Use a plyo program to power through the powder
A safely devised plyometric program will benefit every activity —producing more power to the pedal, force in the foot strike, and for that skier, alpine or cross-country, more punch in the powder this season.
Plyometrics, also known as plyos, are drills designed to produce fast, powerful movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system, generally for the purpose of improving performance in sports.
Plyometrics are defined as any movement utilizing the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). The SSC optimizes the stretch reflex and the stored elastic energy to produce improved power during the concentric (work) phase of movement. Essentially, the associated drills aim to increase the speed or force of the muscular contraction producing an explosive-reactive movement.
Plyometrics come in different shapes and sizes – jumps with two-legged take-off and two-legged landing; hops with one-legged take-off and same leg landing; and bounds with one-leg take-off followed by the opposite leg landing.
The benefits of plyometric training extend far beyond improved performance in a particular activity or sport to general daily movement. Any movement, for example walking, constitutes a plyometric. Besides the performance related benefits of improved explosive power and reaction time/responsiveness; plyometric drills decrease injury potential by improving tolerance to stretch-load, efficiency and energy return, and dynamic stabilization.
In order to experience benefits, we skiers need to hone our plyo practice by reducing the time between the onset of the eccentric (loading phase) and the onset of the concentric (work phase). Let’s use the squat jump as an example – we want to quicken the time between the start of the downward movement to the lowest, flexed point, and the start of the explosive movement up to full extension. We will also see improved power by reducing the transition time between the end of the eccentric phase - the lowest point of the load, and the start of the concentric, explosive work phase.
Skiers will also benefit from rapid response drills, which are low-force, high-speed movements that improve your reaction forces, agility and quickness. These quick concise movements complement the full range of motion plyometrics.
Plyometrics and rapid response drills are highly effective and beneficial – but must be approached systematically with proper fitness and movement foundation, and technique to reduce injury potential.
To properly prepare for these technically and physically demanding drills, we need to develop a high level of foundational strength and functional movement. Once we have achieved this foundation, incorporate more single leg stability maneuvers in to your strength program. Single-leg exercises emphasize symmetry and institute the plyo-specific movement patterns and technique required to develop a safe and effective plyometric practice.
An example of a strength program that will set the stage for your plyo practice might resemble the following. As with other exercises and movements I like to format the workout in circuits of three exercises so I can efficiently move from one to the next with little or no rest.
I would repeat the circuit three times – performing the number of exercises I can do well. In one circuit I would do single leg squats – reaching and sitting in to my glutes; double leg squats holding a medicine ball standing on an inverted bosu ball; and kettle ball squats to a lift. Another circuit might include – single leg step-ups; single leg Romanian deadlift – ipsilateral and contralateral; Bulgarian split squats.
Continue to challenge yourself with increased – resistance via weight or eccentric holds; instability with bosu ball or dyna-disc; and sets and repetitions.
Now, we are ready to jump in with both feet.
To insure a safe progressive plan, it is best to start with higher reps and less intensity, until we nail the technique, and then gradually increase intensity while reducing reps. It is also important to start with more simple movements and progress to more complicated – for example, start with two legged jumps and eventually progress to one-legged, multi-directional hops.
One of my favorite dry-land ski workouts is as follows. For warm-up, start with movement preparation (exercises that warm and elongate muscles; and activate propioception, key stabilizers and the nervous system, among other benefits) exercises. In the warm-up include a circuit of single-leg squats, mini-band glute activation exercises and short bouts of jump roping.
Then head out for a run-plyo combo workout – my plyo-playground of choice is the old Auburn dam site – stringing roads and trails together to create a loop. Along the loop, I stop at different points that provide natural plyo props and perform circuits consisting of a mix of plyos and rapid response drills. I usually shoot for circuits containing three different drills and perform three to four sets of ten reps, and hit three to four different plyo stations around the loop.
Spicing up your dry-land training with these drills will improve strength, agility, proprioception, balance and coordination. But the proof is in the power.
Stay tuned for taking it to the next step with dry-land technique and strutting it on the snow.
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.