Sports Training & Conditioning Zone!

Condition With Purpose

Are your conditioning concepts caught in the ring?

By: Scott Higgins, US Ski and Snowboard Assoc. Team Physiologist

As professionals in the strength and conditioning and rehabilitation field it’s easy to get caught in a boxing ring with old concepts, ideas, and redundant progressions. I credit Vern Gambetta, who regularly emphasizes the number one professional priority, to develop a sound philosophy and system of conditioning. In short, condition with a purpose. Second, we must develop a full understanding of the physical demands of the respective sport with which we work. A great deal goes on outside the weight room or clinic. We don’t always need to see different things, but rather we need to learn to see things differently. As professionals, reconditioning athletes from injury or working to enhance performance, a priority should be spending time with athletes in a multitude of competitive and training environments. A season outlining the conditioning direction for the US Freestyle Ski Team provides a great platform as to the value of how seeing things differently fostered some creative ideas and progressions to be established and developed around a philosophy to guide the teams conditioning process.

In conditioning US Olympic & World Cup mogul skiers the philosophy is not to produce a better freestyle skier, but a better freestyle skiing athlete. This is accomplished by developing all components of the conditioning process in an environment of athleticism. Athleticism, is “the ability to execute athletic movements at optimum speed with precision, style, and grace”. Components of athleticism are agility, balance, coordination, core strength and strength.

The athletic demands of mogul skiing will depend greatly on a  particular course. (Competition venue) To condition with a purpose and identify the multitude of physical demands essential for optimal performance in mogul skiing requires an analysis of the physiological and athletic demands of various World Cup courses. Champions Run, the 2002 Olympic mogul course in Deer Valley, Utah is 265m in length, has a pitch of 29-degrees, and has deep bumps 2-3 meters apart. Skiers will make sixty to eighty turns in less than 25 seconds for men to 30 seconds for women to complete the course.

This equates to two and one half to three turns per second. Athletes must also perform a top and bottom air maneuver which involves a combination of multiple movements of counter rotation, simultaneous flexion and extension, abduction and adduction of the legs, fully blind visual rotations of 360 degrees or as much as 720 degrees, some with
or without different body positions.

World Class mogul courses require the ability of the athlete to extend and compress the body in concert with the shape of the snow. An important skill is to be able to move up and down through a long range of motion without balance changing in any way. To develop the ability to execute movements at optimal speed with precision style and grace an athlete must first develop Core Strength™.  A significant emphasis in developing core strength is to first emphasize “movements not muscles” in the conditioning process. Mogul skiing requires the skiers body to work in unison and constantly change in response to gravity, ground reaction force, landing, curve of mogul, height of the jump and varying momentum over a course. A primary objective in the conditioning process for freestyle mogul skiers is to condition and utilize the muscles of the trunk to stabilize the pelvis, spine, and extremities in an environment of athleticism. Fifty percent of mogul skiing is scored based on technical skiing form. Core strength must be developed to enable and facilitate mogul skiers to maintain an upright trunk position facing downhill, knees together, with elbows in and arms close to body for quick forward pole plant. Core strength can greatly affect a skier’s ability to maintain hip position, while controlling and absorbing large eccentric loads from the snow and maintaining proper posture during technical air maneuvers. For Olympic mogul skiers strengthening the core must be done with two components of athleticism in mind: balance and coordination.

Core conditioning and balance training activities range from developing general skills in conjunction with coordination during the early season (jumping rope on a balance beam) to transitional and specific balance skills during the preparatory phase. During the latter period special balance activities on the trampoline attempt to duplicate the frequency, amplitude, whole body coordination and movement patterns encountered in mogul competition.

To emphasize developing athleticism in conjunction with training movements not muscles, the development of strength into a narrow range of movements and exercises (i.e. just squats, deadlifts, or ski specific postures) is avoided.

The strength spectrum of mogul skiing involves the development of eccentric strength, strength endurance, maximal strength and power, and power endurance. Each of these areas is eventually incorporated into an environment of athleticism. Changing the loading pattern, body and joint angle is used to emphasize strength, stability, and balance while different landing surfaces are incorporated with eccentric strength progressions and variations of traditional lifts (dumbbell rotational snatch) are incorporated to emphasize coordination and control of the core.

Mogul skiing utilizes primarily anaerobic metabolism. However, all components of the cardiorespiratory system are evaluated and conditioned to develop an increase in the athlete’s cardiorespiratory fitness. A primary objective is to utilize a variety of 15 to 35 second intervals to enhance the ability of the skier to tolerate and buffer higher amounts of blood lactate.
During summer intervals composed of movement patterns such as body-weight squats, alternating jump ups, multidirectional lunges, and whole-body movements are used as a transition to specific anaerobic sessions. In the precompetitive conditioning phase specific tolerance sessions on flat and angled trampolines are used to duplicate the legs to extending and absorbing -quickly simulating the movement, special strength, and motor patterns utilized in mogul skiing. Blood samples and heart rates taken at the end of each set and repetition and prior to the start of the subsequent set are used to monitor the lactate response. These values are also used to monitor anaerobic improvements and are compared to values taken after competition runs.

Implementing proper recovery patterns following competitive runs is critical for each athlete to minimize immediate, residual, and cumulative effect of fatigue and work throughout the season. A primary goal following high intensity interval sessions (anaerobic tolerance, peak lactate), post competition, or any repeated hard skiing where lactate accumulation can be very high, is to perform an active recovery session. Light movements, a pool or stationary bike is used to help clear lactate and by product deep in the muscle.

Developing a philosophy of conditioning can pay big dividends when working with new sports and athletes. Of paramount importance is the ability to take time to evaluate a program, then develop a systematic process that meets the general and specific needs of the athletes and team.