When the snow starts falling, it's natural to want to grab our skis and hit the trails with unbridled enthusiasm. We've waited patiently through the fall months for the flakes to drop, and now here they are here, we want to ski! Early season injuries are commonplace, and typically related to training error.
Tendinitis is usually a 'too much too soon' phenomenon, and can be stubborn to get rid of. Shin splints, tennis and golfer's elbow, low back pain, ankle and shoulder strains, hip flexor and groin strains are all common early season issues in XC skiers. If we subject out tissues to too much load before they are conditioned to handle it, then we run the risk of injury.
We can quantify load by looking at how much force we subject a given tissue to, and how often we subject that tissue to that force. So it's easy to see that weakness in an area, or simply over zealous training frequency or volume can lead to problems. Our muscles and tendons adapt slowly, and we must be cognisent that this takes time. A progressive but gradual increase in loading is what's needed, interspersed with periods of rest and recovery to allow adaptations to take place.
One of the best ways to prepare for the ski season is to hit the gym. If I'm honest, most people I talk to in endurance sports would rather be outdoors doing their thing, than locked in the weights room for hours, but there really is no doubt that a bit of pre-season strength training can not only help to improve our performance out there on the snow, but can dramatically reduce the risk of injury.
A recent paper in the BJSM, Lauersen et al looked at just this aspect of training in a large systematic review of over 26,000 participants. They showed that strength training reduced the frequency of sports injuries to less than one third, and that around 50% of overuse injuries could be prevented by adequate strength training. These are pretty compelling stats.
An earlier paper in Endurance Training: Science & Practice in 2012 looked at strength training in untrained, trained and elite level endurance athletes. They showed that strength training has the ability to change our muscle fibre type from fast-twitch type IIX fibres to more fatigue resistant type IIA fibres, along with important improvements in tendon stiffness and neuromuscular function, which are associated with better performance.
Finally, Ronnestad et al, in Scand J Med Sci Sport, 2014, showed that heavy and explosive strength training could improve exercise economy, lactate threshold, maximal speed, anaerobic capacity and reduce fatigue in endurance activities, all important metrics.
The bottom line here is that strength training can not only make us better skiers and runners, but can significantly reduce our risk of injury.
In the next post, I will take a look at exactly what this kind of training might look like.
(This article will appear in a modified form in Skitrax magazine)