Is cycling enough?
I am often asked, “If I cycle this autumn, will I be ready for ski season?” The short answer: no.
Let’s look at the general muscle actions of downhill sports – alpine and telemark skiing, snowboarding. These sports have their differences, but also have something in common. Research has demonstrated that eccentricstrength is crucial for skiing and downhill sports. Cycling builds concentric strength, and while both concentric and eccentric strength is needed for a successful winter season on the slopes, eccentric strength is key.
Positive and negative strength building
Think of concentric strength as ‘positive’ strength. This is the strength you use to stand up from a squat, or hike up a steep hill. Eccentric strength is ‘negative’ strength. You use eccentric strength to lower yourself into a squat, and hike down a steep hill. Eccentric strength absorbs force, and downhill sports primarily demand eccentric strength.
To produce a braking force when you descend a hill, you need eccentric strength that strength training in the pre-season can provide.
Strength training is key
Add some strength training to your pre-season program, such as squats and lunges. To build eccentric strength, I suggest intervals that include squat jumps and/or box jumps, landing in a squat position when jumping off the box. Add some forward and side planks to help build the necessary core strength.
Anaerobic training is important
Additionally, while cycling can build good leg strength, it is primarily an aerobic activity. Downhill sports are highly anaerobic in nature, meaning the demand of the effort exceeds the supply of oxygen, and that is why building your anaerobic base in the pre-season is important.
To build anaerobic capacity, perform exercises that require short bursts of effort, such as quick side shuffle steps between two cones or jumping over an obstacle side to side. Begin with 20-second intervals repeated four to six times, building up to a minute (with the same time between sets for recovery). This will also help build the lateral stability components involved in downhill sports.
So, by all means, keep cycling until the snow plows arrive, but you need to supplement this with more specific training to be ready for your downhill sports this coming winter.