Monday, 30 June 2008

Back to the Alps

I should be packing at the moment as I'm heading back to Chamonix tomorrow. Not for skiing this time (although there will be at least one pair of skis going in the car, just in case), but it will be good to get back to some mountains. Living in one of the flattest parts of England is not good for the soul. The ski season is over but the mountaineering season is kicking off, and there is plenty of walking, climbing, cycling and every other summer mountain sport to be done. I am going to be working though, helping a friend renovate his house - lots of digging and pushing wheelbarrows to be expected. So I won't be spending that much time playing, but there should be some free time.

I will make this a quick post, and get back to the packing. Hopefully I should be posting some nice mountain pics and stories from the Alps in a few days, as well as a roundup of the ski fitness posts.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Ski Fitness - Arms

Continuing the recent theme, I want to move on to the arm and shoulder muscles. Apart from holding and planting the poles, it is not that obvious that the arm muscles have any great importance in skiing. However, if the arms begin to flail when the terrain gets rough, it will be difficult to maintain a balanced position. The arms should be kept forward and strong to help keep the upper body still in a good position. Admittedly there are plenty of good skiers seen skiing with their hands in their pockets, but most would bring their hands up and forward when tackling difficult terrain, particularly at speed.

When caught off balance, an arm will often get flung back. To recover effectively means driving the arm back forward into a strong bablanced position.

Maintaining and regaining a strong arm position is obviously easier with sufficient arm and shoulder strength. There are several approaches to this, with free weights being probably the most effective. Exercises such as bench presses and shoulder presses are good, as well as those exercising several muscles together like push presses or cleans. Various dumbell exercises can also be used, as well as weight machines. Finally, push ups and pull ups require little equipment, and can play a part in any training programme.

As before, I only intend to give suggestions to get you started. It is important to do any free weight exercises correctly and safely so it is best to get advice from a trainer or coach.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Ski Fitness - Core

I want to continue the ski fitness series by moving on to the core muscles. As with most sports, core strength is important in skiing for stability and balance. Having a solid core will enable you to maintain a strong position even when the terrain is trying to throw you off balance. This is especially true in bumps, crud or slush - all the difficult, uneven conditions really.

The core muscles are the abs and back. Various exercises for these go in and out of fashion - sit-ups and crunches are less popular at the moment for example. The current popular exercises are things like the plank, or the many Swiss-ball exercises. Also good are press-up variations (e.g. clapping your hands during press ups).

As with the legs, free weights are good for a range of muscles. Again, squats are a great starting point, and should be included in any weights programme for skiing. In fact, some would say squats are about the only exercise you need.

It really is up to you to find what works - there are many approaches to developing core strength. However, it is not to be ignored if you want to maximise your performance. The next fitness post will move up the body again to the arms.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

How To Be A Ski Instructor - Job Hunting

For those who have followed my occasional posts on 'How To Be A Ski Instructor', now is the time to start looking for work for next winter (in the Northern Hemisphere at least). If you are a newly qualified instructor it can be daunting to get that first job and get on the instructor ladder - like many professions there is something of a Catch 22 where you need experience to get a job and a job to get experience.

My advice is to apply for a lot of positions. Hopefully you will have some contacts from courses or from resorts you have visited. Use these but do not rely on them exclusively. It is always good to have a backup plan if a job falls through. By all means apply to the big name resorts - they will employ a lot of instructors but there will still be a lot of demand for positions. Do your research and find all the ski schools in a resort, not just the biggest or best marketed. Do not be disheartened though if you are not offered your dream job on a plate. Look at other options, including less glamourous options. In Europe you obviously have the Alps, but also Andorra, Spain, Eastern Europe and Scotland. In the US the East Coast resorts may be easier to find work at. In Canada there are many smaller areas beyond the obvious Whistler and Banff resorts. There are also advantages to working in a small area, as part of a smaller team. It is often friendlier with more opportunities for training and progression. Above all, don't give up - something will turn up if you keep looking.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Ski Fitness - Legs

Continuing the theme of getting fit for skiing over the summer season, I want to start with the legs. The main muscles used in skiing are the quads at the front of the thighs, and the hamstrings at the back. Most people would probably guess that the quads are more important, but in fact if you are correctly balanced the hamstrings will take a large part of the load. If your quads feel seriously tired when skiing you are probably sitting two far back - I will return to this point in the future, but for now I want to concentrate on physical rather than technical training.

Strength and endurance are both important, and the balance depends on the type of skiing you want to do. If you want to ski well all day you will need more endurance, whereas racers or competitive bump skiers for example will obviously need more strength and power over a shorter period of time.

Running, cycling, swimming etc. will all improve general aerobic fitness and endurance, and some form of aerobic training should be included in pretty much any programme. For recreational skiers, a good general level of aeorobic fitness and an efficient skiing technique are all you need to be able to cruise the slopes all day without feeling too tired at the end of the day.

Competitive skiers, and those looking for a higher level of performance will need to look at strength training, i.e. using weights. The leg press machine is a start, but squats are a lot better and work the core muscles as well. Whether using free weights or machines it is important to exercise the hamstrings as well as the quads.

To improve your ability to make explosive movements, plyometric exercises can be useful, especially later in the programme.

Finally, most people will benefit from a stretching programme to improve flexibility. This is quite underrated by many skiers, but being flexible can help as much as being stronger. However, avoid doing static stretches before exercise (e.g. as part of a warm up), as it can make you more prone to injury. Do the stretches after the exercise session.

This post is really just an introduction, with a few pointers to what will help with skiing. You need to know what you are doing when embarking on a weights programme, so find a trainer or coach if necessary, or get advice at your local gymn.

I plan to continue the fitness theme over the next few posts, since there is not a lot of skiing to be done at the moment for most of us.