In the Gym with Pro Skier Paula Moltzan
Are You as Fit as Pro Skier?
Rocketing down an icy mountain at 80 miles an hour requires a special kind of guts—and a special kind of workout! Paula Moltzan, 18, one of the youngest members of the U.S. National Ski Team, gave us an inside look at her intense training routine as she prepares for the 2014 Olympic qualifications. After a dynamic warm-up to increase range of motion, cardio sprints to boost aerobic capacity, and plyometric training to hone the explosive movements skiers need, she breaks out her secret weapon: proprioceptive training. "Proprioception is the ability to know where your limbs are in space without looking," says Ryan Svenby, one of Moltzan's trainers.
You don't need to be an aspiring Olympian to benefit from these moves. Proprioception exercises can help improve your body's ability to perform everyday activities, maximize your workout, and prevent injury.
Ready to hit the slopes? Take a spin through Moltzan's workout and then show those double black diamonds (or bunny slopes) who's boss!
RELATED: 5 Moves That Tone from Head to Toe
Warm-Up: Lunge Rotation
Flexible hip flexors help balance out tight hamstrings, Svenby says. But while most people remember to stretch the backs of their legs (think touching your toes), many forget to stretch the front. This walking lunge rotation stretches your hips and upper body while preparing your muscles for the workout.
How to do it: Step forward with your left leg into a deep lunge. Extend both arms out to the sides. Rotate your torso to the left, lean back over your right leg, and try to touch your left fingertips to the ground. Hold for 5 seconds and then return to standing. Repeat, stepping forward with your right leg. Continue alternating sides until you've done 10 lunges on each leg.
Training tip: Keep your toes pointed forward during the entire movement. The rotation only happens at your waist.
Warm-Up: Lunge Balance Extension
The next progression from a walking lunge is to add in a balance challenge. Begin by stepping your left leg forward into a lunge. Push off your back leg and bring it up in front of your body, bending your knee up toward your chest so that you're balancing on your left foot.
Without putting your foot down, hinge forward from your hips and extend your right leg out behind you, reaching your right arm forward (pictured). Return to standing and repeat on the other side. Do 5 on each side.
Training tip: Have a friend or trainer help you get your body as level as possible until you know what it feels like. It can be hard to tell since you can't see yourself.
Warm-Up: Side Lunge Rotation
To warm up your inner-thigh muscles, step your right leg out into a side lunge. Place your left hand on the ground in front of you. Twist at the waist and extend your right arm as far up as you can. Return to the starting position and repeat on the left side. Do 10 reps on each side.
Training tip: Intensify the stretch by turning your head to look up at your hand at the top of the move.
Warm-Up: Frogger Squat
This move is great for opening up your hips and stretching your glutes, shoulders, and lats. Place a stationary object like a step, yoga block, or core board directly in front of your toes. With your feet hip-width apart, lower into a deep squat. Place both hands lightly on the board. Keeping your left arm straight, extend it as high over your head as you can. Raise your right arm in similar fashion. With both arms raised, stand up, and then squat back down. Repeat 10 times.
Training tip: Squeeze your glutes as you stand and sit into the squat to make sure your butt, not your back, is doing the work.
Warm-Up: Windshield Wipers
The last move in the dynamic warm-up mixes a little core work into the stretch. "For a skier, their core is essential to staying stable throughout their quick movements," says Steve Rosga, another one of Moltzan's trainers. "We incorporate core work into almost every move."
How to do it: Lie faceup with your arms extended to each side. Lift both legs straight up over your hips. Keeping your legs pressed together as one unit, slowly lower them to the left as far as you can. Use your abdominal muscles to pull them back to center and then lower to the right.
Training tip: Your shoulders should not come off the ground during the entire movement. Only lower your legs as far as you can maintain control.
"Ninety percent of an athlete's job is done on one leg, which is why instability training is so important," Rosga says. To challenge her balance and reduce injury risk, Moltzan's trainers have her do a wide range of proprioceptive moves like this single-leg squat.
How to do it: Hold a weighted ball at chest height and stand on one leg. Push your hips back and bend your standing knee to lower into a squat. Press back up, without putting your foot down. Do 10 squats on each leg.
Training tip: Moltzan is showing the most difficult option by standing on an upside-down Bosu. Start by doing this move on the floor and gradually work your way up to an unstable surface like a thick mat or core board. Once you've mastered that, you can try the Bosu.
"A big part of proprioception is reactive training," Svenby says. "This exercise trains Paula's body to react immediately to unpredictable movement." Start by standing on one leg with the other leg bent in front of you. With a partner, toss a weighted ball back and forth. Repeat for 20 tosses.
Training tip: Just like the last move, the Bosu is the most advanced option. Start playing catch on the floor until you feel stable enough to work up to an unstable surface.
Deep Squat with Eyes Closed
Squats work every major muscle group in your lower body, which is why they're a staple in nearly every program. To try this twist on the classic move, stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width, toes pointing forward. Slowly lower into a squat until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Hold for 30 seconds. Keeping your glutes tight, return to standing. Repeat 3 times. The trick? If you look closely, you'll see her eyes are closed!
