Strength Training for Adventure

A few years ago, I loaded up a Subaru Impreza with all my belongings, grinning dog in the seat next to me, and drove halfway across the country from Ohio to Denver, Colorado. I’ve always loved snowboarding and knew I would one day make my home in the Rockies.
That first winter was challenging in good ways and bad.
I learned that altitude is no joke and was humbled by my first hike in Golden Gate Canyon. I thought I was in shape, but that little two mile out-and-back trail left me sucking wind. Months later, just sliding on a snowboard down a snowy ski run still left me out of breath, too. My legs were on fire those first couple runs, and I had to take breaks in the lodge more often than I’d have liked to hydrate and recover. Even with all the breaks, I felt sore as hell after a day of snowboarding.

Nothing is worse than not wanting to go back out on the mountain because you’re sore and tired.
I knew that if I was going to enjoy all of the outdoor recreation in my new backyard, I would have to focus my training on a couple key areas: strength, coordination, and conditioning.
You see, everything in life – from skiing or snowboarding to carrying your groceries upstairs to your apartment – everything is easier the stronger you are relative to your size (aka “relative” strength).

How To Design Workouts To Get Better At The Things You Love To Do

To improve for your next season there are a few key areas to focus your off-season training. In order to take less breaks, you need to build aerobic (cardio) capacity. If you didn’t want to feel sore, you need to get stronger so your muscles don’t wear out as quickly. Most sports, including skiing, also rely heavily on coordination and balance, which can be improved with core training.
Focusing on those key areas (strength, core, conditioning) during the off-season will improve your ability to perform nearly any sport or outdoor activity, allowing you to enjoy all of your adventures to the fullest.

A basic strength and conditioning program for outdoor recreation should include 2-3 days of weight lifting, 2-3 days of conditioning, and an emphasis on bodyweight and core-strengthening exercises. You should also incorporate the sport you’re training for into your plan, if possible. Because the only way to get better at a skill is to practice it.

To apply that basic template to snowboarding, here’s what my training looked like that spring.

  • Monday: Barbell squats (anterior leg strength) and conditioning (usually rowing on an erg)
    Tuesday: Explosive power training (olympic lifting, box jumps, kettlebell swings)
    Wednesday: Mobility work for recovery
    Thursday: Deadlifts (posterior leg strength) and single-leg work for balance/coordination
    Friday: Hit the mountains for a hike with the pup to better acclimate to the altitude
    Saturday: Whatever barbell lift I hadn’t covered yet that week, plus sprints
    Sunday: Rest and recovery

You can arrange things however it best fits your schedule, but for recovery purposes, I recommend working in blocks of 3-days-on-1-off or 2-days-on-1-off. Combining weightlifting and conditioning into the same workout allowed me to fit 3 sessions of each into my schedule while still enjoying climbing, hiking, and a rest day. Again, build your program so it fits your schedule.

Don’t Just Train – Take Care of Your Body

To round out your program, warm up with mobility drills as “pre-hab” to prevent injury, and incorporate bodyweight exercises (planks, push ups, pull ups, hanging leg raises) to build core strength. I couldn’t include any snowboarding in my program because ski resorts were closed for the summer, but I hiked and climbed to stay active in the mountains and prepare my body for altitude.
The following ski season, I noticed a night and day difference from the first. Partly because I’d acclimated to the altitude by then, sure. But for the most part, by training to eliminate the weaknesses I’d discovered that first season, I had become stronger on the mountain. I didn’t have to stop to rest mid-run or take breaks every hour. My legs didn’t burn after a couple runs. My core was stronger, my turns sharper, and my balance better. Terrain that had intimidated me the year before was a welcome challenge. And I didn’t have to hobble around on sore, tired legs the next day anymore.

Being strong makes a day on the slopes so much more enjoyable. Even better, your skiing/riding will progress much faster the stronger and better conditioned you become.
I learned a lot of things about myself during the past two ski seasons: altitude is a bitch; if you think you’re “in shape,” you probably have room for improvement; and a bad day on the mountain is better than a good day anywhere else.

Adventure is out there, you just have to be ready for it!

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