By Martin Bell
We've been working with former Ski Olympian Martin Bell for over 15 years and he created our unique PB Martin Bell Ski Academy, which runs every year in Zermatt and, from this winter, in Arosa too for children, aged 11 to 15. In this series of blog posts, Martin shares his extensive knowledge and valuable expertise. This is the second post of the series, in which he gives us his expert advice on maximising ski enjoyment and performance through the right physical fitness.
Compared to many sports, skiing requires a very wide range of physical abilities. Skiers need to be all-round athletes, which is why they often do well in multi-sport competitions such as Superstars.
A good skier requires strength, speed, endurance, balance, co-ordination and flexibility. High leg and core strength are vital in modern skiing, in order to resist the powerful centrifugal forces that are generated by modern skis. Once you get to the level of "carving" or "arcing" your turns, you'll start to notice these forces. You need leg and core strength to maintain a good posture, and to absorb any rougher areas of snow that you may encounter as you are turning.
You don't need to squat huge weights to develop leg strength. There are plenty of very effective bending, hopping and jumping exercises, which use only your body weight. Cycling is also excellent for leg strength. To strengthen the core, sit-ups and backups are great, but you also need to work your lateral muscles, as well as those that twist your trunk.
Whenever shorter turns are required, like in slalom, moguls, or skiing through trees, skiers need to have speed of movement. Sprinting is a great way to develop general speed and explosiveness, but skiers also need to be able to move quickly from side to side (laterally), so any type of ski-specific lateral jumps, over a box or bar, are great. Sports that require stepping and twisting from side to side, like football are rugby, will also help.
A ski race in a slalom or giant slalom event usually lasts between 45 and 90 seconds. The high speed events of super G and downhill are longer, but rarely over 2 minutes. So ski racers need to produce a maximum explosive effort over a short burst. However, when ski racers train, they may do 10 or 12 slalom runs in a morning and they often train at high altitude on mountain glaciers, where the air is thinner. They need to be able to recover quickly between runs, and they need to be able to process oxygen efficiently. This means that they need a reasonable level of cardio-vascular fitness. Not as high as endurance athletes, such as marathon runners or triathletes, but decent. Cardiovascular levels can be improved by long, steady activities like running, cycling, rowing, swimming or cross-country skiing for at least 30 minutes, several times per week.
When skiers are carving a turn, they are riding on the razor-thin edges of the ski while encountering changes in snow texture, and ripples. This requires balance - which can be improved with training, contrary to popular opinion. Skiers and snowboarders require lateral and fore-aft balance. Co-ordination is the ability to move different body parts in different ways or to move one body part without moving another (known as "separation of movement"). Skiing is a complex, technical activity, requiring excellent co-ordination. This can be trained, by doing other complex sports, such as ball sports, skating (ice or inline), surfing (wind, wave or kite), or gymnastics.
Finally, skiers need a certain level of flexibility. They don't need to be as flexible as gymnasts or ballet dancers. If they were, they might not have the tension and strength necessary to hold their posture under the action of the high forces that occur in skiing. But they need to have a certain suppleness and mobility because skiing can sometimes put the body into unexpected positions; flexibility will reduce the risk of injury in those situations so a few minutes of stretching or yoga each day is a good idea for skiers.
All of these physical requirements apply to competitive skiers, but they also apply to recreational skiers, just to a lesser extent. The better shape you are in, the more enjoyment you'll get from your ski holiday.
For more information on the PB Martin Bell Academy, click here or call 020 8246 5300.
Read our other blogs from Martin using the links below: