(Jupiter Images; photo illustration by LeAnna Efird, The Denver Post )
After the first run, your ankles feel as though they’re caught between a Mack truck and a telephone pole. Three hours later, your quads start to shimmy like they’re shaking a can of paint. By the end of the morning, the question is, do you need new knees?
You know what we’re talking about here. Day One on the slopes, and despite your best intentions, you aren’t ready. Again.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can start off the season in shape this year: muscles toned, core strengthened, body balanced, breathing easy.
“Everyone says they’re going to start now, but we all know how hard it is to make the effort,” says Chad Singleton, a personal trainer at Coors Fitness at the University of Denver. “You think, ‘It’s still so warm, I have months before I have to start thinking about that.’ It sneaks up on you.”
It’s true that fluctuating temperatures make it easier to head out for a run or hop back on the mountain bike for another spin on the trail. But kick-starting a training regimen that focuses your muscles, cardiovascular system and mindset on preparing, executing and recovering from that first day on the slopes — and again and again through the rest of the season — can not only make for more impressive efforts that leave you feeling better afterward but also help prevent injuries.
“If you can get yourself to work on it now, the big thing you’ll notice is that you won’t be as fatigued when you go out there,” says personal trainer
Christopher Flower at Denver’s Push Gym. “It’s when you start to get fatigued that you start to make mistakes and get hurt, and so when we’re training now, it’s not just so you can ski well, it’s about injury prevention.
The question many weekend warriors have, though, is what exactly to do now to be ready in time?
To get you there, we’ve assembled a team of six local trainers who specialize in sports-specific workouts. Over the next six weeks, they’re sharing their favorite exercises and tips to help you tackle the upcoming season.
While the trainers’ backgrounds and approaches differ, all of them mentioned the same four areas of focus when getting ready for winter sports: endurance, stability, balance and flexibility.
“When you’re looking for exercises to try, it’s a good idea to seek out ones that mimic some of the same motions you use when you’re skiing and snowboarding,” says Katie Strandjord, a trainer and nutritionist at Powerhouse Gym Fitness. “Things like side-to-side hurdle jumps that will help with lateral movements on the slopes, squats and lunges that will help with balance and core for coordination.”
Scott Harwood, who runs Scott’s Boot Camps in Denver, says that people like to do the “big, impressive workout stuff like dumbbell presses and heavy weights on the quads,” but all of the trainers agreed that’s not the best approach for protecting the joints that do the real heavy lifting during winter activities.
“That’s not what’s going to get the job done,” Harwood says. “People do that and then they hit 30, 40, and they have back pain and things start to break down. You have to get back to basics and target smaller muscle groups.
Dana Fullington, a personal trainer at Busy Body Studio in Denver, agrees. “You have all these little muscle sets that drive the hips, that control the knees,” she says. “If you strengthen those, you’ll change your body for the better, and your chance for injury will go way down.”
The next step, then, is to take a look at the tips and exercises the trainers recommend, and see if they fit into your workout plan.
“The great thing about working out is that there are so many approaches to choose from to get to the same place,” says Samantha Tanenholtz, a Pilates instructor at the JCC Sports Fitness Center in Denver. “You can experiment to find out what works for you, what you’re comfortable with. And within each discipline there are always ways to take it down or up a notch, so it’s important to be aware of how your body is reacting and adjust the exercises to make sure your form is where it should be and that you’re doing things properly.”
The best part? Training now for winter sports later will pay off now.
“You don’t have to work out for weeks and then only start feeling better the day you get out on the slopes,” Fullington says. “If you start doing just a few things to get ready, you’ll feel better right away. It’s amazing how fast your body will respond.”
Kyle Wagner: 303-954-1599, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/kylewagnerworld
Trainers share tips for balance, stability, core, flexibility
The six trainers named four areas of fitness as the keys to getting in shape for a successful ski/snowboard season: endurance, stability, balance and flexibility. To hit all four, they recommended the following tips for training now.
It’s all about balance
Peak performance from your body during winter sports activities means asking it to react quickly to situations it doesn’t normally experience. “Look for exercises that force you to boost the parts of your body that are going to work hard out there,” says Katie Strandjord. That means exercises that get you on a BOSU ball, as well as lunges, reverse lunges, squats and single-leg exercises.