Training tip: Closing your eyes forces your body to rely on other senses to stay balanced. This is critical for training your body to react quickly—whether it's a player on the opposite basketball team or a rock on the mountain, obstacles often appear "out of nowhere." Try this move on the floor first.
Single-Leg Reactive Training
It's one thing to perform a movement that you initiate with your eyes closed, but athletic environments generally aren't that convenient, so Moltzan's trainers work on teaching her body to react to unforeseen changes on the mountain.
To test your own reactive abilities, stand on an unstable surface (core board for beginners, Bosu for advanced). Lift one leg up in front of you so that you're balancing on one leg. Close your eyes. Have a partner lightly tap different spots on the side of the Bosu to throw you slightly off balance. Try to regain your balance without opening your eyes. Try to maintain your balance for 30 seconds.
Training tip: Doing this barefoot helps train the proprioception in your toes and feet, while wearing athletic shoes trains your ankles. Doing this in ski boots trains your knees and hips. Moltzan does all three (of course)!
Once you've mastered squatting on the ground and then squatting on an unstable surface like a core board or Bosu, you can amp it up like a pro skier by taking it all the way to an exercise ball. (You'll definitely want a spotter!) This tricky move requires impeccable balance but activates every muscle in your body. Bonus: You'll be concentrating so hard that you won't even realize how hard you're working until you're sore the next day! Try for 3 squats—although even 1 rep is a major accomplishment!
Training tip: Did I mention having a spotter? Get a spotter. Or two. Make sure they stand close enough to grab you if you start to fall. If you're at all unsure of your balance, skip this move.
Kneeling Ball Rotation
Kneeling on an exercise ball forces you to engage your inner thighs, quads, and butt to grip the ball with your knees. Once you've mastered just kneeling on the ball, add in a slow rotation to each side. If you're a professional skier, close your eyes. Do 5 on each side.
Training tip: Place the ball next to a wall or railing to help keep your balance. Once you're steady, slowly take your hand off the wall, just keeping your fingertips touching. Gradually work toward taking your fingertips away.
Kneeling Ball Toss
Kneel on an exercise ball (see tips on previous slide). Once you have your balance, have a partner gently toss you a ball to catch. Throw it back. To really work your core and balance, have your partner vary where they throw it so you have to twist or reach slightly to catch it.
Training tip: You can do this with one (or both) partners kneeling on the top of a Bosu while you're learning to maintain your balance.
Plyometric Double Box Jump
Explosive power is super important for any athlete that has to quickly change direction, jump, or dodge (so basically any athlete). This is why Moltzan's trainers have her do plyometric exercises, moves where both feet are off the ground at the same time.
To do this box jump, line up two boxes (or steps) with the tallest one first and the shorter one several feet after it. Starting from two feet, jump up onto the first box, landing with both feet. Immediately spring off the box onto the ground and then hop up onto the second box. Jump off the second box and, for true skiing effect, add in some lateral hops as soon as you hit the ground. That's one rep. Do 5 reps total.
Training tip: To start, your highest box should be no taller than knee height. Once you get the movement down, you can use taller boxes.
Loaded Squat Jumps
Hold a weighted bar or VIPR across your shoulders and lower down into a squat. Explode up, jumping as high as you can. Repeat 10 times.
Training tip: Doing this move with just your body weight is challenging enough for most people. Start by doing unweighted, regular jump squats. Once you can do 20 without stopping and your form is perfect, then try adding some weight.
Alternating Jump Lunges
Adding a jump in between lunges forces your butt and legs to work even harder and spikes your heart rate. Start by stepping your left foot forward into a lunge. Jump up and switch your feet in the air, landing with your opposite foot forward in the lunge. Immediately repeat. Continue alternating until you've jumped 20 times.
Training tip: You can add resistance by holding a weighted ball at chest height.
Plyometric moves like this teach your body how to absorb shock without getting hurt. Stand in front of a core board or regular step. Jump onto the board, turning 180 degrees in the air so you land facing the back wall. Jump off the board, turning 180 degrees in the air again so that you land facing forward.
Plyo Weighted Skater Lunges
Another perk of plyometric training: Studies have shown that exercises involving jumping help strengthen your bones. Holding a VIPR, body bar, or other short weight in both hands, jump to the left, landing on one foot. Bring your other foot behind, just off the ground so you look like a speedskater. Touch the weight lightly to the floor. Jump in the opposite direction and repeat the movement.
Training tip: You'll still reap major benefits by doing these skater lunges without the weight!
Single-Leg Box Jump
If you're really up for a challenge (and you've been able to do every move so far with perfect form), try doing box jumps by taking off only one leg and landing on the same foot. Moltzan's box is pretty high, but a low step works just as well. Try to do 10 on each side, concentrating on landing properly so you don't slip.
Training tip: If you want to avoid the impact or the possibility of a fall, you can simply step up and down on the box. It's still a fab workout for your glutes and quads!