Alpine skiing is a complex sport that requires high levels of technical skill and physical fitness to counteract the internal and external forces placed on the body during a run. The development of a high level of overall physical fitness and athleticism is critical to becoming competitive at the international level.
Skiers need to be active year-round through participation in complementary sports to develop the standard of athleticism and physical fitness required to be successful in ski racing.
The physical demands of ski racing require aerobic endurance, stamina, strength, power, agility, balance and coordination. These physical skills should be developed from a young age to lifelong enjoyment of skiing and sports.
ACA FITNESS COMBINEThe ACA Fitness Combine aims to implement a system-wide standardized testing protocol to ensure Canadian skiers are developing ski-specific physical fitness abilities as they progress through the athlete development pathway while tracking the progression of skiers.
The development of general physical fitness is a necessary component for elite ski racers. Physical literacy, the establishment of efficient fundamental movement patterns in coordination in various situations, and the development of general strength, power, and endurance are critical neuromuscular and physiological capacities required of elite-level ski racers.
An athlete's fitness level will either support or inhibit technical skill development by greatly influencing their ability to tolerate the training volumes required across different stages of development.
Analysis and research have shown that the following physical fitness factors are characteristic of the top ski racers:
- Good aerobic work capacity (high maximal oxygen uptake/VO2Max)
- Great muscular strength in terms of dynamic muscle function
- Significantly prolonged muscular endurance, in terms of dynamic muscle function in given submaximal work
- Well-developed muscular coordination
There may be certain situations where teams have access to more sophisticated testing methods. This nationwide physical fitness combine program does not prevent the inclusion of additional testing. Instead, it provides guidelines for benchmarking ski-specific fitness abilities that are important for all ski racers in the development pathway. A coach can use the data gathered from each test to determine an athlete's starting point more accurately with their developmental and physical fitness stages and track subsequent progress through re-evaluation. This will promote the construction of an appropriate training program that serves the athlete's needs in the context of their sport, ski racing, and is suitable for the athlete's capabilities.
In summary, the ACA Fitness Combine protocol represents a critical step forward in Canadian alpine ski racing. Standardized physical fitness testing implemented across various stages of development contribute to this cohesive pathway. A development pathway is not a series of independent stops as a skier ascends the ranks to international competition. Instead, it should be one continuous effort on behalf of all stakeholders to provide a fun, cohesive and exhilarating experience for all athletes.
KEY FITNESS COMPONENTS
Ski racing consists of several disciplines, which vary in duration, the number of changes in direction, type of terrain, type of snow surface, jumps and course sets.At each stage of development, physical fitness is paramount. By the time ski racers enter the Train to Race and Race to Win stages, they must have a high level of physical fitness to tolerate the 130 - 150 days of training and competition required to become the best.
The length of a single run, as described by Gilgien, M. et al., 2018 helps to show some of the differences between the different disciplines:
- Slalom races average 52 seconds with an average and maximal speed of 54 km/h.
- Giant slalom races average 77 seconds and average/maximal speed of 65/85 km/h.
- Super G races average 93 seconds with an average/maximal speed of 86/110 km/h.
- Downhills average 121 seconds with average/maximal speeds of 94/150 km/h
Improvements in slope preparation, ski equipment, course design and the near-perfect execution of skiing skill required to be the best on race day need ski racers of all ages to be in top physical shape to withstand the ground reaction forces placed on the body during alpine, para-alpine and ski cross training and competition. Ground reaction force can vary between disciplines. In slalom, when the ski racer performs a short-arc turn, lasting about 0.8 of a second, there is a sharp increase in maximal ground reaction force reaching about four times their body weight. In giant slalom turns lasting about 1.4 seconds in length result in maximal ground reaction forces approximately 3.2 times the ski racers body weight (Gilgien, M et al., 2018). In Super G and downhill, the turns last about 2.3 seconds resulting in a smooth increase in ground reaction force peaking at 2.6 times body weight similar to the ground reaction force felt in downhill. In Super G, about 20% of the run is spent tucking without turn versus DH where approximately 45% of the time is spent tucking (Gilgien, M. et al., 2018).
