It’s another transition season. If you ski or snowboard, you can still use the rest of the season to improve your speed, tricks and technique. If you’re a cyclist, mountain biker, hiker, climber or runner, you’ve got to start training for the coming season.
Don’t dismiss training because you don’t compete. Working out and training for your sport will give you the pleasure of improvement. More importantly, a well-trained active person is less likely to get injured. If you’re not in shape, eventually you’ll go down.
Jesse Hunt knows this well. He was alpine director of the U.S. Ski Team for many years and saw some racers wash out while others rose through the ranks until they reached Olympic glory. The basic truths he knows apply to athletes in every sport, whether beginner or elite.
Hunt is now director of the Park City Ski Team, often called the “feeder” for the national team. For alpine skiers, he says, “Physical prep is very important for strength and power. The PCST is skiing until the middle of April, and then they … get some active rest. Active rest is not doing their regular organized workouts. It’s staying active … running and playing other activities. It’s important that athletes don’t do nothing.”
Hunt explains that in a short cycle of training—like a week where you do upper body one workout, then lower body the next, then sport-specific training—every good athlete will build in an active rest period. He says, “It’s so [you] can recharge and recover, then raise up your level. Training in a periodized plan, a rest is required so you can … recover.”
Serious athletes usually go for five days on and two days off to allow their bodies to recover. If you work out every day, or if you work the same body parts five days at a time, you actually wear out your ability to recover, a condition medically described as “overtraining.” Instead of getting stronger from your training, you’ll actually get weaker.
Overtraining can be avoided with the right kind of workouts, called “periodization.” You start slowly building up your body for your sport, beginning with overall conditioning so you eliminate weak areas. Gradually, you add more intensity and higher levels of resistance, becoming stronger and more effective at the requirements of your activity.
This means keeping a thorough training diary. You can’t just go to the gym and do whatever exercises strike your fancy, nor can you go out for a ride or run and say you’ll do so many miles or so much time. If you don’t have a written record of what you do with each training session, you’ll forget what you’ve done. If you don’t write down what you intend to do with each session, you won’t have a plan to follow.
You also have to allow your body to recuperate, just to re-energize. If, like ski racers, you’ve been working out all season, you need a long break. Hunt’s athletes, whether the younger ones on PCST or those on the U.S. team, take about a four week break of active rest. Then they start from the beginning again, slowly, with aerobic activities first, before getting back into strength work. Strength and power are the essential qualities of ski racing, as they are in mountain biking or football.
But that kind of training wouldn’t be best for endurance athletes: marathoners, cross-country skiers or cyclists. Hunt says they “would do much more aerobic work. In our sport, strength and power is important, so we’re going to be training for that.”
Your training should also match your goals. If you’re just doing a sport for fun, not competing or trying to move up a level, you don’t have to work out with as much intensity as a more serious athlete would.
Hunt’s advice can be used by active people who do a sport once in a while, or by elites hoping to compete internationally. He says, “Train for the kind of athlete you are or want to be. Whatever the sport requirements are, you want to train, build up for those areas.”