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How a good skier trains

Sports trainer Pasquale Marrama talks about pre-season workouts

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Doing the best possible training for the ski season is vitally important for two reasons: it improves your athletic performance and reduces the risk of injury to a minimum. Whether you ski competitively or just for fun, there are various things to do before taking to the slopes. We asked ski trainer Pasquale Marrama to tell us more.   

Pasquale, how do you train for skiing? 

“My kids, aged from 8 to 12, work all year round on their “conditioning”, i.e. strength, stamina, speed and flexibility. In their summer session, they do physical tests, mainly jumping, throwing and running. They do other things but these are the most important. We’re talking about the standing long jump, standing 5 bounds with feet kept together and forward and overhead medicine ball throwing, with which we develop the kinetic chain starting with the legs, back and arms. For running, they do the Cooper test (Ed.: in which the athlete has to run as far as possible in 12 minutes) and other tests to develop speed and coordination. This is all repeated at the end of the year to see what improvements have been made. It’s also backed up by functional training on proprioception, balance, foot sensitivity, movement in the air and anomalous situations, also useful when you fall.”   

What muscles are most involved in this sort of training? 

“In the lower body, the quadriceps, extensors and flexors of the leg, thighs and buttocks. To have these muscles well stabilized, you have to have a good pelvis. Then there’s work on the abdominal and lumbar muscles to prevent spine trauma. At competition level you even wear a special vest to compress the spine. You have to remember that the condition of the piste depends to a large extent on the type of snow. It can be extremely hard at times, which puts muscles, bones and joints under serious stress.”   

What sort of athletic exertion is involved in skiing?

“In theory, the effort is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic, in which oxygen is involved more or less directly in producing energy. So you have to train for both stamina and strength. When turning, with centrifugal force pushing you out, your muscles have to work really hard to keep you on your feet. In other words, if you’re physically strong, your athletic performance will be better. And the fitter you are physically, the less likely you are to get hurt. It’s not that you won’t fall (you probably will) but you’ll fall differently.”   

What are the most frequent accidents skiers are exposed to and can therefore try to avoid? 

“Knees and ankles are the most vulnerable parts. Sprains are always lying in wait. And you also have to beware of pulling muscles. When turning, depending how hard you carve the snow, or when moving your skis apart, having nicely elastic adductors, for example, helps to avoid pulling muscles. A good skier knows, for example, that the first run is just to warm up, and no more. It may not be part of popular wisdom but we ought to do it. While you’re doing a warm-up run, your joints are lubricating, getting ready to withstand stress that might be traumatic if suffered “cold”. Another part of the body we shouldn’t neglect are the shoulders: if you fall on soft snow, there’s a good chance you won’t hurt yourself, but if the snow is hard and you fall badly, you risk dislocations, subluxations, a broken collar bone. You should also remember that however well you train and warm up, you can’t always protect yourself against accidents, because they sometimes don’t depend on you. If someone collides with you on the piste, there’s not much you can do."

What advice would you give a skier ahead of the winter season?

“First of all, if you’re serious about sport, you’re serious about it anywhere, not just on the ski slopes. This entails a whole load of tasks and practices, whatever our sport is and wherever we are. We have to do a lot of aerobic work, do our utmost to develop an efficient cardiovascular system, run, strengthen both our lower and upper halves (good shoulders, deltoids and traps help athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury) and take training very seriously, as we said. This may sound brutal but it’s true, they’re exercises you either do before training or with your physiotherapist to recover from injury.”
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