Get your body ready to shreddy
By Erin Storck
Photo: Erin Storck
It’s that time to start dreaming about face shots and snorkel days. But do you physically feel ready to shred up AND down the mountain? I know many snowboarders who stay active throughout the summer months, whether it be trail running, biking (mountain, road, gravel), or rock climbing. But I know just as many who start the season frustrated because they don’t feel strong for skinning uphill or riding down on powder days. It will never be perfect because the most foolproof way to get ready for snowboard season, like anything else, is snowboarding itself! I do have a few tips to share that will make that transition this year a lot easier.
Splitboard conditioning isn’t just about building leg strength or just about cardio: it’s a combination. It is important to build up your aerobic base for long tours but also have full-body strength to support the climbing, the pack on your back and using your poles. Check out some of my fitness tips to jump-start your splitboard season.
Photo: Tommy Chandler
5 Fitness Tips (that you can do anywhere)
1. Aerobic base + speed training
This is your cardio exercises. First let’s define this mysterious aerobic base concept. There is a whole lot of exercise physiology that goes into this, but let's keep it simple. Aerobic means with oxygen. So this is your body’s ability to utilize oxygen and deliver it to your muscles and keep you skinning up that peak. A “bigger” aerobic base means that when your body starts to fatigue and produces lactate, your aerobic systems can eat it up (like a mid-skin track snack!), utilize that lactate to make energy and go faster for longer.
At some point, your lactate will surpass your body’s ability to use it, hence why having a better aerobic base is so beneficial. To accomplish this, it’s best to start training at lower intensity at or below your aerobic threshold.
Additionally, it is important to add in speed training (1x per week to start). This is going to make your stronger and has similar — but different effects to strength training. It will also teach your body what it is like to go fast.
So what are the benefits of different types of cardio training and their effects on backcountry ski conditioning?
Photo: Keith Fearnow
Trail running / hiking: This type of conditioning is probably the most direct and simple translation to backcountry ski conditioning. This activity helps to strengthen your heart muscle, it mimics the stride of skinning, and it is weight-bearing just like skinning and snowboarding.
Biking: Biking has been shown by many to also be effective. It does a great job at increasing your aerobic systems and building quad strength. I think the challenging part of biking is that it is not weight-bearing and has a different gait pattern. Different styles of biking are probably going to get stronger for backcountry snowboarding than others. Whether on a road bike, gravel bike or mountain bike, long slow rides to start are going to help with the aerobic base mentioned above and your body’s ability to withstand many hours of exertion. Make sure to incorporate some climbing (not just downhill) and some speed intervals along the way after you start building your foundation.
Combo!! This means splitting your time between running / hiking and biking, and is a winning choice for all you bikers / cyclists who never want to leave the saddle. This is also a great combination for the less experienced runner to build an aerobic base without excess load (aka, running) that your body isn’t accustomed to. No one wants a pre-season injury.
Photo: Steph Nitsch
2. Eccentric quad training
You mean just fast, heavy squats everyday, right? Well…there are other strategies that may translate better to ski and snowboard season. Eccentric muscle contraction can be thought of as the lowering phase of an exercise or when your muscle is lengthening. This is really important for the downhill portion touring, and no one wants to get tired when there are more face shots to be had. For lower body exercises, focus on tempo: think slower on the down and quicker on the up.
Example circuit (30s each exercise with 10s of rest in between, x3 sets)
- Air squat > Squat jump (with overhead reach)
- Split squat > Reverse lunge
- Mountain climber (drive your knees straight forward under chest)
Photo: Tommy Chandler
3. Core (abs, back and butt)
Your core is more than a chiseled (or hidden) 6-pack! Don't forget that you are carrying load (aka, your pack) with your avalanche gear and snacks. This makes it all the more important to build up your core strength and stabilize your body, especially for those icy kick turns. Don’t leave out your glutes (butt muscles) as they will really help you on the steep uphill section and booting up couloirs.
4. Rest and recovery days
Refueling, hydration, stretching and flexibility exercises will help with longevity both for the season and for life. Give your body some love. For most athletes, I recommend 1 day a week as a rest day, but remember to listen to your body. Use that down day to binge on snowboard videos to keep your stoke lit all winter.
5. Get you partners to join you
Who doesn’t work a little harder when they are with their buddy? Plus, you don't want your backcountry partner slowing you down!
Remember the snow will start falling before you expect it, so don't drag your feet and start today! If you have any more specific questions feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join me for a virtual pre-season conditioning program at The Front Climbing Club in Salt Lake City, Utah, starting October 19, 2020. This program is entirely online and uses the fitness portal called TrueCoach. All your workouts will be uploaded with videos and descriptions. You will also have access me at any time throughout the program. Front Climbing Club membership not required to participate. Plus, sign up by October 19 and receive 15% off the purchase of a new Pallas board. Click here to register or for more details.
Erin Storck is a personal trainer at The Front Climbing Club in Salt Lake City, Utah.