Ah, summer! In an alpine racers light, (and just about everyone else’s) it is a time to sit back, relax, and unwind. Maybe visit a beach, get a tan, and reflect on a hard fought season, and of course, to look forward to the next.
Summer isn’t all tanning and idleness however. While not traveling to far reaches of the country, and in some cases the very far corners of the world to find some on snow training, your time is packed with, (or should be packed with), training your body to handle the rigorous demands of your sport.
Being a professional athlete is a choice. But to be competitive, you must adopt the lifestyle that comes with it. I didn’t always empathize with that sentiment as when I was 12 or 13 my brother Jesse walked into our TV room to find a younger, much chubbier me, having a lunch of cheese balls straight from the canister. Much to my chagrin, (and benefit), he took them away and sent me to make a “real” lunch.
Yes, as I have learned since that day, you cannot survive an athletic career purely on talent, and your body most certainly cannot sustain a full ski season without feeling negative effects if you do not train your body in the off season.
So how do we prepare ourselves to excel in this physically demanding sport of ours when the rest of the summer slackers start to lose their edge half way through the season?
The obvious answer is time spent in the gym. Nothing beats good weight training and explosive power sessions to mimic the forces you feel during skiing. But this is summer, and when you weary of staring at yourself in the mirror as you do yet another rep, it might be time to step outside and get some cross training in.
Here are some alternative training regimens that I like to implement on a day-to-day basis.
As simple as it sounds, hiking is a great way to get some fresh air and work on the part of the body that is predominantly one of your most important features in ski racing; your legs.
Hiking is something that I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember and as I was reverting out of my cheese ball years, I would hike almost everyday in the summers with my sister and 3 dogs.
It can be dangerous from time to time however, as my sister and I found out one day when a downhill biker came barreling down on us and as I calmly reached for my dog standing far off to the side of the trail, the only warning I had for what happened next was a small scream from my sister as the tire went into my back. When I came to, I was upside down lying in a couple inches of water and my sister standing above me screaming at the biker who had hit me at full speed. After my protective sister had reduced the guy to tears, I apologized and sent him on his way.
Don’t be dissuaded though. I have had many more successful attempts since then, and it is a great and simple way to get lean and strong. When you are ready to amp it up to the next level, I encourage implementing hill sprints into your hike. Start with 5, 15-second sprints with a 2 to 1 rest ratio, and work your way up to a minute or more with 15-second progressions. Each progression should at least have 5 intervals in it. Hill sprints are fantastic for working your anaerobic system, which correlates strongly to a run in a GS or slalom course, which is typically a one-minute sprint. Remember to take your time and improve at your own rate.
Being outside on hot and humid days can be rough in the summer though, and sometimes you wont feel like trekking up a hillside. So if you happen to find yourself on a body of water this summer, go for a swim. Swimming is incredible exercise that works every single muscle of your body. Even if you do not know your strokes, it is extremely beneficial to doggy paddle for half an hour. If you can go longer, then do so.
Being in the water is a good test of your aerobic capacity, and if you really want to push it, try the ocean, or go surfing.
Last fall I went on a surfing trip off the coast of Maine, and despite only having surfed two or three times prior, I paddled myself out into the extremely choppy surf we had that day. For two hours I fought the waves and repeatedly got pegged by the fins of my board in the chest. I probably swallowed about two gallons of water and only managed to ride the top of a couple waves with my knees before falling headfirst into the swell and getting pegged again, but I came back to shore that day feeling more physically drained than I had all summer. It is intense how physically demanding it is when you are battling the ocean.
Summer is certainly a great time to unwind, and time in the gym is fantastic. But incorporating some diversity in your training can reduce the monotonous motions that are likely to drain your motivation.
Regardless of your summer training plans, just remember that an athlete’s happy place is when they are doubled over gasping for air after that last rep or after that last push to the summit. Having that confidence when your skis hit the snow and your boots click in could mean the difference between a good season, and a season that turns your passion into a career.