Turn your winter fitness into summer-sports bliss

Jeffrey Russell
Winter Park Competition Center Physical Therapist and Nordic Coach, and owner of Jeff Russell Physical Therapy
Christina Russell getting her ride on after a winter of skiing. She and her husband, Jeff, are massage and physical therapists respectively. They are both fitness professionals that have worked in Grand County for over 20 years.
Jeff Russell/Courtesy photo

As the chairlift chairs make their final turns around the bullwheels and the snow slowly concedes territory for hikers and bikers to reclaim for their summer pursuits, those of us who engage in mountain sports undergo transitions of our own. Jumping from one sport to another seems like it should be easy, with a sense that the fitness that we’ve earned by charging hard all season is a single universal trait that should transfer easily no matter what the next sport we choose demands from us.

The reality, however, is that each of our individual pursuits challenges us in very specific ways. All that quad-burning turning when we couldn’t get enough mountain joy may translate somewhat to thrashing around a winding trail on a mountain bike, but the differences in upper body, core and cardiovascular demands mean that we may not feel as prepared as we thought we would be.

Using our sports as strength and conditioning programs allows us to strengthen specifically, but we are not always prepared if the season starts with a bang. This approach also leaves us more vulnerable to injuries than if we give a little thought into preparation for making the move from one season’s sports to another. Implementing five key points can avoid some of the pitfalls of attempting to make a fast transition from one season to another.

Point number one is moderation

The Greeks, to whom we attribute the idea of “everything in moderation” really were onto something. In this day and age where everything trends toward the extreme, moderation is a concept that has been left in the dust. But if we learned anything from the tortoise and the hare, it is that it isn’t always the fastest one out of the gate that wins the race. Jumping into a new sport will be more successful if we don’t try to shoot for the moon right out of the starting blocks.

Christina Russell, fitness trainer, massage therapist and yoga instructor, says that you want to consider your butt bones when you go for that first ride of the season. Saddle soreness can put a damper on your riding mojo if you let it get ahead of you by pushing yourself to the limit on your first outings. Tendons are also prone to more stress and inflammation if they are over-stressed by hammering hard without adequate preparation.

Starting with shorter rides of moderate exertion to get your body tuned up and ready for longer and more demanding rides will be more successful. You can build up gradually to longer excursions as tolerance improves. Jeff Russell, a physical therapist and Nordic skiing coach adds that warming up and cooling down is important in the effort to avoid injury. Going too hard too soon is just as risky during each outing as it is during the early season. Warming the tissues up will make them more pliable and thus less prone to straining or developing micro tears that lead to excessive inflammation, or worse, to actual full tears. Incorporating a cool-down into your workout can help flush the lactate, built up from hard work, out of your muscles as well as reduce the stress to your cardiovascular system that is caused by sudden stops after hard efforts.

Being flexible is the second concept for injury resistance

If you have a smaller range over which to move, you naturally meet your limit sooner. It is when you are at the end of your available motion that you are more vulnerable to being injured. Just think of doing the splits. When you’ve gone as far as you can go, something’s got to give. Ouch! The Russells say that flexibility allows for more freedom and less restriction of motion which can enhance performance. It’s easier to move and reach when you’re not fighting inner resistance. You may even experience less aches and pains when your muscles are more flexible and less tense.

Muscle balance whether it is in terms of flexibility or strength is important for keeping the body healthy

As skiers, bikers, hikers and other mountain-dwellers that power with their legs, over time we develop strength and often a certain amount of corresponding stiffness in the hips, quads and hamstrings. Our trunks, or cores, may not be taxed in the same way by our sport, so as time goes on, an inequity can develop. Strong but stiff legs without a strong core puts the back at risk, as it is left to compensate and thus becomes prone to being injured.

Nutrition, including hydration, is important to consider for keeping your body happy and healthy

While there are a wide range of strongly held beliefs about what one should or shouldn’t eat, it is hard to go wrong with sticking to the basic principles of eating fresh, whole, unprocessed foods. If you’re trying to build muscle or adapt to a different sport, it is important to take in more than your usual amount of protein. Protein, or its basic form collagen, is the building block used to make this happen.The recommended daily allowance keeps us going but doesn’t provide the raw materials for building or making renovations.

The importance of drinking enough water or fluids cannot be overstressed in this dry Colorado climate. Water is the key ingredient of our blood and our lymph. These fluids transport all essential substances to the far reaches of our body, where each and every cell relies upon this transportation system to keep operating the way it should.

Finally, rest

Resting and recovering is where the actual work of becoming stronger happens. Our bodies respond to the stresses that are placed upon them by building back better. The exercise that we do does little bits of micro damage to the tissues, which the body reacts to by repairing and rebuilding the tissues to be stronger and more resistant to the next bout of effort. Without adequate rest between workouts or rides, our tissue breaks down and doesn’t have enough time to build back up again before it is broken down again. No matter what age we are, when the breaking down exceeds the building up, we plateau or even decline in performance.

Moderation, flexibility, muscle balance, nutrition and rest are all key to transitioning smoothly from one sport to another. Pay attention to these factors and your body will thank you.


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