Follow the OPT™ model and your snow-sport-loving clients’ last run can be as fresh as their first, all season long.
By Selene Yeager, NASM’s The Training Edge
Five years ago, Liz Littman, now 34, was perched atop Bogus Basin, a ski area in Boise, Idaho, for her first run of the day. Just minutes later, it became her last run of the day—and the season. Littman, who lives in Boise, caught an edge and tore the meniscus in her left knee. After completing physical therapy, she decided to work with a local trainer, Alexis Kenyon, MHS, NASM-CPT, PSIA Alpine Level I, to avoid a repeat occurrence.
“The main thing we worked on was stability and core strength, so my knees didn’t have to bear all of the load,” says Littman, who had never trained specifically for skiing. Her new workout includes plenty of planks, squats, and lunges with a BOSU trainer, and time with a TRX suspension system.
“I’m in better shape now than I was five years ago,” Littman says. “I can feel the difference when I ski and do my other sport—stand-up paddleboarding. I see now that it’s better to get fit for ski season than to just go out and hit the slopes.”
That’s knowledge every snow enthusiast should have—and there are more of them than you might think. According to SnowSports Industries America, nearly 19 million Americans strapped on skis or snowboards during the 2012–2013 season—and your clients were likely among them. Problem is, the rest of the year, most of these winter warriors will do nothing remotely resembling shushing down a mountain at 25 miles per hour. That means you can be a big benefit to their winter experience.
LIVING ON THE EDGE
Skiing (and its younger sibling, snowboarding) is a full-body affair. As you crouch and shift your weight from side to side and front to back, you need stability and mobility as well as muscular balance throughout your lower body, core, and upper body to stay in control, says Patrick Faurer, MS, NASM-CPT, a skiing and snowboarding instructor with the Aspen Skiing Company. “Orchestrating all that is very fatiguing if you’re not conditioned for it. People will do three runs and need a break. It’s not as fun because they don’t have the stamina.”
Plus, it can be unsafe, says Kenyon, who’s also a professional ski-school instructor at Bogus Basin. It comes down to form. In a skier with proper form, you can draw a diagonal line from the ankles through the top of the head, perpendicular to the slope. “Knees are flexed forward over the toes, the hips align with the ankles, and the head is over the knees,” she says. “It’s a forward, active position where the hips are moving forward in the direction you’re turning.” It takes a great degree of core strength and stability. Without it, skiers drift into what’s known as “the back seat,” where all of their weight is back and the pressure and forces are going into the knees. “That’s a big injury danger zone,” explains Kenyon.
Unfortunately, poor form is common, which is why ACL and MCL tears are among the most common skiing injuries. But proper conditioning and strength training can reduce the risk, while improving form and making snow days more fun.
Skiing and snowboarding demand a high level of stability to stay upright as you shift your weight and work with (and against) gravity to carve your way down the slope. Of course, basic balance is also a must; so is strength. Without that combination, you’ll topple into the snow as soon as you tip your skis to their edges. The demands match the progression of NASM’s Optimum Performance Training™ (OPT™) model, our experts say. Here are three key areas of focus, and the variations they use to help clients find success.
“Flexibility and mobility are some of the most important factors for skiing and snowboarding,” says snowboard enthusiast Josh Gonzalez, NASM-CPT, CES, MMACS, owner Athletic Performance of Texas. “If you have lost range of motion in your ankles because of tight calves, you might stand more upright on your board, causing the board to slide forward rather than staying put under your hips.” It’s also hard to be stable when you can’t get your center of gravity low.
“Flexibility and mobility in the hips are essential for performance and control,” agrees Faurer. Unfortunately, many people have tight hip flexors and weak hamstrings, which hinders their range of motion through the hips. “I use Pilates moves with my skiing clients,” he says. “Bridges, back extensions, and single- and double-leg stretches are especially good.” Faurer also likes TRX suspension systems for helping his clients get really low in squats and lunges.
Balance and Stability
Good stabilization is a fundamental part of ski training for every level of participant. “I have clients start with standing on one leg, then progress to single balance reaches, and then eventually work up to the BOSU or wobble board, depending on their level,” says Kenyon. At the same time, she works on stability with planks and other core-strengthening moves. “You need to be able to stabilize your spine in a gravity-driven sport.”
As the OPT model points out, stability is a precursor to strength. Clients need strength for long days on the slopes, but the exact needs are different for every skier and boarder.
“I look at where they are in their training and goals for their sport,” Faurer says of helping his snow-sport clients. “If they’re just looking to enjoy the season, we only need to layer on muscular strength and endurance. Are they a trained athlete looking to tackle the big bumps? Then more power is important too.”
To that end, Faurer focuses on back and leg stability and strength. “You need to get them comfortable with doing proper squats and staying low,” he says. “The ability to hold proper posture is essential for staying up and aligned on your skis or board, looking ahead to where you need to go.” He also incorporates regular rows for overall back strength and TRX training for a high level of stability. (Click here for a workout geared toward snow-sport performance.)
Gonzalez recommends watching for clients with underdeveloped glute muscles (common in our sitting society), as this puts skiers at an increased risk for knee problems. “Having strong hip muscles is crucial for winter sports,” he says. “The gluteus medius plays a large role in preventing the knees from caving inward, which is especially dangerous during skiing. Strong backside musculature lets you move left and right effectively and provides a higher degree of athleticism.”
No matter what your area of focus is, your clients should start this prep work four to six weeks out from the first run down the mountain. “Even twice a week is good,” says Faurer. “I teach a Spin and Ski Conditioning class that incorporates these moves along with some Spinning for cardio conditioning. My clients have seen improvements in their skiing and snowboarding in just that amount of time. Anything on top of that simply adds to the benefit.”
Tools for Snow Time
Preparing clients for ski season means getting them comfortable with being thrown off balance. Here are a few of our experts’ favorite tools for honing balance and stability.
- Bosu Pro Balance Trainer Use it for basic standing drills or have advanced clients perform plyometrics on it. $150
- Deluxe Wobble Board This multi-directional balance board offers advanced balance challenges and has attachment sites for resistance tubing, so you can add strength moves as clients progress. $70
- TRX Pro Suspension Trainer This system provides the single-legged stability challenge clients need to be successful on those black diamonds. $250
Meet Our Experts
Josh Gonzalez, NASM-CPT, CES, MMACS, operates Athletic Performance of Texas. He’s also a certified speed and agility coach.
Patrick Faurer, MS, NASM-CPT, is a certified skiing and snowboarding instructor who teaches an indoor cycling and Pilates class to prepare clients for ski season.
Alexis Kenyon, MHS, NASM-CPT, PSIA Level I, is a wellness coach and personal trainer at Treasure Valley Family YMCA in Boise, Idaho.
Boost Your Skills: NASM Certified Personal Trainer
NASM’s Optimum Performance Training™ (OPT™) model really shines with winter-sport athletes, says Josh Gonzalez, NASM-CPT, CES, MMACS. “It is the most comprehensive and easy-to-follow program to properly train someone for skiing and snowboarding readiness.”
All NASM Certified Personal Trainers (NASM-CPTs) are experts at the OPT model and its focus on flexibility, cardio, core, balance, power, and strength. As an NASM-CPT, you have the ability to get your clients functionally fit—and build a rewarding career at the same time!