Why spend time in a gym when everything you need for pre-season downhill snow sports is right outside your door. It’s called Trail Bounding.
Pumping iron and sweating on gym equipment may be a fine fitness routine for many, but mountain athletes need more than strong quads and a steady heart. A good off-season training session should mimic the moves you make on the slopes. It should focus on quickness, power, agility, coordination, balance and flexibility. Does your gym program do all that? Probably not.
Trail bounding offers a smart training option for skiers and boarders who want to stay fit and improve technique in the off-season. Trail bounders use hiking paths, fallen logs, streams, boulders and hillsides as their training ground. They spring fluidly from foot to foot, hop over obstacles and absorb terrain changes the way skiers suck up moguls on variable snow.
Trail bounding is a form of kinesthetic training which promotes the body’s ability to learn by doing. Coupled with strength and agility, kinesthetic awareness is what separates a good skier form a great one. When an expert skier negotiates a tricky stretch of terrain, her body reacts intuitively; the moves have become second nature to her muscles and tendons. Similarly, the mind can be trained to read terrain and send the right messages to the muscles.
Like skiing, trail bounding is a series of explosive actions and reactions that tests an athlete’s ability to maintain balance on rapidly changing terrain. Soft sand, slick grass, wet rocks and gravel function like ice, bumps and crud: They for the athlete to absorb obstacles and react to visual cues. In other words, trail bounding programs the mind and body to function as they would on the slopes.
So, if you want to get a jump on your skiing and snowboarding skills this season, forget the gym. The only equipment you need to succeed on the slopes is outside your door.
Bounding on Flats
Balance through the feet
Skiers and boarders constantly shift pressure from the ball to the heel of the foot to help grip the snow via the ski or the board. To navigate uneven terrain, trail bounders vary pressure from heel to toe, developing under-foot sensitivity and ankle strength. They also work the quadricep, hamstring and calf muscles.
Begin by power walking, using a relaxed, rhythmic stride, and allowing the arm swing to set the pace. Don’t avoid obstacles. Instead, step on rocks, branches and twigs that dot the path. As you stride from object to object, notice how subtle pressure changes under foot—notice how it has an effect on balance.
Pick up the pace by taking short hops, springing off the ball of the foot. With practice, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable taking larger leaps and seeking our trickier obstacles.
Extending and absorbing
Downhill sports require quick and explosive contractions of the “fast-twitch” muscle fibers, which produce high levels of force for short periods of time. Bounding uphill trains the body to recruit the fast-twitch fibers of the lower back, quads, hamstrings and gluts. It’s an excellent cross-training exercise that helps develop leg strength for steep chutes and big moguls.
On steeper, more rugged terrain, focus on using one leg at a time for power as you climb. With the knee bent, load up the quad and the calf muscle and leap from one obstacle to the next. The moves should be smooth and efficient.
On very steep climbs, your bounding will no doubt slow down to a crawl. But that doesn’t mean that the muscles aren’t developing explosive strength. This is power training at its best, so keep charging ahead. Try to stay light on your feet by springing off the toes and work in short intervals of 30 to 120 seconds, followed by a two minute rest period of easy walking.
Skiers and boarders need quickness, agility and the ability to make rapid-fire side-to-side movements, especially on steeps and in gates. Bounding downhill is a lateral movement that works the hip flexors, groin, quadriceps and lower leg muscles. It also helps develop independent leg action, which is critical for quick edge changes on skis.
Practice on flat terrain before you begin to attack hills. Start by hopping side to side in quick bursts. As you jump onto the right foot, let the left foot follow the right through the air so both feet move from one side of the trail to the other. You should be able to hop for one minute before heading downhill.
To begin, practice in short downhill sections. At first, plan three to four moves. Then plan five to six. Eventually, you’ll learn to read and react to terrain faster so that your mind remains several steps ahead of your body.