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Preseason Ski Conditioning: Train Eccentric Leg Strength

Rob Shaul’s Mountain Athlete Gym in Jackson, Wyoming, is where skiers who are serious about what they do, including pro athletes, develop the strength and endurance required for high-stakes mountain sports.

Here, Rob Shaul, owner of the Mountain Athlete training center in Jackson, Wyoming, runs through a must-do routine to get ready for the ski season:

My biggest mistake as a strength and conditioning coach occurred the first year I designed a dry land training cycle for local skiers here in Jackson. Skiing is leg-intensive, and so was my program. My athletes did thousands of heavy front squats, back squats, loaded lunges, dead lifts, Bulgarian Split Squats … we hammered the legs. I completed the training sessions myself and we all built stronger legs, as measured by gym numbers. I was super proud of myself.

But the mountain isn’t the gym, and she wasn’t impressed.

I knew I had made a huge programming mistake my first run at the Jackson Hole Ski Resort, opening day, early in December. Halfway down the slope, my legs were dying! I had to stop and rest. I couldn’t believe it. I barely managed to ski half the day, before retreating to the lodge to cry in my hot chocolate.

Where had I messed up? Upset athletes and intense research, including calls to the Olympic training center, drove me to the answer.

My dryland program had focused on concentric leg strength. But alpine skiing demands eccentric leg strength. Think of concentric strength as “positive” strength. This is the strength you use to stand up from the bottom of a squat, or hike up a steep hill. Eccentric strength is “negative” strength. You use eccentric strength to lower yourself into the bottom of the squat, and hike down a steep hill. Eccentric strength absorbs force. Alpine skiing primarily demands eccentric strength. My program design had trained concentric strength. I’d swung and whiffed.

I immediately started searching for the best exercises to train eccentric strength. There aren’t many. The strength coaches at the Olympic Training Center told me they used a stationary bike originally built for nursing home patients. It mechanically pedaled against the patients, forcing them to fight and absorb the force pushing against them. The Norwegian ski team uses a pneumatic squat machine which allows the athlete to slowly lower a heavily-loaded barbell, and the machine lifts it back up.

Neither of these would work for me. I was stumped.

Then I remembered the “Leg Blaster” – a complex of bodyweight leg exercises I originally learned at a Vegas training conference. Eccentric training causes more muscle damage than concentric training. More muscle damage = more muscle soreness the next day. Basically, it’s not the hike up the mountain that will make you sore tomorrow, it’s the hike back down.

This is what I remembered most about the Leg Blaster. I was sore as hell the next day.

So for the dryland ski training cycle the following year I replaced all the heavy back squats and loaded lunges with Leg Blasters, and my athletes crushed it the first day at the resort.

The best thing about Leg Blasters is, no equipment is needed. We deploy two versions of the Leg Blaster workout: the “Full” and the “Mini.”

In the video below, you’ll see Marmot and Backcountry.com Athlete, Pip Hunt, blast through a Full Leg Blaster. Note how she goes all the way down and all the way up for each air squat, and lunges forward, not backward, during the in-place lunges. Also note how she sprints through the complex.

Here’s how they break down:

Mini Leg Blaster

10x Air Squats
5x In-Place Lunges (5x each leg, 10x total)
5x Jumping Lunges (5x each leg, 10x total)
5x Jump Squats

Full Leg Blaster

20x Air Squats
10x In-Place Lunges (10x each leg, 20x total)
10x Jumping Lunges (10x each leg, 20x total)
10x Jump Squats

Work up to 5x Full Leg Blasters, with 30 seconds rest between each effort for your dry land ski training. Be careful. Leg Blasters train eccentric leg strength and can make you terribly sore, so don’t start at the end.

Instead, perform Leg Blasters 3x/week, with at least a day’s rest between training sessions, for the 4 weeks before the season starts. This means 12 total training sessions.

