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Seize the season: Shift to ski conditioning

Fit to be Tried
By: Julie Young Journal Columnist
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Calling all foothill endurance athletes to mix it up this winter — rather than riding around in the rain in a soggy chamois and running in soaked socks — check out cross country skiing. Now that you have an amazing fitness foundation from summer endurance training — shift your focus and fine tune training with an eye toward winter pursuits. The change of seasons and its accompanying weather, forces us to mix up the workout routine. Don’t fight, go with it. We are fortunate to live in a climate with distinct seasons versus, southern California where every day is 70 degrees with a marine layer — boring. With the motivation of snow-capped peaks nudging us along, consider shifting to ski conditioning. In Auburn we have the luxury of being out of the snow, but within an easy 45-minute striking distance to sliding. As cross-country skiers, we are spoiled by the proximity to the Truckee-Tahoe region’s world-renowned variety of XC centers, including: Royal Gorge and Auburn Ski Club, easily accessible at the Summit; Tahoe Cross-Country; Tahoe Donner; Northstar Resort; and Spooner Cross-Country. But in my opinion, as an Auburnite — the real gem is China Wall (approximately 45 minutes from Auburn, on the Foresthill Divide, in the Tahoe National Forest. Take the Auburn-Foresthill Road towards Foresthill, continue past Foresthill until the road ends, during winter, at China Wall). When I last checked the Forest Service grooms an extensive network of corduroy-laden trails, following the Foresthill divide, Monday through Friday. The trails are serene (especially mid-week mornings when snowmobile activity is minimal), scenic and tax-funded “free.” The key to the ski conditioning training is staying motivated on those gray days, and maintaining and building upon that superior summer fitness. The goal is to stay consistent, capitalize on the inspiring outdoor training opportunities the foothills afford, and gain more ski-specific strength indoors — to be at our best when the snow flies. While I generally gravitate to outdoor-oriented workouts, gyms are a nice option in the fall and winter. But keep the gym workouts challenging and functional movement-oriented to train movements rather than single joint, body parts. As we focus on preparing for ski season, strive to mimic ski-movement patterns by incorporating agility, coordination, and balance into the exercises to develop strength and power. Get creative. I like to start all of my workouts with movement preparation. These dynamic movements increase core temperature, lengthen, strengthen and stabilize muscles, engage and stimulate muscles effectively “preparing” them for the athletic pursuit, improve balance and proprioception, fine tune the nervous system and feedback mechanisms, improve flexibility and institute sport specific movement patterns. As with all of our movements — when performing movement preparation — we want to find that strong solid posture, by finding our individual neutral spine and then drawing up on pelvic floor, while upper abs draw to the abdominal mid-point. Crown the movement by firing those glutes. Effective movement preparation will activate our powerful glutes. In movement, we want to train them to be the prime movers. When doing squat maneuvers we cue to reach and sit in to our glutes, chest high, with tummy up and in. There is a significant difference to a squat that emphasizes the quads versus the glutes. When reaching and sitting in to and thus activating the glutes – your knees will be almost directly over your ankles – your tibia nearly vertical to the ground, and you will feel back on your heels. When squatting with the quads – you will have a sharp knee angle and knees will likely be directly over the toes or slightly in front of the toes, and you will feel the greatest impact in quads. Movement preparation exercises include: Backward, forward and lateral lunges; pike walk; single leg standing knee hug; single leg standing hip hug; standing quad stretch; and the standing foosball player, to name a few. And the potent mini-band series, which focus specifically on glute activation and isolating hip mobility and stability. There are a variety mini-band exercises including over the knees squats, rotations and walks; and over the ankles. This series definitely cleans out the hip-joint cob webs. Again the emphasis and value is in doing each movement well. After making the initial movement to hone mobility and coordination take a moment to go through the checklist: find balance; stability; solid, strong pillar posture (neutral spine, tummy up and in); and fire the all important glutes. Movement prep is not a race, more is not better – generate movement with diligent precision from your pillar and set the tone and foundation for your upcoming workout. By including 10-15 minutes of movement preparation before your ski-specific conditioning workout you will reduce warm-up time and the “meat and potatoes” of our workout will be quality dense and effective. As we move toward winter with colder mornings and less light – movement preparation is a fantastic way to kick off the day. See you next time when ski conditioning focuses on developing a dynamic core stability program, with subsequent columns to cover balance drills and single leg stability and strength, and concludes with the practice of potent plyometrics. Julie Young was a top U.S. professional cyclist for 12 years and has since transitioned to trail running and cross-country skiing. She is the owner of o2 Fitness and now coaches endurance athletes in the region. Check her out online at www.o2fitness.net.