Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ski/Snowboard Training: And the Myths just keep on coming...Myth #3

Myth #3 - “Before the ski season, I just hop on an elliptical machine to get me in shape for the slopes!”

The human body is such an amazing gift! It is capable of adapting to WHATEVER environment it is in (watch the discovery channel for more!).

Exercise will produce a specific adaptation that is specific to the TYPE of exercise that you do. For example, if you do strength training (assuming you are training for strength) you will gain strength (hopefully). If you train for power, then you may become more powerful AND so on. The bottom line is...what you put into your training is what you get out of it!

To take a look at what a Ski/Snowboard Training Program should look like, it would be helpful to identify what physical NEEDS are required while we are on the slopes. Factoring in what level skier/rider you are, what terrain you favor, days on mountain, etc. will all factor in to your "winterizing" program. However, there are six components that we all USE while we are out there...despite all the above variables and no matter if we are on one "stick" or two.

Endurance

Strength

Power

Mobility

Balance

Agility

1. Endurance:

Our mountainous activities involve two types of endurance; local and systemic. Local can be thought of as pertaining to a specific muscle or group of muscles (think "leg burn"). Enhancing the endurance properties of individual muscles will allow them to work longer. Think of systemic endurance as the entire cardiovascular system. Tied intimately together with the respiratory system, both are the cornerstone to your overall systemic endurance. A great measure of how well your Cardio-Respiratory System is functioning is determined by your VO2 Max. In a nutshell, how well do you take in, deliver and use oxygen.

2. Strength:

With three types of muscle contractions (concentric, eccentric and isometric) being possible by every muscle in the body, which is most prevalent during our winter festivities? Concentric results in muscles shortening, eccentric in lengthening and isometric in no change in length. With all the terrain variability, effects of gravity, momentum and ground reaction forces, the eccentric part of muscle contractions is a popular choice by our nervous system (one of the reasons for the brutal leg soreness after the first few days on the mountain). If this is the case, then why do many programs still focus on the concentric? This does not mean that your training should consist of eccentric only as all human movement and human performance is a blend of all three...as should your training be. However, neglecting the oh-so-important eccentric contraction would be neglectful to say the least!

3. Power:

Power by definition in the physics world is work divided by time. How much work can you do in a certain amount of time? Hence, the more power someone has, the more work they can do or the more "powerful" they are. Power can also be broken down in terms of force production (acceleration) and force reduction (deceleration). Following the pattern of eccentric muscle contractions, we spend much more time absorbing force (terrain changes, carving, bumps, landing jumps, etc.) than we do producing force.

The importance of force absorption CANNOT be underestimated as this is the "loading" phase of human movement (see mobility). Without force absorption there cannot be force production!

4. Mobility:

In order for movement to take place, muscle MUST be able to lengthen BEFORE they contract. Think about the task of jumping into the air. Before you get off the ground, you must FIRST go down or "load" all the muscles that will propel you into the air... much like a rubber band would after you "stretch" it. Now, if muscles are restricted or tight and do not lengthen well, during the loading phase (when muscles lengthen), then the output will also be limited (think about those rubber bands again and the different distances they will travel depending on how far you pull one end back).

With skiing and riding, specific areas need to be mobile enough into order for the OPTIMAL chain reaction to occur at the rest of the body. For example, the foot and ankle joint needs to have enough mobility to flex or push your shins into the boots (calves are lengthening here...hopefully). Limitations in this important movement will produce a compensation or a less than optimal result which limits our ability to learn/advance our mountain skills or keep us from enjoying them to a maximum because our aches, pains and/or discomfort.

5. Balance

Think about how well your body communicated to your brain... and vice versa! Our proprioceptive awareness is vital to every aspect of life, not just the winter festivities. This can be illustrated by standing and balancing on one foot. Once you find your "balance point," close your eyes and try to stay balance on that same leg. I don't know about you, but I now think about the Blind Skiers out there and how well "tuned" there nervous system (senses) are to make up for their lack of vision... AMAZING!!!

This does not mean that everything needs to be done on one leg or on various balance "devices." While that is part of the equation, its not everything. Another component of balance is stability. Having a stable core helps to connect each end of our body together (upper to lower AND lower to upper). Having a "mushy" or "sloppy" core will only complicate our body's balance.

6. Agility:

Agility is defined as the ability to recognize, react, start and move in the required direction, change direction if necessary and stop quickly. To accomplish all that, it requires a lot from the body (strength, power, coordination, skill). Agility pretty much sums up how well all the other physical abilities work with EACH other. Agility starts with how well our senses "take in" our environment that we are in. As we are on the slopes, the terrain and conditions are absorbed by our body's senses forcing us to react. How well and fast we respond is determined by our nervous system as well as other variables on the slopes (our gear, speed, other skiers/riders, etc.). Then and ONLY then, assuming the nervous system is "firing on all cylinders," it is up to the body to perform the physical requirements of the task at hand, smiling all the way down!

Until next time,
SNOtrainer

2 comments:

briscolo said...

great post indeed.

I do balance exercises standing on one foot with the eyes closed, or, on a balance board and by doing something else to distract the mind (like throwing a ball into the air and catching it back).

I also do squat on the balance board. I feel that this improves my balance overall. Is that good for you? Thanks!

Alex Chemerov said...

Having exercises that add an element of multi-tasking is great, especially as it pertains to slope sliding.

Sounds like you are also having fun at the same time! Keep up the great work and thanks for the comment.