Fit for Winter: The 3-Phase Fitness Plan for Skiers

25/04/2024 - SnowTrex

Those who stay fit in summer will have even more fun with winter sports in the winter. The experts at the “DSV aktiv” have developed a sport-specific 3-phase fitness plan to prepare for skiing. Phase 1: acquiring basic endurance and physical fitness. Phase 2: build up strength and coordination. Phase 3: optimise strength endurance and coordination. Trexpert Felix Neureuther also provides corresponding fitness tips. Without further ado, here is the detailled “Fit for Winter” fitness plan, so everyone will be fit for the winter!

Thanks to varied routes, mountain biking can be done intensively or moderately.

Phase 1: Basic Endurance & Physical Fitness

Just as varied as skiing itself, so too are the conditional requirements for the skier. Those who train extensively in summer can make even more intensive use of the days in the snow – no more burning thighs or breathlessness on the mountain! If you are physically fit, your day of skiing will ultimately be even more enjoyable, and physical fitness also prevents injuries. Comprehensive preparation for winter sports is therefore advisable in any case, and this applies to professionals as well as recreational athletes. With mild temperatures and sunny weather, staying fit is especially fun.

Lay the Foundation

At the beginning of pre-season preparation, the focus is on building up basic endurance and physical fitness. Endurance training not only makes the cardiovascular system more efficient, but also makes the energy supply in the muscles more efficient, thus creating the basis for strength and endurance training. Therefore, basic endurance lays the foundation for a fit body that can then be trained intensively.

Hiking and Nordic walking make you fit for winter and can also be combined with a relaxing trip through nature.

Phase 1 = 8 Weeks

The “Fit for Winter” fitness plan is divided into three training phases and consists of two to three sessions per week. In the first phase, basic endurance and general coordination are trained in order to improve these and gain strength. Endurance is mainly stimulated by sports such as cycling, inline skating, running or Nordic walking. It starts with simple exercise units every two days. It is important to systematically increase the training load alternating with recovery phases in order to achieve so-called “supercompensation”. Only those who recover sufficiently after a training session can permanently increase their performance. It does not matter on which day of the week the individual units are set. The main thing is that the sequence and the breaks are adhered to. This also means that missed units do not have to be made up for. It is then better to take a break and then start the training session again from the beginning. Based on a regular rhythm, the units are structured as follows:

Week 1 – 3: Basic Endurance

The cardiovascular system should be slowly introduced to physical exertion. During this training phase, the DSV active experts recommend three units per week on mountain bikes or by Nordic walking, hiking or easy running at low intensity. Only at the end of the third week should the fitness plan be supplemented by a few more intensive units.

Example schedule:

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Week 4 – 6: Regeneration and Intensity Increase

In the fourth week, the training intensity should be kept at a low level again. In order to slowly accustom the musculoskeletal system to the increased training load, running should now also be integrated into the fitness plan. In the fifth week, there are again two units with intervals on the schedule, before training again at low intensity in the sixth week.

Example schedule:

MondayRest day
TuesdayMountain biking, inline skating or Nordic walking, 60-90 minutes, low intensity; from the fifth week: 60 minutes of mountain biking or inline skating, whereby a five-minute interval with a slightly higher intensity should be incorporated six times, i.e.: pedalling at full throttle for five minutes, then cycling at a relaxed pace for five minutes, then five minutes at full throttle again, etc.
WednesdayRest day
ThursdayMountain bike inline skating or Nordic walking, 60-90 minutes, low intensity; from week 5, 60 minutes of mountain biking or inline skating in the same way as the Tuesday session
FridayRest day
SaturdayRunning, 45-60 minutes, low intensity
SundayRest day

Week 7 – 8: Regeneration and Intensity Unit Change

In the seventh and eighth week, two running units are on the schedule. However, the intensity should be increased again on the weekend with intervals in the fitness plan.

