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Q: What kind of aerobic activities should I be doing now to be a better skier next winter?

A: During the heat of summer, winter seems oh so far away, but autumn will be here all too quickly.  Everyone knows that skiers are “made in the summer” so now is the time to get going if you want to be ready for old-man winter once he makes his reappearance.  And he promised he would be back this year…

For the non-elite skier, summer is a great time to participate in a wide variety of activities.  Coaches often refer to “specificity” in training, meaning to try to mimic the motions of your specific sport as closely as possible.  For skiers this often means roller skiing, pole hiking, and bounding just to name a few examples.  While it is undoubtedly important to retain some specificity in your training, summer is a great opportunity to participate in other activities as well.  The key to improving your fitness is to remember that skiing is first and foremost an aerobic sport.  Skiing also requires power, agility, and strength; particularly upper body strength.  We’ll delve into strength training in a future article.  Today the focus is the aerobic training for cross country skiers.

If you have ambitious goals in skiing, it is important to keep up with your ski specific training throughout the year so that your muscles will “remember” how to ski.  This is referred to as neuromuscular memory.  Especially as we get older, muscles seem to forget how to do complex movements, like cross country skiing, relatively quickly.  While roller skiing doesn’t need to make up the majority of your training hours at this time of the year, it is advisable to make an effort to get out at least twice a week on roller skis.  Roller skiing once skating and once classic per week will help you immensely to retain your ski-specific muscle memory.  If you only have skate roller skis, your “classic” day should be double-poling only.

There are many activities that train your aerobic system, but not all are created equal.  Running can be a great aerobic activity, but road-running in particular requires virtually none of the “other” qualities that a skier needs in their training.  If you truly love running, consider a couple of modifications that will help you improve your ski fitness.  Trail running, as opposed to road running, requires more agility, balance and power.  Plus, trail running often provides better shade from the summer sun, better cushioning for your joints, and more scenery.  If you’re feeling more ski-focused, bring your poles along and incorporate your upper body into your trail run.  Depending on your goals, you could use the poles to ski-walk the uphills but run all other terrain, or you could hike the entire time and save the running for another day.

Cycling is another popular aerobic activity; both road and off-road.  Road cycling can be a great way to develop aerobic fitness because it allows you to keep a consistent heart rate relatively easily.  Mountain biking on the other hand adds an element of power that is often missing from road riding.  One place to be cautious while mountain biking, aside from avoiding trees, can be riding trails that are too technical.  It can be difficult to keep your heart rate high enough while winding around through the woods on really technical trails.

Running and cycling are the most popular “off-season” activities for cross country skiers, but it is important to remember that up to 2/3 of the speed generated while skiing comes from the upper body; and neither running nor cycling require very much upper body strength.  Just look at the winners of your local 10k or Lance Armstrong in his prime for proof of this.  There are two great aerobic activities that are very accessible to most people living in the Midwest; paddling and swimming.

Don’t have boat?  There are several organizations that provide instruction and either will let you borrow a seat in a boat with a more experienced paddler, or will rent you a boat for a reasonable price.  Call your local ski shop and they would be willing to put you in contact with a local paddling organization.  If you already have either a kayak or a canoe make an effort to get out onto the water several times a week.  Paddling is excellent training for both your upper body, and your core.  Being on the water can also be a great option for those really hot days.

And even better for those really hot days is to get right into the water.  Like skiing, swimming uses both upper and lower body with a greater emphasis on the upper body.  Many local outdoor pools offer safe environments and lanes devoted to lap swimming.  And if you’re not a technically proficient swimmer, there are many local resources that can help you work on your stroke.  For those folks that are more adventurous, we obviously have 1000s of lakes that make great training venues.  While the water is likely to be rougher than at the local pool, you can do laps at the edge of the beach area, or venture across the lake for more of a destination swim.  Obviously, be safe when venturing out into open-water.  The buddy system, a life jacket (safety first!), a brightly colored swim cap all make lake swimming safer.

If the competition bug bites you, there are literally hundreds of running, cycling, swimming and triathlon races going on over the course of the summer.  This can be a great way to test your fitness and see what areas need work.

The most important thing to remember, is  anything is better than nothing.  Get out the door and do something; and have fun!

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