM, we try to give our athletes the motivation as well as the tools to keep up the strength and conditioning training throughout the winter.
It Starts with Motivation
When you teach kids how increased strength, mobility and cardiovascular fitness actually makes them faster on their skis, the motivation follows. That’s what it was all about for me. I wanted to win races, so I was willing to do anything to achieve that goal.
Look no further than the 2015 edition Marcel Hirscher to see what can be accomplished on skis with improved strength. Need a hands-on way motivate your athletes towards improving fitness?
- Get them to the top of the longest run on your hill and tell them to make short, crisp slalom turns from top to bottom without stopping. Wait for them at the bottom and see if they can walk.
- Set a long GS course and have them run it 5 times. After the fifth run ask them to sing the National Anthem at the bottom without passing out.
- Ask your athletes to try and get into a Ligety GS turn position. I doubt their bodies won’t even bend that way.
Each case will most likely prove that they need to workout during the season as well as during the off season.
The Tools to Make it Happen
For U16 athletes who usually race every Sat and Sun:
Every Day—Morning run and stretch. Although I was not told to do this, I actually did a run and stretch every day during my years as a racer. It’s a great way to start the day. The run is more of a jog and should last at least 20 minutes, with some dynamic stretching during the run and a few static stretches when you’re done. Note: Whenever possible, I would run to the finish line of the race I was at. Nothing is more motivating than standing in the finish of Kitzbuhel at 6:00am with no one around looking a the Zielschuss and visualizing your run down the Streif.
Monday and Wed: Strength training. If you can’t get into a gym, no problem. Utilize exercises that use body weight—push-ups, tuck jumps, ab exercises. Then get creative. Find a rock or log or gallon jugs of water to push, pull, lift and carry.
Tue & Thu: Anaerobic training. Sprints, fartlek runs, intervals. Get out there and run, xc ski, hike, snowshoe and get your heart rate up for 15-45 second intervals.
Getting fit on the slopes
Coaches can do double duty and utilize time on the hill skiing to help kids get stronger. Here are two examples:
- Get a group of 10 athletes. At the top of the hill, send two athletes down 1/5th of the way down doing as many slalom turns as possible. Then tell them to come to a complete stop, face across the hill and get into a stationary tuck and hold it. As soon as the first two athletes get into their tuck, send two more doing as many SL as possible down to them. The second two join the first to in a stationary tuck. The third group starts. When the 5th group gets to the group and gets into a stationary tuck, send the first two down another 5th of the way down doing as many SL turns as possible. Repeat until you get to the bottom.
- Killer leg workout. On your way up the chairlift, on every even tower, straighten your legs and hold them lateral until the odd tower. Repeat all the way up. Quad burn. Easy Peasy.
Don’t Forget to Rest…
Make sure you take Fri/Sat/Sun off except for the morning run and stretch to give yourself a break before the weekend races.
…Because It’s a Long Road (remember that speech?)
Long term, we want athletes to peak and win at age 20 and above, not at 12 years old. Every day on the hill is an opportunity to teach, grow, get stronger, and learn. How great would it be if your athletes not only skied faster, performed to their peak, had a few crashes (and learned from them), and also ended the ski season stronger and more fit than they started?
Yep, pretty great.