All around training programs that enhance movement mechanics, improve functional abilities and increase muscle strength can be an effective strategy for the reduction of sport-related injuries in young ski racers (Lloyd et al., 2016). Participation in strength training throughout all stages of development not only strengthens the muscles and connective tissues it can make ski racer more capable of sustaining higher external forces, which can reduce the chances of soft-tissue injury (Lloyd et al., 2016).
Ski racers focus on training strength and core stability, power, aerobic and anaerobic endurance, agility, balance, coordination (motor skills) and mobility. The training plans for ski racers are adjusted to meet individual needs and requirements. For example, a speed specialist (DH/SG) will focus more on training endurance and strength versus a technical specialist (SL/GS) that focuses on the development of quickness and power (Gilgien, M. et al., 2018). Adjustments to training plans for injured or return to snow racers occurs in collaboration with a sports medicine professional.Participating in complementary sports is an excellent supplement to the sport specific training completed on snow and in the gym.
Required physical fitness capacities for alpine skiing include:
- Muscular strength (maximal strength, strength endurance, and stability).
- Energy Systems (aerobic and anaerobic capacity)
- Movement Competencies (mobility)
A brief description of how to best prepare physically fit ski racers for success at the international levels of ski racing can be found in each stage:
Physical Training for Para-AlpineMuch like the development of a long-term plan for skiing, the same must be looked at for a participant's or athlete's physical aspect. For the Para-Athlete, we must make specific considerations based on the physical impairment of the individual. It is necessary to realize that every aspect of the program will be considered individually due to the differences between each athlete’s needs. Training does not differ from an able-bodied regimen. However, extra considerations should be taken into account for each category.
Goals: develop proprioceptive awareness and balance to increase confidence in spatial moving, if possible, improve chemistry and communication with a guide.
- Not usually any physical restrictions, no modifications to testing procedures.
- Need to educate and progress from bodyweight movements to movements with external objects and object manipulation.
- Landing and jumping progressions can help build spatial awareness, increasing balance and coordination.
- Outdoor conditioning workouts will most often require a guide with experience.
Goals: Develop and improve sitting positioning, balance, core strength, scapular, rotator cuff and potentially hip stabilizers.
SAFETY: gain awareness of their ASIA (American Spinal Injury Association) status and lesion level. Before starting a program, gain a clear understanding of their current function (both sensation and motor).
- Orthostatic hypertension: gradually change positions.
- Autonomic dysreflexia (T6 and above): ensure they have used the washroom before their workouts and there are no bladder infections, restrictive clothes or other potentially noxious stimuli present.
- Respiratory function: do they need an assisted cough?
- Caution with overtraining as this will affect their ability to carry out activities of daily living.
- They may need more help than usual with moving themselves and equipment around the weight room or training area.
- Be aware of areas without feeling and rubbing pressure points during specific movements.
Goals: Address muscular imbalances that may occur. Engage and encourage proper movement patterns, but understand that they may not be perfect.
SAFETY: If working with an amputee, ensure that skin care is managed, particularly if training in a hot environment.
- Understand the differences in each athlete's range of motion, strength and optimal positioning.
- All of the facets of training (strength, power, agility, etc.) can be trained; however, they all may look different between athletes and possibly within an athlete (i.e. left and right sides).
- Some athletes (e.g. Cerebral Palsy or stroke) may need different movements for each side of their body, don’t neglect the less functioning side.
The coaching and integrated support staff (IST) must communicate and know each athlete’s functional status, technical levels and abilities. This will allow for better flow and alignment of physical, tactical, mental and technical development to create the best possible environment for maximal overall growth.
Gilgien, Matthias & Reid, Robert & Raschner, Christian & Supej, Matej & Holmberg, Hans-Christer. (2018). The Training of Olympic Alpine Ski Racers. Frontiers in Physiology. 9. 10.3389/fphys.2018.01772.
Lloyd RS, Cronin JB, Faigenbaum AD, Haff GG, Howard R, Kraemer WJ, Micheli LJ, Myer GD, Oliver JL. (2016) National Strength and Conditioning Association Position Statement on Long-Term Athletic Development. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jun;30(6):1491-509. https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/NSCA_Position_Statement_on_LTAD/