Here’s the progression:

Sessions 1-2

10x Mini Leg Blasters, 30 seconds rest between efforts

Sessions 3-4

2x Full Leg Blasters, then 6x Mini Leg Blasters, 30 seconds rest between efforts

Sessions 5-7

3x Full Leg Blasters, 4x Mini Leg Blasters, 30 seconds between efforts

Sessions 8-10

4x Full Leg Blasters, 2x Mini Leg Blasters, 30 seconds rest between efforts

Sessions 11-12

5x Full Leg Blasters, 30 seconds rest between efforts

Only have three weeks to train? Don’t jump ahead. Start at the beginning of this progression and get as far as you can before the ski hill opens. This isn’t a gentle progression. It’s going to make you sore.

Train hard, and earn your early-season turns!

Related

Preseason Ski Conditioning: Build the Mountain Chassis

Preseason Ski Conditioning: Strength for Ski Touring

Preseason Ski Conditioning: Glutes & Good Form

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22Comments

Here's what the community has to say.

Jordan S.

Jordan S.

Fellow athletes, this is my second year using this program. The results are incredible. So much so, that the groups that I ski with locally and internationally have all requested my training program, and I send them a link to this page.

The reason that I promote this workout strategy so consistently is because I come from a bodybuilding background that as the author has noted, trains leg muscles in a manner not proficient to being ready for early-season ski days. Actually, until I discovered this program, I always entered the ski season with heavy more lethargic legs.

My big question has been what do mid-season. Someone asked the same question to our group about two years ago, and did not get an answer. Therefore, this is my effort to share my experiences and perhaps initiate some further conversation into this topic.

Since I'm a weekend warrior, I decided to try doing a full leg blaster session on Wednesday mornings, considering that I ski both Saturdays and Sundays every week. This has worked well with a combination of 20 minutes of (leg) stretching on ski days, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Has anyone else had success using this workout for mid-season training? If so, can you please let me know what you're doing?

Thanks!

(1)

Max

Max

37 yrs old, weekend warrior, 8 months postop ACL replacement from blowing it skiing. Had been on my previous winter workout regime till I saw this article. LIFE CHANGING!!! Can ski longer and with more power in my legs after doing session 1 and 2 alone. It makes so much sense; frustrating that it took me this long to discover eccentric training. We've dubbed your workout the "MATT DAMON" or "The Bourne Burner" workout:)(uncanny resemblance to Matt Damon) Combined with spin and swimming I feel so much more stable and confident already on the planks with the 2 times Ive been out thus far. Excited to see how they behave as I progress. Thanks so much for the Article!!!!!!

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Dan R.

Dan R.


@Edward J. thanks for the reply -- good to know and that's what I ended up doing. I've been trying to do these 3 times a week, and my progress, though very slow, has been pretty steady.

Last week I finally managed to get to the 30 second interval for each of the 10 sets. The following session, 3 days ago I included one Full Blaster along with eight Mini-Blasters, but my avg. rest time shot back up to 1 minute.

I did the routine again this AM, and same result, no improvement. So now that I'm incorporating the Full Blasters in there, i figure progress will slow down a bit - Not sure if that's normal, but that's where I'm at.

My plan will be to keep adding Full Blasters, probably one every week, with 1-minute intervals, and when I"m at the 5 Full Blaster point, that's when I'll start trying to pair down the rest time (i anticipate this will be some time in Winter 2019, hehe).

(0)

Edward J.

Edward J.

@Dan R. It's gonna help you if you can get to the 30 sec interval. How often do you do the workout?

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Dan R.

Dan R.

37-year-old weekend warrior here, lifelong skier, reasonably fit, though being tall and skinny, my legs have never been hugely strong. I started leg blasters about a month ago - needless to say it's been a brutal workout, but really excited to have learned about this routine, and looking forward to seeing how my ski-conditioning improves when I hit the slopes in ~3 weeks time. It's taken me a few weeks to work up to even just the 10x Mini-blasters starting point. Right now I'm able to do 10x mini-blasters with 60 seconds rest in between. My question: before moving on to include full Leg Blasters in my workout, do I first need to get the interval time down to 30 seconds for each circuit, or is 60 seconds ok for moving on?

