Dec. 05, 2012 - Issue #894-Upgrades in Motion: Convergence
The training life
Freestyle skiing, a year-round fitness commitment
In the summer, they devote their time to dry land training, water ramps and trampoline exercises like they would a full-time job.
In the winter, they're away from home for weeks on end training on location before each competition. And when they're not competing, the athletes are at home where they visit the gym six days a week and hit the slopes on the weekends.
It's a life of sacrifice and commitment. But it's one with a great reward.
Edmonton's Emilie Brown, a 17-year-old skier on the Alberta Mogul Team, says she wouldn't change her life of homework on the road, devoting evenings to the U of A gym, and spending weekends driving to and from Jasper to ski Marmot Basin.
"It's a lot of work," she admits, "but it's so rewarding. So, it's worth it."
This is the start of Brown's second season on the Alberta Team. In her first year competing at the provincial level, she finished second in Alberta. It was her best season yet and she hopes it will only get better, so she can prove herself worthy of the next level.
"I hope to be on the National Team one day, maybe not next season, but the season after that or in a couple of seasons," she says. "I think that would be pretty neat. It's definitely one of my goals."
To reach that goal, Brown knows that she has a lot of hard work ahead of her.
With the competitive season around the corner, she's already on the road, leaving her Edmonton home behind to begin training for the Canadian Selections at Apex Mountain.
Training camp for freestyle skiers includes full days on the hill.
"For the first week, we'll do a lot of jumping, just hiking the jumps over and over and over again until we get a good solid jump and get more confidence with our tricks," Brown explains. "Once the competition gets closer, we'll probably get into the mogul course and work strictly on moguls and then, a few days before the competition, we'll put it all together and do top to bottoms, which is like skiing an entire run and not breaking it up."
The Canadian Selections, which take place Dec. 13 to 16, are especially important for a young skier like Brown. "It's a competition where the national coaches evaluate every upcoming skier. ... They're almost scouting to see who's up and coming and who's next in line for the National Team," she says.
So, with that in mind, the pressure is on for her and her teammates to train hard in order to score a perfect run.
That training isn't limited to the hill, though, nor is it limited to the days leading up to a competition.
Lindsey Materi, Brown's strength and conditioning coach at the U of A, says there's a lot that goes into preparing a skiers body for a course.
Five to six days a week, while the athletes are at home, they visit the gym to do lunges, dead lifts, Olympic-style weight lifting, jump training (plyometrics), and cardio workouts, like bike sprints.
According to Materi, strength and endurance training is used to quicken an athlete's rate of force development – the speed at which an athlete is able to reach their peak level of force.
"In moguls, how fast you can produce that maximum force is going to be often more important than just the maximum force you can produce," he says.
So, Materi structures an athlete's workout to ensure that rate is always improving. One of the ways to do that is by including Olympic weight lifting exercises in an athlete's routine.
"If you look at the weight lifting movements … you're having to exert a large amount of force, but in order to create that momentum to get [the weight] to its end position, you have to do it very quickly, so that's one reason we utilize the weight lifting components with our freestyle skiers," he says.
Jump training, or plyometrics, is another way Materi helps athletes increase their rate of force development.
"Typically what we do for plyometrics is, we'll do jump variations, things like rudimentary jumps, hurtle jumps, side to side bench hops, things where there's a quick ground contact time with the objective of further decreasing that ground contact time.
"You're utilizing the stretch, shortening or stretch, elastic component within the muscle to create large forces more quickly," Materi explains.
When asked how strength training enhances her ability on a mogul course, Brown says it's the thing that keeps her in the game.
"In a sport like mogul skiing, there's a big chance of messing up because you're going super fast and you're trying to perfect so many different things within a run. If you have a strength foundation behind you, then it's a lot easier, if you mess up, to pull yourself back into it," she says. "So, the whole strength aspect is pretty important. Like, when we're landing jumps and getting right back into the moguls, if you don't have that basic strength there, you won't make a perfect landing and you won't be able to make it back in as quickly as you should."
For athletes, like Brown, it's important to maintain that level of strength year-round, so they're ready for the competitive season when it rolls around in December.
"It used to be in sports that you could ultimately peak for the competition at the end of the year and garner a lot of success, but with the qualification system now you have to be prepared right off the word go," explains Materi. "So, with each and every competition being an opportunity for points and gaining that access to the National Team by the end of the season ... by the time [the athletes] get on the snow, they essentially have to be ready to go to achieve early season results."
That's why freestyle skiers find themselves in the gym 12 months a year, and why there are dry land camps during the summer months.
According to Brown, the camp held each August is the most intense.
"We'll do a couple hours of trampoline in the morning and then we'll do about 20 jumps on the [water] ramps, which is a lot, and then we'll go back for lunch and we will do the same thing in the afternoon. So, trampoline and then water ramps and then, after that, dry land, which is yoga and either cardio or weights or bike sprints."
As a teenager, Materi says he likely wouldn't have been able to handle the responsibility and time commitment of such a training routine. "It always amazes me how well they manage their time. It's something I probably couldn't have handled at that age.
"It truly is a commitment level of a full time job, and then when you consider that these athletes are still at school full time and some of them even maintain a part time job on top of it, it's incredible what they can accomplish."
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