The fittest women in the West, elite skiers, share their pre-winter full-body workout. Even if you live in the tropic, it’s your lift ticket to higher fitness.
The first day back on the slopes, the biggest air most of us get is the kind we suck into our lungs. Meanwhile, in Crested Butte, Colorado, local skiers float on air, turning through fresh patches of powder. What’s their secret? Two preseason conditioning classes: one for building strength, the other for endurance. Combined, they make an effective training routine that anyone can benefit from. Whether you summit mountains or sweat at sea level, this workout will help you go faster and harder in any activity (and burn around 450 calories an hour to boot). Plus, it will develop explosive power, flexibility and balance.
The winter warm-up was started by a couple of ex-ski racers who wanted to get into prime shape during the fall, when the rain and mud make the Rockies too slick for mountain biking. The classes caught on, even with nonskiers.
“We do dry-land training so we don’t have to ski ourselves into shape,” says Niki Mehall, a downhill skier and former cross-country racer who teaches the strength-training course. Mehall helped design this program for the Crested Butte Mountain Resort to prevent injuries among its skiing employees. Her class attracts as many as 70 people.
Mehall’s training strategy focuses on strengthening the hamstrings and abdominals–muscles you use a lot in winter sports as well as in year-round activities, such as running and kickboxing. (Conditioned hamstrings and abs translate into faster miles around the park and rapid-fire kicks.)
Telemark skier Kasha Rigby leads the endurance-training class, called hill bounding, which essentially amounts to leaping uphill carrying ski poles. “Bounding is a good combination of explosive strength and sprinting,” Rigby says, “so you’re getting both aerobic and anaerobic training.”
To get you into peak condition, we took the best aspects of both Rigby’s and Mehall’s workouts for our winter-conditioning program. For those who don’t live near the mountains, we’ve provided indoor variations on the moves. Mehall recommends doing the program twice a week. (Other days, try a long, slow run or bike ride.) In about eight weeks, you’ll shred.
We gathered some of the world’s top freeskiers, who all happen to live in Crested Butte, Colorado, to demonstrate this program. Pictured left to right: Kasha Rigby, Heather Paul, Brigid Piccaro, Wendy Fisher and Niki Mehall. Start your workout with 20 minutes of running or hill bounding (see next page) to bring up your heart rate. Then leap: With ski poles behind your back (if you don’t have poles, clasp hands behind your back), bend at waist and stick butt out as if you’re about to sit. Pushing off left foot, leap about 3 feet to right and land on right foot. Hold there, balancing for a second before bringing left foot in to meet right; then leap again in same direction. Start with 20 low leaps each way. Add 10 leaps per leg each week, until you reach 60 per side.
* AT HOME: Do this exercise on a shock-absorbing surface, such as a Wood floor. Works glutes and hamstrings.
Alison Gannett and Sarah Fuld lead the way uphill. Bounding is a cross between a big stride and a leap. Aim for height (at least 6 inches), not speed. Holding ski poles (or walking sticks), take a big step and plant opposite pole. Go for 20 minutes.
* AT HOME: Bound outdoors on flat terrain, but add 10 minutes. Works glutes, quadriceps and calves.
Stand in tucked position, with back straight and knees bent. Slowly walk backward uphill. Go for 2 minutes; gradually increase to 4.
* AT HOME: Walk backward on flat ground (you can do this in your driveway) for 4 minutes; increase to 8. Works hamstrings and glutes.
Walk downhill slowly, taking big strides and stepping out slightly to the side. Hold poles horizontally in front for better balance. (If you don’t have poles, extend arms in front of you.) Walk 5 minutes.
* AT HOME: Walk (as described above) on flat ground for 10 minutes. Works quadriceps, glutes and calves.
Hop sideways onto a step, tucking legs up to chest; then jump off to other side. Keep head as stationary as possible. Jump for 30 seconds; then rest 1 minute. Repeat 3 times.
* AT HOME: Place the step in your living room and do jumps as described above. Works calves, hamstrings and glutes.
Lie faceup on ground. Raise upper body, pulling knees to right and twisting torso to left. Lower knees and torso a few degrees; then twist other way. Do 3 sets of 15.
* AT HOME: This translates perfectly to a gym mat or living room rug. Works abdominals.
Sprint 5 yards, place right hand on ground, scoot feet to left so body is sideways; run around right arm once. Sprint again; then circle around left arm. Repeat 3 times.
* AT HOME: Instead of sprinting, run in place for 30 seconds; then do arcs. Works shoulders.
Get into tuck position and visualize speeding down the mountain. Turn left by shifting weight to right leg (see upper-left picture). Hold 10 seconds. Make right turn, shifting to other leg, and hold. Now fly over 3 jumps, leaping into air 3 times, staying tucked (see right). Do this for 2 minutes.