Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Strength Reboot

Not unlike many of my posts, this one has been over a year in the making. I’ve held off publishing it until I found a solid strength routine and gone through an entire cycle.

Andy Newell, in his interview with Ian Harvey
, says the biggest mistake skiers make is doing the same strength routine. He says don’t do the same routine for more than 5-6 weeks. He recommends periodization and mixing up the exercises. He also talks about velocity strength. He says that if you aren’t getting faster you need to do something different in the gym.

While I’m good at doing strength three days a week, I’m not good at variety or progression. This is partly because I can do 10 pull-ups which is super kick-ass for a 36 year old woman and I can do the 8 minute ab routine easily and even my 12 minute side-ab routine is getting easier. I keep trying to substitute in different ab exercises and routines, but after a few weeks or months, they all get too easy.

But despite this, I feel weak.

You might be wondering how I can do 10 pull-ups and feel weak but it’s because I haven’t really progressed in the past 8 years or so. I mean, I’ve progressed a bit- I used to do 5 reps and now I’m up to 8, but that's hardly any improvement.

So my strength training needed a reboot.

I began developing a plan last year and tried some things out and this year have made a more complete plan with 3 main goals:

1. Increase variety (do different exercises)

2. Lift with weight more 

3. Progression (i.e. start w/ body weight and then progress to adding weight)

My plan is still to do strength three times a week, each for about 30 minutes rotating through 4 week blocks of progression.

So let’s talk about these different goals.

In terms of variety, I don’t have much fancy equipment at home. Currently I have a pull-up bar, a Total Gym, two 10-pound dumbbells, and some resistance bands. For years I’ve been doing push-ups and pull-ups but as I’ve created a plan, I’ve found that there are a ton of variety options just with push-ups and pull-ups alone. For both, arm position makes a big difference. There’s also different speed and hold options. For example, my push-up planks I hold in high position for 5 seconds, then do 5 push-ups, then repeat until exhaustion. I also do both push-up and pull-up holds whereby I go partway up/down, hold for 5 seconds, go all the way and hold for 5 seconds, and then hold for 5 seconds part way up/down again.

Our Total Gym, some posters for inspiration, and a messy basement:)

Until last year I never did my exercises with extra weight. I brought in weighted pull-ups and then started doing squats with weight. This year I’ve added in weighted stair steps. For the legs it’s not a ton of weight. This will likely increase when we finally buy some heavier dumbbells, but until then, it’s at least a start.

Finally, I developed a 4 week progression working backwards from ski season with a rapid fire in January of one week each. The idea is to do a weight progression followed by a velocity/speed block. This is also to help with developing my power.

My pull-up bar and more posters.

Prior to doing my strength sessions, I like to do a warm-up. Sometimes this is running or biking home from work but my favorite is a 30 minute classic rollerski.

My plan is still a work in progress. I’ve been using Youtube ab workouts to give me some new ideas and I’ve found some hard ones I can’t quite complete! I try not to worry too much if I miss a day of strength (like if I’m building a retaining wall or on an active vacation).

Retaining wall to bust out. This stuff was heavy!

Active vacation in the North Wind River Range in Wyoming.

So here’s my plan. Use what suits you or simply read for interest. 

Overall plan.

More detailed plan. I don't have reps or sets on most of these noted. For push-ups I usually do 2 or 3 sets of 20-30 push-ups, trying to get low enough to get my nose (is that gross?) on the ground. Pull-ups without weight is usually 8-10 on my first set and 6 or 7 on my second set. With weight it's 5-4-4 or so for both sets. I do 20 step-ups (2-3 sets each leg) and 20 squats (1 set each leg position).  

My four different pull-up grips.

Leg exercises including my four squat positions.

A detail of my different ab routines minus the YouTube ones.

My three YouTube ab routines:

6 minutes:

10 minute lower abs (this one is a killer):

10 minute 6-pack abs (good luck!): 

I usually do all my abs at once but will alternate an upper body with lower body set so as to not have any “resting” time between sets. If I find I need more rest between sets, I will throw in some physical therapy-type exercises or striding or skating mimic.

Often I do 3 sets of exercises, except I usually do 2 sets for each pull-up grip and 1 set for each squat position.

I realize this plan is heavy on pull-ups for upper body and most people can't do pull-ups with weight. This is the equipment I have and what I've been working with. And while my pull-ups may seem impressive, in my experience, there's only a very minor correlation with ski performance.

Caitlin says "Do Your Pull-ups!"

It took me until I worked through an entire cycle of this plan before I could publish this blog. That way I was able to find the exercises that work for me, and even the ones I found most fun. Jump lunges were initially in the plan but they seemed to hurt my foot and didn’t feel good so I threw them out. Meanwhile I found jumping w/ tucking my legs up to be really fun so I incorporated those. I wasn't able to be very explosive on the pull-ups during the Velocity phase so next time around I will substitute one pull-ups session for inverse push-ups (pull self up to a very low bar with body almost horizontal) and pole jumps (use bounding poles to get self high into the air).

I find the 4 week (or month-long) block to be about the best duration for me to get some progression but not get too bored. If I stretch it out to 6 weeks it feels too long. In the future I may try more rapid cycling with 2 week blocks (although it’s easier to think in terms of months) or perhaps do a full cycle each 4 weeks followed by 2 week blocks.

This new strength plan may or may not make me a faster skier, and I’m OK with that. The point is to do something different, something that’s fun, and something that makes me happy!