Tobin Seagel: Off-Season Training—Time to PlayWednesday, November 1, 2017
Going into winter, I usually like to feel strong and healthy. But no matter how hard I try to take care of myself during the ski season, by the end of it I usually feel pretty beat up. It’s usually just small pains here and there (knock on wood) but they can add up and start to take a toll. I know that if I don’t take care of the little things, they can end up causing big problems by the next winter. I think of the off-season as the start of the next ski season, so I take a structured approach to making sure I’m ready to go when the snow flies again.
I divide my off-season into three phases:
I try to spend a month not thinking about training, or skiing, or anything really. If I feel like going for a bike ride or a run, then great, but I keep any sort of structure or expectation out of the picture. It’s my chance to take a little mental and physical rest.
2. Summer Training
It’s hot and sunny and no one wants to go to the gym. Good thing we don’t need the gym to get fit. Bikes, yoga, climbing, trail running, and the lake are killer cross-training options for any skier. This article explores some of my favorite summer training activities.
3. Fall Training
In the Pacific Northwest where I live, fall is monsoon season. We might luck out with a few dry days for a ride or a climb outside, but summer is definitely in the rearview mirror and winter is on the doorstep. It’s time to put the hard work in at the gym. I follow a periodized gym training plan where all my fun summer training gets refined and focused on skiing. I’ll talk about this more in a future article.
So … here’s what I do in the summers to keep the winter dream alive.
I love the feeling of moving over rock. Weighting and then unweighting just slightly on a smear, stretching up to get that little hold, or pulling hard up overhanging pockets—climbing requires a huge amount of core strength, balance, proprioception, and problem solving. It also helps skiers in that it moves your muscles in all sorts of directions that help to balance things out after a long winter.
Also, for a ski mountaineer, climbing all summer and running it out above gear helps you keep your rope skills quick and your mind sharp. If you’re not comfortable with the exposure of skiing exposed lines, summer climbing is also a fun way to get used to that dizzying feeling.
I’m about as flexible as a 2x4. I’m not entirely sure why I avoided yoga for so long, but in hindsight I think that I was a little intimated by going to a class full of yogis and not knowing what I was doing. For a newbie, yoga can often feel like a weird game of “Simon Says” where Simon is speaking in tongue. “OK everyone, open up your Anahata Chakra.” Excuse me? Guys get flack for going to classes and looking around at the ladies, and I’m sure that happens, but some of us are actually looking around because we are COMPLETELY lost.
This year though, after a tough season of flat landings (my specialty) I ended up with a sore knee that I couldn’t shake for months. For years my physio had suggested I get a yoga practice going and this year the fear of a chronic knee injury finally convinced me to try and I checked out a free online session at home. The online instructor did a good job of explaining what was going on and I could pause the video when I inevitably got lost—plus I didn’t need to feel awkward about checking out anyone else in the room, because it was just me. My knee felt better the next day. I had another session, and it felt better still. I’ve now been practicing almost daily since the end of the ski season and I’m feeling more limber and agile than I have in a long time.
Mountain biking is the closest thing I’ve found to skiing outside of winter. I love where a bike can take you, whether it’s doing quick 20-minute loops near home, or multi-day bikepacking trips through some of British Columbia’s endless single track. Long pedals and flowing descents are almost meditative and I find my mind wanders and finds perspective on my rides just like when I’m skiing.
As cross-training for ski touring, pedaling up some of the monster rides we have in Whistler crushes the lungs and generates power and endurance in the legs depending on the style or ride. I also get credit from my trainer for doing knee physio from all the spinning as well, which means I can stay out of the gym and in the outdoors. Boom! I also find that dropping into sketchy chutes, rock rolls or sending an air is totally scary and takes a similar mental commitment to skiing. Getting scared a little bit all summer makes the transition to winter a little easier.
Trail running is all about the lungs for me. Though I get a lot of cardio from biking, I find the constant change in cadence and pitch of trail running is closer to interval training and pushes my lungs harder than most bike rides. I try to get out running at least once a week to keep my body guessing and to take a break from the bike. If you’re nursing a knee injury like I am, it’s probably best to be cautious and sparing with your trail running until your knee is feeling 100%.
Swimming (aka sleeping at the lake)
I’d love to be a better swimmer, but to be honest I suck. My girlfriend, who was a competitive swimmer, describes my swimming as “a little desperate.” “Swimming” is really just a code word for relaxing at the lake—and relaxing is an important part of recovery and summer. If you’re looking to justify the health benefits of the lake, think of it as a summer sauna. Hot-cold-hot-cold, repeat. In the water, bake in the sun on the dock, repeat.
So there you have it, summer training can be fun and the payoffs in the winter are worth a little effort.
Stay tuned for “Off-season Training Part Deux: The Gym”, when we talk more about periodized training and the tough work for a killer winter!