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How to Maximize Training for the Part-Time Skier

Tue, Dec  8, 2009 - By Scott Loomis and Andy Gerlach

Scott is now a Doctor in Boston while Andy is a marketing consultant and director of Signup for the SkiPost newsletter.

As we read about the training plans of our World Cup and Olympic heroes, we often dream of recapturing the fitness we had decades before.  We fondly remember the hours we spent training, eating and recovering. We easily get excited about "training" hard again. But just as easily, reality (our family, career, yard work, and aching bones...) catch up with us, and dreams of stardom and low body fat quickly fade. Most of us "Master Skiers" have very little time for any sort of structured ski training. In fact, I feel that I have had a good week if I can squeeze in three to five workouts.

So the question is this: What can we do to maximize the training we do have time for? What aspects of a training plan are most important? What can be left out or skipped?

1. Intensity
No matter how little time you are able to devote to training, you should always fit in one intensity workout every week to ten days, starting in the summer.  Maintaining the ability and feeling of going hard throughout the year is important since it can be very difficult to regain once you have lost it.  This is especially true the older you get.

Remember that an intensity workout can come in almost any shape or form.  It doesn't have to be something done on roller-skis or involve ski-walking or bounding for a specific amount of time with a specific amount of rest.  It can be as simple as going hard for twenty minutes in the middle of an hour long run or bike ride or even trying to mow your lawn in world-record time.  I personally like doing track workouts because I feel that I am able to get a lot of out of them.  I am able to fit a bunch of short intervals into a relatively small amount of time and by the end of the workout I feel pretty tired. It is also a matter of convenience since there is a track right down the street from my house.

The point here is to periodically get your heart and lungs into you go about doing this really doesn't matter all that much, especially during the summer. It's not like your cardiovascular system knows what type of training method you are doing, all it knows is that it is working hard.

2. Over-Distance
One good over-distance day is second on my list. It is amazing how well an occasional OD can maintain your endurance.  If you average 45 minutes per workout, try to fit in an easy 2 hour over-distance day.  If you average 1 to 1.5 hours, try to fit in a nice 3-hour outing.  Again, don't forget about the variety of training methods out there. A long kayak can be just as effective as a long mountain run.  Also, try combination workouts, where you bike and run or rollerski and run, etc.

3. Skip the Weights
Unless you feel that your upper body is your weakest link or you need to bulk up those beach muscles for that week on the houseboat in Lake Havasu, skip the trips to the weight room during the summer.  Some of you may disagree about this, but remember, I am talking about maximizing training on a limited schedule.  Of course, if you have a lot of time to devote to ski training, consistent weight workouts can be a valuable supplement to your plan.  If you like to rollerski during the off-season, throw in some double-pole only workouts and make those your strength workouts. 

Weight training is really only beneficial if you are able to keep up with it on a weekly basis.  So, I feel that it is best to start doing some in the fall and try to be consistent with it until you get on snow. I personally hate hanging out in the weight room.  I would much rather go for a run than do sets on the bench press any day.

For those of you who really need to improve your upper body strength, I suggest that you make a small investment in turning your garage into a Rocky Balboa old-school training gym.  A padded mat, a couple of 25 lbs barbells and a wooden box for dips and step-ups is all you need for a basic strength workout that is right there at home. You could even add a punching bag since it just looks cool hanging there and it makes you feel tough.

4. "Everyday" Workouts
For some of you, doing intervals may be unappealing and you really don't have time for OD workouts either, so training only consists of "everyday" workouts. These are simple workouts where you just head out and run or bike or whatever at a comfortable pace for the time available to you. If you are only able to train for 30 minutes three times per week, make sure that you are getting something out of them. Going at a level 1 pace for 30 minutes really doesn't do a whole lot for you, unless you are out of shape and just getting back into training or using it as a recovery workout. If you make some of these short workouts more like semi-pace workouts where you are training in your level 2 to 3 zone then you will get much more out of these days.

The main point I want to get across here is the importance of maintaining a good fitness level throughout the year.  It doesn't necessarily matter how you get it done. If you are able to throw occasional intensity and over-distance workouts into your training throughout the summer and fall, then you are going to be much better off come ski season.