Chad Singleton recommends step-up exercises — using a platform such as a sturdy stool or a balance board — and lunges to work on balance and coordination issues, 2-3 sets, 12 reps each, being sure to follow through on both sides. “That kind of exercise will also help with your posture,” he says. “That’s very important, because improving your posture will give you good form while you’re participating in the sport, and that ultimately cuts down on injuries.”
“Core” doesn’t mean just abs
“All of your balance on a snowboard comes from your core,” says Strandjord. But when people say “core,” they always think “abdominals,” and they shouldn’t, says Samantha Tanenholtz. “You can’t just do sit-ups and think, ‘that’s it, my core is strong,” Tanenholtz says. “The front and the back of the body have to be equally strong. So if you are going to do a bunch of ab exercises, you have to be doing back exercises, as well.”
Of course, “everyone wants a good ab workout,” Singleton says. “They hate it, but they want it.” To go beyond regular ab routines, Singleton recommends a total core circuit that includes exercises such as “double” crunches (so-called because you work your upper and lower abdominals by curling your legs toward your chest while simultaneously lifting your shoulder off the floor as in a regular crunch) and oblique twists.
And to balance it out, Tanenholtz says that the breathing focus of Pilates is ideal for creating a strong core. “The core is your powerhouse, and it can’t be that without the breath,” she says. “A good workout that helps stabilize your core, that helps create a power situation to help your body focus elsewhere, put its energy where it needs to be.”
Healthy knees are happy knees
“I don’t even know why we have knees,” says Strandjord. “They just wind up getting hurt, especially in the winter.” To keep that from happening, all of the trainers said the same thing: Strengthen the muscles around the knees.
Scott Harwood says he likes adductor and abductor exercises that help the lower body maintain balance. “If you get those strong and then work your way down the legs, you’ll notice a huge improvement in how your knees react,” he says.
Dana Fullington agrees, adding that training your body to react to any situation is one of the primary objectives for a good workout. “One of the things I see people neglecting is lateral movement,’ Fullington says. “They get out there and one lateral slip, and that’s it, they’re injured for life.” In addition to lateral lunges, she suggests a combination of compound exercises (squats, leg presses, lunges, step-ups) and isolation ones (single-leg extensions, ham curls) for the lower body to maximize results.
Tanenholtz says she believes the vastus medialis oblique (also known as the VMO), one of the four muscles on the front of the thigh, is the “single most important muscle to address” in keeping the knee healthy and stabilized. “Look for exercises that hit all four muscles of the quad,” Tanenholtz says. Options include squats against a wall with a Swiss ball and quad extensions.
Stretch, a lot
Keeping your muscles pliable and injury-free comes down to stretching when you’re warm, as often as possible. “Warm up by doing jumping jacks or light lunges,” Harwood says. “Stretch a few times while you’re out on the slopes.”
Strandjord says that how you stretch is just as important as how often. “Make sure you’re doing dynamic stretching,” she says. “That means when you’re nice and warm, stretch the muscle in a movement, in pulses. Don’t just stretch and hold it. Gently pulsing will allow you to push the stretch further.”
Overall fitness is the key to success
Strandjord and Christopher Flower are fans of plyometrics — exercises that focus on explosive, quick movements to generate muscle power and speed — to improve on-slope speed and performance. “Plyometrics will help with mogul runs a lot,” Strandjord says. “Look at side-to-side hurdle jumps and squat jumps.”
Flower likes squat and box jumps. “Just jump right up onto a box or something stable,” Flower says. “You’ll be amazed at how quickly that gets your heart rate up.”
Several of the trainers also mentioned yoga as a top way to improve flexibility, stability and coordination. “I don’t teach it but I do it,” Flower says. “It really took my own training and fitness to the next level.”
Flower also endorses regularly eating well and getting a good night’s sleep. “General wellness can’t be over-emphasized,” he says. “I had a day last season where my thighs were burning out, I just was terrible out there, and I had been up late the night before. I was dehydrated. I should have gotten more sleep. The same goes for when you’re training. You can’t expect your body to do well if you’re not putting good stuff in it.”