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Train legs before you take to the slopes

As Tucsonans, we’re unquestionably among the most fortunate this time of year regarding the weather.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to trade our cool nights and 65 degree days for bundling up and shoveling snow. There are some of us, however, who crave a week or so away from our beautiful winter weather for a chance to frolic and play the Eskimo way, skiing in a winter wonderland.

For those of you thinking about hitting the slopes, you may first want to think about hitting the gym.

“Dry-land training,” as it’s most commonly referred to, is a chance to prepare the body for the unique physical challenges posed by consecutive days on the slopes.

Skiing requires tremendous endurance, balance and agility – all qualities that can and will improve dramatically with proper training.

By following some simple steps outlined below, you can help ensure that you’ll get the most from this year’s ski vacation.

This is simply defined as the ability to work over an extended period of time.

As you shoosh down the mountain, your legs work for long stretches of time. While you may stop occasionally to catch your breath, or allow your legs a brief recovery, the fact is that your legs need to be trained to endure several hours of hard work.

This training can come in a variety of ways.

If you like to be outside, consider hiking, mountain biking and, best of all, inline skating. These activities will push your legs to work over an extended period of time. Plus, all three will force you to work on balance, another important aspect of training.

If you prefer the indoors, try cycling classes: a great way to train lower body endurance. If you don’t have access to classes, use a stationary bike, elliptical machine and/or treadmill.

If you’re highly deconditioned, start slowly and build up the volume, frequency and intensity of your workouts. You should be doing this type of training a minimum of three and up to six days per week.

You can also train muscle endurance through resistance training.

Squats, lunges, step-ups and dead lifts are the key. Stay away from leg press, leg curl and leg extension machines, if possible.

Your sets should consist of no fewer than 12 repetitions and could go as high as 30 or more. Preventing injury through proper technique is also critical here.

If you’re not sure about proper form for these exercises, seek help from a qualified professional. It’s a lot cheaper than knee surgery. You should perform your lower body resistance training exercises two or three nonconsecutive days per week.

You can make your balance training as simple or complex as you like, but do it.

Hordes of fancy balance training tools are available, and in reality they’re fun and interesting, but not necessary. Using a simple balance progression, you can train for better balance easily.

The balance progression consists of taking any standing exercise and changing the way you stand as follows:

• athletic stance

• split stance (one foot forward, one back) – wide

• split stance – narrow

• single leg stance

• repeat this progression with eyes closed

Heck, you don’t even need to be doing an exercise to train balance. Try brushing your teeth standing on one foot, or balance on one foot while waiting in line at the market. You can train for balance every day if you wish.

Agility and power
Skiing requires rapid changes of direction, in other words the ability to quickly decelerate and accelerate the body.

This, too, requires proper training. The problem with dry-land power and agility training is that it can be very hard on the joints. One way to mitigate the impact is to train in the pool. Squat jumps, jumping lunges and explosive single leg hops are great exercises to help you on the slopes while saving your knees.

Perform a minimum of 12 repetitions per set of these dynamic exercises. Also, try doing these exercises while moving forward, backward and side to side.

In other words, as you squat or lunge down and spring up out of the water, don’t stay in one place. Move down the pool, forward, backward and laterally. The same holds true for your single leg hops.

Perform your agility and power training one or two nonconsecutive days per week.

As always, check with your doctor if you have concerns about whether or not this training is safe.

Furthermore, a highly qualified, certified fitness professional for a couple of sessions to learn proper technique is always a sound investment.

Dan Bornstein is the co-founder and executive director of the ProActive Performance Institute, a company committed to using the science of fitness for realizing optimum health. He is also the personal trainer for Dr. Andrew Weil and a consultant for KOLD News 13. E-mail him at dbornstein@p-2-i.com.

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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