The Weight For Winter

No snow no matter for winter sports athletes

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Place two sticks on the ground in a cross or a diagonal position. Now, with both feet, create a routine where you jump from one space to the next.

It's a test of agility a movement of ease and speed that will increase your coordination, balance and focus for skiing.

This is just one exercise that the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes are enduring to help them become some of the best athletes and racers in the world.

When the Winter Sports Club athletes aren't speed hiking to the top of Emerald Mountain in 30 minutes or mountain biking up Buffalo Pass in two hours, they're moving from one station to the next in the weight room lifting hundreds of pounds.

Dry land fitness training for winter sports has begun but not only for young athletes who choose to compete.

For instance, the agility test can be done at home for everyday skiers who don't have competition in mind.

Fitness experts say beefing up the exercise regimen now will help prevent injury and build solid muscles for the winter sports.

Chris Voyvodic, fitness trainer at Steamboat Springs Health & Recreation, said think about the training movements, not the muscles.

"Everyone in this town is an athlete. Everyone wants to do their best out on the mountain," Voyvodic said.

Bernice Trujillo, manager of Curves for Women, said initial conditioning should begin four to six weeks before the snow begins to stick.

"People need to really get started just so that you don't stress the muscles," Trujillo said.

Beginning an exercise regimen for winter sports slowly will help prevent injury, Trujillo said.

Cardiovascular training, resistance exercises and continual stretching will keep the body in peak fitness condition, Trujillo said. But every person's individual fitness level is different and overexertion can also lead to injury.

For winter sports fitness training Trujillo said one tends to work out the lower body more because those are the muscle groups used.

However, Winter Sports Club Alpine director Tony Nunnikhoven said people can't forget about the abdominal muscles and triceps.

"We do cherry pickers, hot doggers and whatever other name we have for increasing ab strength," Nunnikhoven said. "We would prefer to have a balanced physiology."

Voyvodic said training in an unstable environment before heading out to ski will provide winter sports enthusiasts with the experience of what may come up during daily runs.

"Then, your joints will be ready for it. You know those times when you just can't pull it together, you can't make another run, but your not tired? It's the little muscles, the stabilizers and neutralizers, that are tired," Voyvodic said.

Stabilizers help the joints stay strong, while neutralizers help your position in space.

Nunnikhoven said August through November is the prep cycle of the season when cardiovascular activities, weight training and balancing skills are of critical importance to building the body of a racer.

Nunnikhoven teaches in two segments: full-range motion training (or free weight training) and proprioceptive movement (or balancing skills).

Steamboat Health & Rec provides a Dynadisc, a square-shaped rubber object that people stand on to attain balance.

Voyvodic also teaches a ski fitness class at the Health & Rec that provides a workout complete with balance, coordination, power and endurance.

Nunnikhoven said the largest percent of the athlete's workout is free weight training because much of skiing is resistance.

A balance routine on a Swiss ball, sit-ups on an incline, squats and lunges with weights and agility work are other workouts helpful to increasing muscle strength and balance.

For those with no inclination to ski but who want to participate in an outdoor winter activity, Trujillo said snowshoeing is one of the best cardiovascular workouts people can do.

"It's one of the best exercises as far as burning calories. There's where your aerobic comes in," Trujillo said.

Nunnikhoven said getting the heart rate into the target zone for a long period of time increases endurance a key attribute for skiers.

"A cross-training mentality is really important mountain bike, hike. If you're in general fit condition, great," Nunnikhoven said.

Major skiing muscles include quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abdomen and gluteus. Nunnikhoven said hiking and mountain biking work most of those muscles.

But no matter what the exercise, stretching is of utmost importance in order to prevent injury, fitness experts said.

Trujillo advised athletes to stretch the antagonist muscles those muscles in the back that don't get much attention but can be critical in the length of your ski season.

"I see a lot of knee injuries in Steamboat. People have a tendency not to work the back of the leg," Trujillo said of the hamstring. "I call it 'hamstrung.'"

Nunnikhoven recommends not stretching the neck and staying away from those exercises that will put stress on the lower back.

"A thorough and basic stretch routine for 10 to 15 minutes once or twice a day is awesome," Nunnikhoven said.

Nunnikhoven and Trujillo agreed that resting a certain system in the body is crucial to building muscle and staying fit. That's why many exercise regimens include resistance training, or weight training one day, while the next includes an intense aerobic workout.

But when ski season actually begins, Voyvodic recommends decreasing the balancing exercises because it may overtax those little muscles.

However, it is important for the weekend skier to keep working out during the week, Voyvodic said.

"More is not necessarily better, but quality," Voyvodic said.

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