Answering reader email can be a slippery slope. But my inbox is on the verge of an avalanche, and how can I resist a high school teacher from Florida asking me about training for an upcoming ski trip? Training rocks! And it adds so much to the fun.
"Dear Marilynn: I'm looking forward to some downhill skiing this winter. I've been running all summer and fall -- averaging about 25 miles a week -- and I feel pretty good. What else should I be doing to get ready for the slopes?"
Great question Diane. The fact is running doesn't go very far in terms of getting your body ready for downhill skiing. Neither does bicycling. Swimming? Nope.
To get into shape for skiing specifically, you need to strengthen your leg muscles in the position you'll use them on the slopes: hips and knees flexed, in the tuck position. You also want to target your agility and balance.
Running, cycling and swimming are excellent aerobic sports for general conditioning -- repetitive, rhythmical -- but if you're looking for more control of your skis, greater leg power and endurance and less risk of injury, you need to include some sport-specific exercises in your training routine.
It's called functional exercise, and here are three excellent ones for downhill skiing -- no fancy equipment required. All you need is the will to do them, daily, with joyful anticipation of the results:
THE 90-90 WALL LEAN. This exercise is a very effective way to strengthen your quadriceps (front thigh muscles). Stand with your back to the wall, your feet about 12-15 inches from the base. Bend at the knee until your back leans against the wall. Slide down slowly until you reach your edge. Don't let your knees extend beyond your toes. Now hold still ... and breathe into the sensation.
Focus your awareness on your quads and your calf muscles. Don't overreact to the sensation; just take it as feedback. When you're about to give up, take a few more deep breaths and try to hold for another few seconds. Keep track of the time, and increase it a little every day. (For a greater challenge, try doing it on your tiptoes. Thighs of Steel! )
THE STEP UP. Put one foot on a stable 15-20 inch high stool, block or step. Whatever you use, make sure it's anchored securely and won't slide around. Then step up. Be precise about the movement, and breathe rhythmically. Make sure you straighten your knee each time you step up. Let yourself down slowly, with control. The work you do as you let yourself down -- resisting as you go -- is just as important as the work you do pushing yourself up. Alternate legs until you feel exhausted. Do it daily, and step up the total number as your strength allows.
THE SIDE JUMP. Quickness and agility keep you safer on the slopes, because you're not alone out there. Is that the whoosh of a snowboarder coming up fast? Is that a rock revealing itself just ahead? Learning to change directions without falling isn't just for politicians. On the slopes, it requires strength, coordination and balance, and jumping side to side will help you with all three.
To begin, build a tower of books. If they're all on your iPad, use a low box. It should be just tall enough so you can easily jump over it sideways, feet together. Land lightly, with bent knees, and jump back to your starting place. Consider that one jump.
Repeat, coordinating with your breath, until you can do 10 jumps in a row. Gradually build up to 20 or 25. This kind of training will make you a more fluid and flexible skier, and do wonders for your confidence, too.
PREPARE MENTALLY. To have your best time skiing, it's smart to bring your mind into play. You'll find all sorts of visualization and relaxation exercises in the classic "Inner Skiing" by W. Timothy Gallwey and Robert Kriegel. If you come to the slopes mentally prepared to overcome fear and relax into the Flow, your next ski trip will take you places you've never been before.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! THIS ISN'T A SNOW JOB
"The purpose of Inner Skiing is to increase the magic of skiing (...) to learn how to reach that state of mind in which we not only appreciate the sport but perform at our best." -- Gallwey and Kriegel
Marilynn Preston's weekly column, "Energy Express," can be found at Creators.com