AGM Talk 3rd October 2014, Chris Stuart on Strength & Conditioning


Reporter: Caroline Brown

I was introduced to Chris Stewart by his dad, my Telemark coach, Andy. Andy reckoned that if I wanted to know how best to train for skiing in general and Telemark racing in particular then consulting the 3-times British champion would be a good place to start!

Chris specialises in Strength & Conditioning training and runs his own strength and conditioning facility near Clitheroe that specialises in Olympic and Power Lifting. My fitness and flexibility under his guidance had certainly improved noticeably before my injury and his rehab programme since has been very helpful. In consequence I thought he would be a good speaker for SCoM.

He started his talk by asking what we understood by Strength, Conditioning and Power, and it was clear that most, if not all, of us were completely clueless!

As it happens, Strength is an absolute measure of the maximum amount of weight we can lift given an unlimited period of time in which to lift that weight. Power, however, is what produces the greatest amount of force in the shortest possible time and the example Chris gave us was Jonathan Edwards’ performance in the Triple Jump.

The pros of pure strength are that we can lift heavier weights in the gym and that we can develop a muscle-bound physique—if you’re into that sort of thing. The downside is that strength alone is not very practical for most sports and is no guarantee of aerobic fitness. However, if strength is what you are after then high resistance, slow, full-motion low repetition workouts are for you.

Power, on the other hand, is very practical for many different sports, giving greater control over strength and speed. Who cares if you can’t lift as much weight at the gym?! Unsurprisingly, in contrast to strength training, power training features low resistance, fast, explosive-motion high repetition workouts.

And Conditioning? Conditioning is a form of training that enhances the stamina and endurance of an athlete in order for them to perform their particular sport. Pretty handy to help us maintain technique and keep skiing safely all day in the mountains.

Chris was keen to stress the importance of improved flexibility in helping to prevent injury. If we are better able to stretch and flex we are less likely to snap or tear! He made an interesting observation about ski kit: because we ski in boots that reduce the flexibility of our ankles, our natural stabilisation mechanism is inhibited. This means that the ankles are less able to absorb or mitigate impacts so these get channelled up through the body to the knees, hips and even lower back, joints that are not necessarily designed to cope with such stresses. This is why there are a disproportionately high number of knee injuries in skiing. Interesting!

Chris also observed that many lower back, hip and knee problems stem from lazy glutes. Lower back muscles and hamstrings over-compensate for weak buttock muscles, again putting strains on joints that they are not designed to take. This can lead to a classic vicious circle—reduced mobility leads to more over-compensation, which leads to further reduction in mobility, etc, etc. However, unlike wearing ski boots this IS something we can do something about.

Strengthen the glutes and the rest will, more or less, take care of themselves. Good exercises to improve flexibility and ‘wake up’ and strengthen the glutes are:

  • Squats
  • Split squats
  • Lunges
  • Romanian dead lifts
  • Hip raises

These can be done holding extra weights for an added challenge as you improve.

Other good pre-ski exercises are:

  • Calf raises—both legs and single leg, with or without extra hand weights
  • Plank—for abdominal strength and stability
  • Core stability—sit on fit ball with feet on wobble cushion
  • Hamstring curl

If you are in any doubt as to how to do these exercises safely ask your gym supervisor if you have one, give me a call on 01625 421080 or drop me an email at c.brown33@scom.org.uk

Just before wrapping up Chris also touched on nutrition. For short periods of exercise during the day, such as gym workouts, extra carbs are not necessary as glycogen levels are rarely depleted. Generally it’s best to eat good protein, including eggs and nuts, and a little fat, together with plenty of fruit and vegetables. For long periods of exercise, such as days out on the mountains, extra carbs will be needed with a caution that too many carbs in the evening are more likely to be converted into fat for storage.

An interest has been expressed in asking Chris to run a group session for us covering basic exercises in time for next season. If this would interest you please let me know so we can gauge possible numbers. Any session Chris took would be subject to a small attendance fee.

In the meantime if you would like more information on Chris and his training facility check out his website at http://www.leadingphysique.co.uk/