An Olympic dress rehearsal recently took place in Park City, Utah. The planet’s best skiers and snowboarders hit Park City Mountain Resort for the Grand Prix, an official halfpipe and slopestyle qualifier for next year’s Sochi Games. At nearby Deer Valley, the world’s top freestyle skiers fought for World Cup points in aerials and moguls.
Athletes in the different sports flipped and spun high in the air, seeming to defy the laws of physics. To do their awesome tricks, they all had one thing in common: a strong core.
“They would not be able to do their sport if they didn’t have a really strong core. Our athletes work every [body part], but especially the core and low back,” says Tschana Schiller, senior physiologist and strength conditioning coach with U.S. ski team.
Shiller adds that core training isn’t only for elite athletes. “If you want to be a better skier or snowboarder, core stabilization exercises would be the first exercises to do. A simple plank or elbow bridge position is great to start with. There are so many core muscles I couldn’t pick just one that’s most important, they all work together. Anything that acts on the pelvis is part of the core; even your lats are part of that,” she says.
Hanging together and watching the aerials at Deer Valley were four famous Olympians: Tommy Moe, Doug Lewis, Donna Weinbrecht, and Shannon Bahrke. Moe and Lewis still race in celebrity ski events. For the past 10 years, Lewis has been a national pacesetter for Nastar, the recreational race event at dozens of resorts across the country.
Lewis says, “Racers today are so much faster and stronger. It’s become a power sport.” The biggest reason for the change is that coaches and trainers have realized the importance of core training.
That’s true for snowboarders as well. “Every trick is started and finished through the core. Total body strength is important, but a strong and coordinated core is vital to a high level of snowboarding success,” explains Jacob Levine, head coach of Team Utah, Park City, a statewide competitive snowboard club that competes in all snowboard disciplines.
Levine and other elite coaches have a new term for the kind of core training done by their athletes: “Yogalates,” a combination of yoga and Pilates. If you’re a regular skier or snowboarder, you may not have access to the foam block pits which elite athletes use to perfect their flips and twists without risk of injury. But you can still use the same exercises to build, strengthen and stabilize your core.
You won’t even need a gym for one of the most valuable pieces of equipment for core work: an exercise ball. Use it to exercise one of the most neglected parts of the core; the spinal erectors. These are columns of muscle on each side of the spine that help hold the back erect. They are thickest, and thus most powerful, in the lower back region.
To work your spinal erectors, lay face down with the ball under your hips and thighs. Lower your torso over the ball, then lift it in line with your glutes and hold the position for at least 30 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
To build strength in your obliques, the muscles at the sides of the abs, brace the ball in a corner and kneel on it. Twist your torso from side to side. To make this exercise even more effective, hold a dumbbell or weighted ball in your hands while rotating your torso.
Even if you don’t plan on making the Olympic team, strengthening your core will make an amazing improvement in your athletic ability on snow.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly. For the latest in adventure sports and physical conditioning, visit Adventure Sports Weekly at http://adventuresportsweekly.com.
Distributed by MCT Information Services