The New Steady Ski for Nordic
Like me, you've probably heard about "core strength" and how it's important for skiing. I'd recently received a set of recommended core strength exercises from my coach, Torbjorn Karslen. He said that he'd done a core strength session with Becky Scott and finally realized what a great workout it was. Unfortunately, he never supplied an explanation about why it was important or how it was different than just working the abs.
Then along comes Douglas Garfield's book, "The New Steady Ski for Nordic Athletes" to answer my questions.
Balance, Stabilization, Strength
Doug's book essentially argues that to maximize speed and glide, a skier needs good balance. To maintain balance over time, you need strong stabilizing muscles. If you don't have good core strength (my term, not Doug's), you can't be "steady" on your skis. Instead, you'll wasting energy using your extremities for balance rather then letting dedicating those muscles for propulsion. Finally, the more functional strength you have, the more successful you'll be.
The second chapter goes into quite a bit of detail about how a process called "proprioception" helps the body balances itself. He describes what muscles provide stability and power, and proposes that the "tranversus abdominis" (TrA) is the stability muscle you can recruit into action for additional core support when you need it. The chapter also describes how to recruit the TrA - necessary for all the exercises later in the book.
Beyond balance and stabilization, Doug also introduces an evolutionary change to the progressive-resistance exercises (e.g., doing 3 sets of 10 reps on a weight machine) called RepMotions.
Traditional progressive-resistance exercises use a full range of motion. Take a chest press: you push the weight all the way away from your chest in one full motion, then return it to your chest in a second, continuous motion.
RepMotions, in contrast, varies the range of motion, from full motion to progressive motions. At it's simplest, RepMotion is consist of a set of starts and stops throughout the traditional full range of motion. Each time you stop, you switch from eccentric (lengthening) to concentric (shortening) contractions. Your muscles must brake, slow, and stop. The more times this happens the more physiological stress there is on your muscles at different points in the range of motion. Essentially, this lets you train harder with less weight.
Doug shows five different RepMotions that increase with physiological intensity using the same amount of resistance. These motions include variations of the start-stop-continue I described above, to start-reverse, to pulsing. I've tried these - I was unable to complete any of them with the weight I would normally use during full-range-of-motion strength exercises. I had to reduce the resistance.
Eleven recommended training guidelines guide you through the successful employment of RepMotions in your own strength workouts.
Doug designed an efficient workout program for average racers or fitness skiers: three 20 minute circuits during the off season, two 20 minute circuits during the snow months. All the exercises can be done in front of a TV and without any special equipment - which is exactly where I've been doing them. (They also keep the wife amused).
A typical circuit session consists of 8 exercises from a set of 20: 4 balance, 5 primary stabilization, 6 secondary stabilization, and 5 strength (he combines them into 8 circuits for variety or to stress certain aspects over others). Most of the exercises have harder and easier variations, so you can progress with them over time.
If you go to the gym, to can add weight machines and free weights to the mix, using RepMotions in addition to or as a replacement for full-range motions.
For me, I've been mainly doing his balance/stabilization circuits in front of the TV, and have been experimenting with RepMotions at the gym. Unfortunately, my gym time has been eaten into by all the travel I've been doing for work recently. I haven't been able to do many strength sessions, so I haven't been able to do much more than get an initial feeling for RepMotions. I will say that being able to get a hard weight workout in while using smaller weights is a huge benefit to those of us who get a little nervous trying to balance heavy weights.
Doug's book (and the excellent introduction by Zach Caldwell) have convinced me more than I ever thought that I must actively work on balance and stability drills to be a better skier. I plan to actively experiment with the RepMotions concepts, in particular because I think they may help me over certain strength training plateaus I seem to have reached. Bottom line: I think this book is a worthwhile addition to your library, and may even make you a better skier!
You may order the book here.
Full disclosure: After I had already decided to write a review of this book, Doug contacted me and offered to provide a copy of his book each winter month to a a random author of a Trail Report submission.