(2)

Matthew S.

Matthew S.

@Phil Fogarty - I both ski and board, and I've done leg blasters as conditioning for them. Leg blasters won't hurt for boarding, but they might be overkill. I think aggressive skiing is much more demanding of all-around conditioning than comparably challenging boarding. (Not a knock on boarding, just my 2 cents.)

You could probably capture a lot of the benefit of leg blasters w/o the leg burning intensity by doing eccentric squats or leg press. Spend 3 seconds lowering the weight then lift it at regular speed.

The leg blasters really help with skiing, particularly aggressive, fast skiing in bumpy conditions, which requires a lot of sustained leg-burning effort.

(0)

Phil Fogarty

Phil Fogarty

This sounds great, as the initial leg burn is a killer, especially when you can only go for a couple of weeks a year. Only thing, I'm a snowboarder, is this workout still applicable? I'm guessing yes, but could you please confirm? Thanks

(0)

Andrew W.

Andrew W.

Help! Knee Pain!
I love the idea of getting in shape and have followed the prescribed progression. I am careful on the lunges to keep my knee aft of the ball of my foot....but, I am having a LOT of knee pain.
I am thinking about either omitting the lunges or trying a rearward lunge instead. Annual ski trip on the 18th and I want to ski hard!
Suggestions please - thank you so much for your help!

(0)

WitYoBadSelf

WitYoBadSelf

I really enjoy these (as much as one can enjoy shedding one's quads, glutes, abductors, adductors, etc), and have incorporated them into my overall fitness program.

The jumping movements are critical. It's the body catching itself on the way down (reversing the downward inertia) that most matches the mountain as Rob notes in his article. If you are unable to do these, I would recommend adding single leg squats - slowly lowering yourself until your behind hits a chair/bench.- or lateral box jump overs where one foot is always on the box.

NOTE: I'm not a professional and you definitely shouldn't follow my advice.

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Chris S.

Chris S.

Add in a Bosu ball and you can build up stabilizer muscles as well!!

(0)

henzerani

henzerani

Along the same lines as Melissa D., I've been building up to this but my legs aren't quite up to it. Specifically, I can't do the jumping lunges. So far, over 3 weeks, I have got up to 7 mini lunges without the jump lunges. Although I'm quite fit and strong, I will be 50 this year and I wonder if you could suggest what I (and Pip) could realistically be aiming at as a 50 year old?

(0)

William R.

William R.

I tried this routine last year and strained my hamstring doing jumping lunges on Day 1. After giving it a couple weeks to recover, I resumed the routine, sans the jumping lunges, and was impressed by how well my quads held up every day on the slopes. I was good to the final bell each day after starting in mid-to-early morning! I'm 57 years old and not as flexible as I used to be, so that was probably a big factor in the strained hamstring at onset. Have started this routine again for the coming season, except for the jumping lunges, and am looking forward to having good legs all day on the slopes because of it. Very glad I found this workout.

(2)

Melissa D.

Melissa D.

I am a 47 year old woman, and NOT a competitive athlete. Over the summer, my brother invited my husband and I on a 3-day ski trip over Christmas in Bend, OR. I have not been skiing in 4 years, and even then I always hold up my ski partners because of how often I have to rest on those long runs. On top of that, I have gained about 20 pounds. If I was going to be safe and have fun, I had a lot of work to do.