Example schedule:

MondayRest day
TuesdayMountain biking, inline skating, hiking or Nordic walking, 60-90 minutes, low intensity
WednesdayRest day
ThursdayRunning, 45-60 minutes, low intensity
FridayRest day
SaturdayRunning, 60 minutes, five minutes faster, then five minutes normal, five times in total
SundayRest day

Felix Neureuther’s Fitness Tip for Basic Endurance

“Endurance is the most important of all sport motor skills. This applies equally to competitive athletes and the average consumer. […] I like cycling and it suits me. If I could choose, I would always unpack the mountain bike first”. Felix Neureuther recommends cycling up to three times a week depending on the season.

Phase 2: Strength & Coordination

After we’ve gotten our endurance and fitness up to scratch in the first eight weeks, the second phase of the fitness plan is all about refining the strength and coordination needed for skiing. The main focus here is on improving the coordination skills specific to the sport. Anyone who thinks that running and cycling are over now is mistaken. Strength exercises and ski gymnastics are also important aspects of getting fit for winter. These are integrated into the existing program, so they will be continued in addition to the workload.

Alpine skiing and snowboarding, but also cross-country skiing, involve complex movement sequences that require almost all muscle groups. In addition to the leg muscles, the torso muscles also play a decisive role in stabilization. Therefore, it is important to train these areas of the body in a targeted manner in order to be really fit for winter.

Don’t Forget to Warm Up

As with any sport, it is important to warm up properly before the actual activity. Ten minutes of running, cycling, aerobics, inline skating or walking are recommended – whatever you prefer. In this way, the body reaches operating temperature and the metabolism is stimulated. Afterwards, the muscle groups have to be activated. Light, dynamic stretching helps to increase muscle tone, i.e. the tension of the muscle groups. But be careful: Static stretching is rather unfavourable as the muscle fibres are pulled apart and thus the ability to quickly and explosively develop strength is reduced.

Important: first coordination, then strength training! After strength training, muscle tone is greatly increased, which can temporarily impair fine motor skills. Therefore, strength training should always take place after coordination training.

Coordination Exercises

In order to be fully fit for winter, coordination skills must also be trained, and there are many sporting opportunities for this. A proven means and a fun one to boot is inline skating through a slalom course. Mastering this course without making mistakes trains the ability to balance, rhythm and change direction. In addition, the ability to coordinate is required when several tasks have to be completed simultaneously and preferably asynchronously. A very effective exercise for this would be, for example, balancing on unstable surfaces, such as a foam rubber cushion, which is combined with movements such as the downhill squat. Kneeling down and standing on one leg varies this exercise efficiently. Those who master this can also try to throw up an object with one hand and catch it again. This sharpens coordination immensely. A round on the slackline is also recommended as an outdoor exercise in good weather. This wobbly tape is wonderfully suited for simple to complex balance exercises.

Also not to be neglected are the motor skills, which favour a quick reaction ability. This motor reactivity is trained by rapidly changing sequences of movements that are performed in response to an acoustic or optical signal. In general, the more varied the tasks, the more complex the neural networks develop.

Practicing on a slackline can help to strengthen your balance.

Strength ≠ Strength

Muscles can exert different amounts of force. The maximum force is the highest possible force that can be generated by voluntary contraction. In addition, there is high-speed strength, reactive strength and strength endurance. In skiing, all these forces occur as mixed forms. In phase 2 of training, the first step is to build up maximum strength, which has a positive effect on high-speed and reactive strength. Intramuscular coordination strength training (IC training) is particularly important here, which aims to optimize fine control within the muscle. The explosive use of force also improves the contraction speed of the muscles, i.e. faster movements with more effort.

Legs, Torso, Upper Body

The DSV experts suggest several exercises for the three most important areas of the musculoskeletal system: legs, torso and the arm/shoulder area. The list of exercises looks long at first, but they are all small exercises that can be performed easily and without large equipment, so these “Fit for Winter” exercises can be wonderfully integrated into any fitness plan. Two to three units per week should be scheduled, with sufficient regeneration phases of 48 hours in between. The intensity of the exercises must be adjusted gradually as your strength increases. This can be done by increasing the number of repetitions, increasing the intensity or by additional training units.

