I could never find the motivation to hit the gym on my own time when I was in college. I knew I needed to improve my fitness if I wanted to have a great ski season pushing as many days on snow as I could possibly get. I knew it was my calling when I came across a ski conditioning class offered by the student recreation center. I signed up and was ready to take on my first group exercise class to prepare for skiing while living in the city.
One particular day's workout still holds a vivid memory in my mind. I can now say I've run every set of stairs on the entire University of Colorado-Boulder campus. When our class leader - also a student and significantly younger than me - told us the agenda that day, I immediately thought that there was no way I was going to be able to complete this daunting fitness task.
Being the athlete that I am, I told myself to "cowboy up," and the next thing I knew we were off and running. Looking back, this was the most rewarding day of exercise both mentally and physically. My point is that running, hopping, squatting, or lunging stairs really does work.
Spend at least 10 minutes to warm up and stretch before beginning any exercise. Get the muscles loose, the blood pumping, and the rest of your body and mind prepared for physical exertion.
Take the challenge to push yourself through a stair routine. You only need 10-15 steps to get a great workout. The house, the office stairwell, or the entrance to a closed building each provides the necessary tool. Mix it up from simple running up and running down, to running up and walking down, to single and double-leg hopping, to lunging up, lunging down, and split-stair squatting.
"Stair routines always separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls," personal trainer Chris Voyvodic says. "The ones that push themselves the hardest on those days are always the most thankful for my (ski conditioning) class. I know it's because they feel super strong once it's ski season."
Just as if you were in the gym, take the time to focus on the task, go slowly through the motions and perform them with proper technique. Voyvodic stresses, "The focus is on proper deceleration, otherwise joints get loaded improperly, poor habits develop, and correct biomechanics are lost. Exercises should include movements that transfer your weight from one hip to the other going back and forth."
Whichever exercise, circuit, or program you choose it's sure to be a great workout. Rest when you need to, but keep moving. Walk around, perform calf raises, or drop down for push-ups and tricep dips.
After the stairs continue to cool down with an express core routine. Perform bicycle slowly and controlled, then hit the upper abdominals individually, lower abs, obliques (sides), and finally the back. Alternating leg and arm raises, just upper body and just lower body will engage all back muscles for a burn. In order to have a strong core, you have to have a strong back to support it.
Throw in a last balance challenge. Choose a space with ample room to move around. A close wall or stable platform on one side can be helpful. Find a focal point to hone your eyesight on. Focusing on a non-moving spot while your body is in motion aids your mind in calming to find that stillness. Begin by standing evenly on one leg and lift the other leg, bringing your knee up to a 90-degree angle.
Focus on bending your standing knee rather than trying to keep your leg straight. Let your ankle do the majority of the work. This is how the fast-twitch balance muscles engage. Slowly begin moving your arms and legs around for a challenge once you are steady. Do circles with all three, change directions, and sway like a tree in the wind. Hold this balance pose for at least 30 seconds before switching legs.
A complete cool down is just as important as your warm up. Stretch out the tired muscles. Let your heart rate come back to a normal beat before jumping in the car or plopping down on the couch. We're able to create a great ski-specific workout without a gym, weights, or a trainer. There's no excuse for out-of-shape ski legs from now on.
Alternate your stair workout every other day with a lower-exertion fitness day in between. Give your body a chance to recover on those in-between days while still flushing out built-up lactic acid within the legs muscles. Keep to this plan and you'll be well on your way to a long and strong ski season.