Since I gave myself plenty of time, I started with what I call "Way-Super-Mini Leg Blasters," then up to "Super-Mini Leg Blasters." I wanted to share this so that folks who aren't in good enough shape to even start with your Mini Leg Blasters can get some ideas of how to start. :)

Way-Super-Mini Leg Blaster
- 6x Air Squats
- 3x In-Place Lunges (3x each leg, 6x total)
- 3x Jumping Lunges (3x each leg, 6x total)
- 3x Jump Squats

Super-Mini Leg Blaster
- 8x Air Squats
- 4x In-Place Lunges (4x each leg, 8x total)
- 4x Jumping Lunges (4x each leg, 8x total)
- 4x Jump Squats

Over the past 8 weeks, on average 2 sessions per week, my progression has been (more or less) as follows:

Sessions 1-3
3x Way-Super-Mini's, take a break for arm exercises, then 3x more

Sessions 4-5
4x Way-Super-Mini's, take a break, then 2x more

Sessions 6-8
6x Way-Super Mini's without a break

Sessions 9-11
4x Mini's, then 2x Super-Mini's (no break) (6 total sets)

Sessions 12-14
5x Mini's, then 3x Super-Mini's (8 total sets)

Sessions 15-16
5x Mini's, then 4x Super Mini's (9 total sets)

I will probably only get in 8 more sessions (lots of travel coming up) over the upcoming weeks. I need to ramp up the pace a bit - I didn't realize just how slowly I've been taking it! The plan outlined below might turn out to be a bit ambitious, but I'll do my best!

Sessions 17-18
6x Mini's, then 4x Super Mini's (10 total sets)

Sessions 19-20
8x Mini's, then 2x Super Mini's (10 total sets)

Sessions 21-22
10x Minis (FINALLY - one COMPLETE Mini Leg Blaster session)

Session 23-24
2x FULL Leg Blasters, then 6x Mini Leg Blasters

I am not a professional - I just sorta made it up as I went along.

(1)

Dayton M.

Dayton M.

Joshua M., did you read the initial article? Pushing weight is not the same as negative resistance, which is what plyometrics and exercises like the ones in this routine employ. Split jumps force you to stop the downward movement of your body weight from a jump. Regular squats don't do that. Don't mind the nay-sayers like Josh, this workout will absolutely shred your legs.. So no Josh, magic didn't happen, science did. Read the article next time.

(2)

gor105264051-0

gor105264051-0

Very organized and progressive. Anyone will be in better shape doing those. I commend you for that. NOW a couple of suggestions/tricks I use for my ski athletes. A slant board will change the position of legs and gravity for your squats and lunges. You know the expression "point em down". this works with functional exercises as well. Next add a long band, tube or in our shop "the anaconda" with a belt around the waist. THIS gives you the bigger eccentric contractions to keep the band from pulling you forward each time, hence the gravitational pull downhill. Then when the legs are blasted add in proprioceptive (balance) aspects on the bosu ball or pillows or whatever will challenge your balance more when you are tired. just a few random thoughts

(3)

Kyle Argo

Kyle Argo

John, I am not a trainer but I have been doing this 3 times a week. I do it on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday while following the progression that was in the article.

To the user asking about maintenance, my plan is to still continue with this work out but cut down to maybe 3 or 4 of the full leg blasters once or twice a week instead of 5 of them 3 times a week.

(0)

John

John

How many times per week are you doing a session?

(2)

Kassie Z.

Kassie Z.

Do you recommend anything for in season maintenance? Once I finish this, I'd feel weird just going cold turkey and not doing anything anymore, but then it's always the issue of skiing sore if you train very much during season. Is it best to just get back to the old strength training? I ski 2 or 3 days a week usually, if that makes any difference.

(0)

Joshua M.

Joshua M.

So you took a routine of squats and lunges, and replaced it with a routine of squats and lunges and some how magic happened? How is this functionally different than your previous routine other than perhaps some more focus on the hamstrings?

(2)

Ryan Conklin

Ryan Conklin

Thanks for the video...The jump squats were a new addition to my list of ways to torture my legs. Still screaming the next days means it's E FECK TIV. Thanks again!

(0)

Courtney Dean

Courtney Dean

Amen.

I adopted this routine after the first video was released on Youtube and someone pointed me to it. I never hear of minis but did them on my own (feeling guilty the whole time). Now I am glad to see my adaptation was an acceptable scaffold on the way to reaching criteria.

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