Preseason Ski Conditioning
Train Eccentric Leg Strength
Rob Shaul’s Mountain Tactical Institute 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, he 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:
10x Mini Leg Blasters, 30 seconds rest between efforts
2x Full Leg Blasters, then 6x Mini Leg Blasters, 30 seconds rest between efforts
3x Full Leg Blasters, 4x Mini Leg Blasters, 30 seconds between efforts
4x Full Leg Blasters, 2x Mini Leg Blasters, 30 seconds rest between efforts
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!