Exercises to Strengthen the Muscles

Exercise 1: Squats

Variations: Squats with explosive jump (high intensity); one-legged squats (high intensity), possibly with additional weight; squats in step position; squats in step position with jump (high intensity)

Important: The heels remains on the ground, the knees must not rotate inwards and are ideally pressed slightly outwards, knees and toes should be on the same line. In healthy athletes, the knee does not always have to remain vertically above the foot as long as the heel remains on the ground. It is crucial for a back-protecting execution to maintain the curvature of the spine in the lumbar area during the entire execution (straight back, slightly arched).

Exercise 2: Squat jumps on the spot

Variations: over obstacles; on higher obstacles (higher intensity)

Exercise 3: One-legged jumps

Variation: over obstacles (higher intensity)

Exercise 4: Standing up from a bench on one leg

Variation: climbing up on a bench with one leg – the higher the bench, the higher the intensity

Exercise 5: Push up on tiptoes

Variation: pushing up on tiptoes with one leg

Exercise 6: Short sprints

Variation: Staircases with intense pressure

Exercise 7: Downhill squatting on unstable surfaces (soft ground, trampoline, wobble board)

Variation: rockers with weight shift from right to left

BILD Wiggle board standing – A wiggle board is ideal for strength and coordination exercises. Fritz Dopfer demonstrates a squat on one leg.

Exercises to Strengthen Torso Muscles

Exercise 1: Lifting the extremities from the prone position

Variations: Paddling (arms and legs move up and down); alternate lifting (right arm and left leg simultaneously and vice versa), the head is an extension of the spine

Exercise 2: Diagonal lifting of the extremities from a four-legged position

Variation: rocking movements

Exercise 3: Forearm support

Variations: alternate lifting of legs (higher intensity); diagonal lifting of extremities, lateral support with and without lifted leg

Exercise 4: Crunches (sit-up alternative)

Variations: frontal; laterally to the bent knee; fast/slow; with long holding times; with additional weights

Exercises to Strengthen the Upper Body Muscles

Exercise 1: Push-Up

Variations: on knees (lower intensity); arms raised (lower intensity); legs raised (higher intensity); fingertips inwards – elbows outwards; fingertips forward – elbows on body

Exercise 2: Rear triceps pushes on chair or bench (Dips)

Variation: one leg is stretched forward while bending the arms, dipping the bar (higher intensity)

Exercise 3: Pull-Up

Variations: With Theraband (lower intensity), from a standing position (lower intensity), chin-ups (palms turned towards the body)

Felix Neureuther’s Fitness Tip for Building up Strength

“If you are a little flexible, you can make your strength training very versatile. When it’s not raining, I go out into the countryside for strength training. I love doing backwards push-ups on the spectator stairs in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen ski stadium. Moving up the stairs one step at a time, with your feet backwards, and while looking towards the blades of grass is incredibly good for the whole body and also for the head”.

Trexpert Felix Neureuther knows all about fitness for skiers.

Phase 3: Strength Endurance & Coordination

After several weeks of training with the fitness plan, you finally start noticing a change and feel even more fit for winter. Your condition improves and your muscles become stronger. The solid foundation has been laid in the first phase and the strength training from the second phase is showing its effects. Phase 3 now focuses on training sport-specific strength endurance.

Strength Endurance are the Magic Words

Burning thighs on the piste, overacidified muscles on the cross-country trail – this is all part of ambitious skiing. Systematic preparation minimises these symptoms of fatigue and delays the onset of fatigue as much as possible. We achieve this goal with strength endurance, which is intensely strengthened in our third training phase. Depending on the type of sport and discipline, the characteristics of strength endurance vary. For example, a downhill skier who applies great strength over a relatively short period of time needs a different form of strength endurance than a cross-country skier who takes part in a 50-kilometre race in which only low or medium strength is applied over a very long period of time. Strength intensity as a function of stimulus endurance is therefore a decisive criterion for strength endurance.

A Note on the Inside of the Muscles

Strength endurance training is all about adapting and optimising the metabolic processes in the muscle to its stresses and strains. Stimulus intensity and stimulus range influence the energy supply in the muscle. A distinction is made between aerobic and anaerobic training. In aerobic training, the muscles have excess oxygen, less blood is pumped into the arteries and the pulse and blood pressure are lower than in anaerobic training. Aerobic exercise stimulates the cardiovascular system and can be done over a longer period of time, such as jogging or cycling. With anaerobic exercise, it’s the other way round: the muscles are used briefly, but intensely and burn energy without the addition of oxygen. A classic anaerobic training form is strength training on machines. Depending on the intensity, strength training shows more or less aerobic and anaerobic metabolic components. Therefore, in practice, it is important to set the right training stimuli according to the sport-specific demands.

