Get your winter body: 3 physical capacities every strong skier needs
He always says the same thing.
Whether we’re carrying a load of heavy gear a kilometre down the road back to the car,
Or getting our feet soaked after slipping off a greasy log over a stream,
Or bracing against a freezing wind trying to make out the line of descent,
Jeff always says the same thing:
“Well, it’s good training!”
Because it’s the thousandth time I’ve heard it, I roll my eyes.
“Training for what exactly?” is my usual response.
His point is simple, even if his delivery is infuriatingly upbeat while I have cold, wet feet: exposure creates adaptation. You get strong and more resilient for next time.
Adaptation is our physical superpower.
Whatever we ask of our body over and over again, it gets better at. Naturally. Instinctively.
It smooths out the edges, tones the right muscles, and hones the balance, until it’s all too easy. Effortless, even.
That’s why, if all you did was ski, you’d never have to train for ski season. Your body would already be adapted to make skiing as easy for you as walking around the block (see: Rudi, 75 years into his ski career).
But if you can’t ski all the time, and feel your body holding you back every winter (hello… burning quads, stiff back, sore knees), some ‘good training’ will be your best friend.
And in order to prep a body for skiing or riding, you gotta know what the sport demands from you.
Here are three physical capacities every strong skier or rider needs:
Bent leg strength + mobility
Picture the aggressive stance of a freerider, sending a steep pitch, mid-turn.
Hips and knees aren’t straight. It’s all deep angles, managing a lot of force, ready to absorb the terrain.
So you need not only the mobility to get in and out of that kind of position – a squat where you’re deeply hinged at the hips and bent at the knees – you need to be able to control that range as outside forces push you forward, back or to the side.
That means strong glutes, quads, hamstrings, and all the little accessory muscles that support the bigger muscle groups.
It means managing load well in a variety of bent-leg positions.
What am I imagining here? Squats (two-legged and single), lunges (side and front), bent-leg dead lifts, wall sits, and stretching.
The best side effect of having a strong core (which includes your back muscles) is not the six-pack. It’s having a solid command centre.
Core stability means your limbs can move independently, each doing hard things of their own, without hijacking the entire body in the process.
A fluid rider is the opposite of a rigid plank. Upper and lower body have to be dynamically separated, reacting to different stimuli and different G-forces.
What they have in common? Reliance on a solid core.
What can improving core stability look like? Bicycle crunches, plank holds, Russian twists, and lifting heavy things over your head!
The most underrated, but possibly the secret weapon, in that it can make up for weaknesses in the capacities above.
Many people don’t train balance explicitly. But if you’re training for a sport where you need balance, where you’re sliding around unpredictably, it’s as important as strong quads.
When trained regularly, your stabilizer muscles and nervous system cooperate to fire quickly to recover centre, and you’ll find you won’t have to work as hard to hold onto your stance.
How do you train balance? Make easy exercises hard by introducing an unstable surface (with a balance board or just doing it on one leg instead of two). Or grab your paddle board or skateboard!
Don’t expect to stop wobbling, but expect muscles you never knew you had to be tired.
To be clear, this isn’t a fitness guide – it’s just a start. A way of thinking about what parts of the body need preparation to get the most out of a ski season.
Now, a couple notes on training strategy.
Because what’s probably more important than the exercises you pick, is the attitude and approach that drives every session, and gets you to show up for it in the first place.
PAIN-FREE PROGRESSION. Pain is not the same thing as discomfort or fatigue. But if an exercise is getting easy, it’s ceased to help change you. Add more load, go deeper, hold it longer, change up the stance to make it harder. Little by little.
EMBRACE NOVELTY. This can be the expression of progression, or just changing it up! Ask your body to meet a new challenge. It won’t always be pretty. That’s the point. In the struggle is where you get stronger, not enjoying what you can already do without effort.
TIME UNDER TENSION. If you go too hard too fast, maybe you can only do two heroic reps. That’s not helping, and could lead to injury. Be patient. Be consistent. Remember: exposure is what counts. Work at a level where you can stay there, and give your body time to adapt, not just burn out.
Lastly, seek out smart inspiration. our current faves include pro skier John Collinson and surf athlete coach Cris Mills (which is surf-focused, but almost all of it transfers over, especially for snowboarders).
Most important of all to remember?
Training isn’t a season; it’s a way of life.
You can save money for the helicopter. But the vehicle you have to count on first is the one you’re in right now. No better year to take really good care of yourself, right?
And if you want a powerful training motivator, put heli-skiing on the calendar. We’ll be ready to send alongside you.
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