By Bill Roland –
Nearly all of the cyclists throughout the mountain states are most grateful for the wonderful weather we have had since the lifts closed. But as fall weather arrives, a great percentage of the riders are thinking more and more about skiing. Precisely, what can they do to start the ski season in relatively good physical condition? Many ask, “Will continuing to ride throughout the fall, keep me in top shape so I’ll be ready to ski when winter arrives?”
I have sought the expertise of a professional ski instructor at Snowbird who also specializes in training amateur athletes for triathlons.
Before we get to her advice I thought it might be fun to analyze a few thought provoking comments I researched while reading EPICSKI On the Snow Skiing Forums (epicski.com).
In the General Skiing Discussions, one forum participant offered his opinion. “In preparation for the upcoming ski season,“ he said, “I’ve been spending a lot of time on the saddle, with road and mountain bikes as well as spinning classes. This works really well for me to build leg strength, quickness, stamina and overall conditioning. But I question whether biking will completely do it as far as building the strength and stamina I will need for skiing? Or is more training required?”
Another forum writer offered his opinion. “I am no expert,“ he explained, “but I am an avid skier and bike rider. Since riding the bike is not weight bearing, and skiing is to an amplified extent, and because of momentum, you need to do other training. Trail running or hiking, particularly downhill helps strengthen the muscles used for skiing. In addition, trail running forces me to use my legs and ankles at constantly changing angles, which improves strength and balance. For what it’s worth, Franz Klammer was big on downhill running for training.”
“It all depends,” someone else wrote, “on what kind of biking and what kind of skiing we are talking about. I’d recommend some kind of stretching regiment regardless of what other off-season activities we do to stay in shape for skiing. Being flexible really prevents injuries when falling or almost falling.”
The thread continued with a comment that road biking builds great strength for skiing. A skier noted that one year all he did was lift weights prior to the season and the first days of skiing always made his legs extremely sore. Now, after a summer/fall regiment of lots of cycling he reported no soreness at all from skiing, even the first few days.
In my research, I found that most ski teams mix in a lot of weight training and plyometrics, a form of exercise that involves rapid and repeated stretching and contracting of the muscles, designed to increase strength. For example, when Hermann Maier came back from his leg injury, his primary exercise was riding the bike.
An interesting angle featured in the forum was the avid cyclist who put in 3,500 miles each year on his road bike but he agreed that it wasn’t enough to get his legs in shape for skiing. For the past few years, he transitioned to hiking in the fall and he found that doing that really helped his skiing stamina.
A Ski Instructor and Triathlon Coach’s Perspective
Jo Garuccio, a Professional Ski Instructor of America (PSIA) at Snowbird and a USA Triathlon Level 2, and a USA Cycling Level 3 trainer for cyclists and athletes who compete in triathlons, wasted no time voicing her opinion on the value of riding the bicycle in concert with skiing. “Cycling certainly does build leg strength and stamina,” Jo exclaimed. “My advice is to definitely keep cycling until it’s too white to do so!”
She was asked to address the issue of weight bearing while skiing versus non-weight bearing on the bicycle. “The one key factor that a couple of participants in the forum alluded to,” she explained, “is the fact that cycling is non-weight bearing while alpine and cross country skiing are most definitely weight bearing. The most important piece to the equation is the type of muscle contraction utilized in skiing versus cycling. When cycling, muscles contract concentrically, i.e., the muscle shortens as it contracts. In alpine skiing, muscles contract eccentrically. They get longer as they contract and resist gravity. This is what causes early season muscle soreness if you haven’t supplemented your bike riding with things like squats, deadlifts, and lunges.”
Jo also suggested that other sports could make this more palatable for those gym phobic guys (and gals). This would include hiking, running, especially downhill running, Cyclo-Cross because you mix in running with a weight, albeit the bike and MTB to a somewhat lesser extent. She added that proper descending skills on a mountain bike require that you stand and constantly flex your legs to aid with absorption and bike control.
When told this story would be in the September issue, Jo happily added, “It doesn’t take a lot of time to give your muscles the protection and training necessary for eccentric contraction. Just doing something 2-3 times per week would do it. If you are really into performance, power and quickness, then add plyometric exercises to the mix. Plyometric exercises are more prevalent amongst the running crowd and those who have had a block of strength training, but they can also help your explosiveness on a bike.”
The bottom line is similar to the combination of what it takes to have a great ski season. We must get cold weather coupled with a plethora of snowstorms. In order to be in top condition, skiers benefit by combining time on the saddle of their bike with cross-training activities.