About this time every year, as the reports of first snowfalls dusting Western peaks arrive, desk-bound urban skiers begin to daydream. Perhaps they start looking at season passes, scroll through ski videos on their lunch break, or begin blocking off potential weekends with their buddies. But pretty soon they glance down at their legs and wonder: Will they be ready?
Fitness for skiing season is a unique thing. You need to be in generally good shape overall, but it also requires a specific sort of strength and balance and demands a lot of infrequently used muscles that are stressed by irregular angles and forces. It's not just the big, obvious muscle groups of the lower body that come into play either: The small, stabilizing ones responsible for balance and proprioception - basically active balance and awareness of your body in space - are crucial, not just for keeping you going all day long, but for keeping knees and hips safe from injury.
To get those muscles ready, you need to train for what's known as eccentric strength. Think of it as training the negative, as in the way your leg muscles feel when you're running downhill rather than up one. That's what skiing requires. And even if you're an active person who's spent the summer engaging in other activities, there's no guarantee that your first big day on the slopes won't knock you flat. Who wants to put in the effort and expense of going on a four-day, destination ski trip only to find that their body can handle only two days?
That is how I find myself on a recent, drizzly Thursday evening in a basement fitness studio underneath a Dunkin' Donuts in Scarsdale, New York, grunting and sweating while sitting on a Bosu ball. I'm there for a 45-minute Shred Fitness class, one of a small number of ski-inspired workouts available. It's based around a framework that will be familiar to anyone who's done a high-intensity interval-training class (HIIT): a series of exercises done for short intervals.
In this case, the class works through five movements for a minute each, followed by a five-minute cardio interval on a specialized machine called Skier's Edge. Then the cycle is repeated three times. Kim Kaplan, a trainer who has been working at Shred since it opened in April, offers up-tempo encouragement through a microphone headset: "Feel that burn! We're moving to the machines in 10 seconds."
Shred is the brainchild of Caroline Levere, 27, a lifelong skier who had worked in fitness and came up with the idea while in business school. "I looked at all the different boutique fitness classes people were doing, whether it was spinning or boxing or rowing, but there was nothing tailored to skiing," she tells me. "And I thought: You could have a ski-inspired workout that's easy on the joints, hit muscles you don't in any other class, and have fun doing it."
Kaplan designed the program after consulting skiing instructors and trainers, including some who work with the U.S. ski team, and geared it toward those little-used muscles. The workout targets the legs and core, and many movements have a balance component, often thanks to the Bosu ball. We did split squats, Russian twists, balancing deadlifts, side lunges, planks, thrusters, mountain climbers, and balancing shoulder presses, to name just a few. A lot of these exercises reinforce something skiers often forget when preparing for the season: The legs are only one piece of the puzzle.
But the secret weapon of this workout is Skier's Edge, which is the closest I've seen a gym machine come to replicating the motions of skiing. You step onto two independently swiveling platforms that are attached to huge resistance bands, and then slide along two curved tubes for a leg-burning, balance-challenging, sweat-inducing cardio workout. Used by the U.S. and other national ski teams for training, I found it to be incredibly adept at working the knees, hips, and groin, areas full of small stabilizer muscles essential for skiing and, more important, for not getting hurt skiing.
The machine is not new. (A Los Angeles Times review from 1988, around the time of its launch, called it "a new indoor exercise machine that duplicates the lateral motion of downhill skiing.") But unless you were to purchase one, the machine has not been widely accessible outside specialized training centers and rehab facilities, where it is used for knee and hip rehabilitation. Shred is the first step toward bringing Skier's Edge into the ClassPass era.
And while skiers have long amped up their leg training heading into a season, the existing crop of ski-specific training programs - such things as Alpine Training Center, Mountain Tactical Institute, and Gym Jones - tend to cluster in mountain towns and are mostly geared toward athletes at the more elite end of the spectrum.
Shred aims at a different market. Workouts today are built around all sorts of obscure sports, but "not everyone who takes a spin class is going to ride outside, and not everyone who does a boxing workout really wants to box," Levere says. "And it's definitely a workout that people who don't ski can enjoy and benefit from."
In other words, the target is the kind of people who might take a Peloton or Barry's Bootcamp class but are looking to change things with a new workout. And at $27 per class, Shred is slightly less expensive than either of those. One woman in my class, who has attended a couple of classes weekly since August, was on a mission to fit into a certain dress for her son's Bar Mitzvah next spring. She notes that she's already lost inches from her hips.
"You'll really feel the lateral workout, especially in the hips and groin," Kaplan, the trainer, warns before we start. And as we approach the end of the workout, I certainly feel it in those areas, and I'll be sore for days after the workout. By the time we get to the 5-minute, ab-burning core workout at the end of the class, I'm totally spent.
Colorado's Arapahoe Basin, historically one of the earliest mountains in the country to open, plans to welcome skiers soon. But I'll be aiming for a slightly later start date to my ski season - I need to get a few more training sessions under my belt first.Click for more trending news
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