In addition to optimising the metabolism, strength endurance training also aims to improve the interaction of the muscles involved. This reduces the amount of effort required, the energy demand decreases and the muscles do not get tired so quickly. Training that only aims to improve coordination between the muscles must be correspondingly close to the actual sequence of movements. The exercises mentioned here are more aimed at optimising the metabolism, but also take into account aspects of muscle coordination.

Special Strength Endurance for Alpine Skiers

In the Alpine disciplines, the training of strength endurance should focus more on higher intensities and shorter durations. In other words, a lot of effort, but only for a few seconds. Four to seven sets are trained with shorter stimulus duration at 20 to 50 percent of maximum strength. The exercises can be dynamic and static, with aerobic and anaerobic loads. Suitable additional weights that can easily be integrated into the “Fit for Winter” fitness plan are weight bands, small dumbbells, sandbags, medicine balls, stones or similar, which weigh no more than 1 to 5 kg depending on the maximum strength.

Alpine skiers also need good stamina as the strain is shorter, but more intense.

Exercises to Increase Strength Endurance of the Leg Muscles

Exercise 1: Squat long jumps

from a half deep squat to a stretch jump, 20-25 repetitions, divided into several sets

Exercise 2: Rope skipping

without bouncing between skips, 40-60 seconds

Exercise 3: Squats

with additional weights, 15-20 repetitions, divided into several sets

Exercise 4: Knee lifts

uphill, 30-40 seconds

Exercise 5: Skpping

with small additional weights and active push-off with the jumping leg, the arms are counterbalanced, 20-30 repetitions per leg, divided into several sets

Squats can also be derived from the static standing scale (one or both legs).

Special Strength Endurance for Cross-Country Skiers and Biathletes

For cross-country skiers and biathletes, it is a matter of withstanding stress over a long period of time. The exercises for strength endurance training should be done at around five to 20 percent of maximum strength. Furthermore, the training is characterised by large numbers of repetitions and a long stimulation period. The exercises are dynamic and characterised by a rather aerobic energy metabolism. Three to five sets are trained. During intensive training units, the exercises can also be used to the maximum number of repetitions.

Exercises to Increase Strength Endurance of the Leg Muscles

Exercise 1: Squats

without additional weights, 30-50 repetitions, divided into several sets

Exercise 2: Knee lifts

on the spot, at least 40 seconds

Exercise 3: Walking lunges

right and left 20-40 repetitions each, divided into several sets

Exercise 4: Skipping

30-50 repetitions per leg, divided into several sets

Exercises to Increase Strength Endurance of the Torso Muscles

Exercise 1: Crab walk

abdomen faces upwards, arms almost stretched out, legs are bent, feet on the ground, hips largely extended; move forwards and backwards, 40-60 seconds

Exercise 2: Neck bridge

neck and feet are on the floor, hips are moved up and down; 20-30 repetitions; divided into several sets

The starting point of the crab walk is the bridge.

Exercises to Increase Strength Endurance of the Muscles of the Upper Extremities

Exercise 1: Push-ups against the wall

30-40 repetitions, divided into several sets

Exercise 2: Imitation exercise

Movements similar to swinging ski poles back and forth while skiing with small, additional weights, 40-60 repetitions, divided into several sets

Übung 3: Pull-up from a standing position or with Theraband

20-30 repetitions, divided into several sets

Circuit Training in a Group

Circuit training is suitable for groups who want to train their strength endurance together and get fit for winter. Depending on the type of sport and the intensity of the exercises, the duration of stay at the individual stations is between 30 and 60 seconds or at least 20 repetitions at medium speed. The stations are set up so that the muscle groups are trained in alternating sequences. The break between stations is 1:1 in relation to working time for recreational athletes, while the break is slightly shorter for competitive athletes. For strength endurance circuits, on the other hand, the method of maximum repetitions is used.

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