Pre-season reflective practice


As a bit of reflective practice I’m going to lay out the pre-season so far with a group of alpine skiers I’ve been working with. I┬áhave been motivated to do this partly for a bit of open feedback from anyone reading this, but also out of frustration. There seems to tendency in our field to be very quick to criticise others, PTs in particular get a beating on Twitter from coaches who don’t like their methods. I find this to be negative. I wouldn’t like others doing it to me having viewed one part of my session and would openly invite anyone who has issue with any of my methods to discuss it with me, so please feel free. Hopefully we can start seeing Tweets about how we discussed a particular training method with someone and the outcome of that discussion.

Training plan

Firstly, some context. The skiers in the group are all male, 18-22 years old, have training histories incorporating loaded lifting ranging from 0.5-3 years, are national level competitors and the only prior injuries amongst the group have been anterior load related knee injuries, and small trauma injuries that are common amongst ski racers.

The layout of the preseason differs slightly among the group depending on when or if they are going to be skiing. Planning is tough as dates are far from set in stone so a rough outline and in depth planning from block to block is the only realistic way to go. I decided to go with 4 week blocks as it’s a layout I’ve had success with it in the past and I like the versatility it offers if we get short notice changes in date. Generally training loads reach a maximum in week 3 and have a large reduction in week 4 of the block. We are currently in week 2 of the third 4 week block which has a heavy strength focus. The previous blocks have had a higher volume with most lifts in the 8-10 rep range aimed at rebuilding tolerance to training and to cement quality in certain lifts that we will be loading heavily on later in the summer. I say rebuilding as, due to accessibility during the season, the guys hadn’t done any lifting in 4 months. The week layout varies depending on time available to train but it’s 3 sessions between Mon and Tues, rest Weds, double session thurs, extended session Fri (coached) and maybe a session Sat with rest on Sun.

At the beginning of the summer we tested 5RM front squats, 5RM bench press and maximum chins. We didn’t 5RM chins as the max range at bodyweight was 4-8, once the quality improves and they can lift added load we’ll pick up 5RMs later in the pre-season. I’m not a massive fan of 1RM testing with these guys, partly because I don’t see it as a necessary measure for the sport, success isn’t dependent on one absolute maximum effort. We also grabbed vertical jumps, counter movement and squat for EUR, as we do at the beginning of the weekly sessions I take with them. We do this to monitor progress and response to training. The idea is to establish norms over preseason that we can use in season to monitor fatigue. I’m also interested in any EUR shift over the season given the heavy eccentric and isometric demands of skiing.

Training content

As for the nuts and bolts, it’s very much a Boyle influenced layout. I like the session density offered and agree with many of the lift options with the heavy emphasis on single leg work. The only difficulty is selling it to the athletes who focus very much on the mass at the ends of the bar, front squats don’t get loaded as heavy as back squats. There was a fear that would effect other testing sessions with national squads across which there are a large variety of tests including 1RM back and overhead squats and a standing on a gym ball for 1 minute test. N.B. no athletes I work with train atop a gym ball. This was discussed with the athletes, they understand the reasoning behind it all and they buy into it.

Sessions start with foam rolling, mobility (particular attention for skiers paid to ankle mobility and lateral squat range of motion with which we’ve started to introduce some band based hip distraction work), activation, warm up and some bodyweight power work, primarily landing mechanics focused at the moment. Most lifting sessions also start with a power oriented lift including Olympic derivatives and there is always a core element to every session with more hip focus on those with the anterior knee issues.

Conditioning work so far has predominantly been running interval based. Work periods have ranged from 30 seconds to 2 minutes with a variety of rest periods. As tolerance increases and landing mechanics improve, we begin more change of direction as part of the training and more frontal plane work, the predominant movement plane for skiing. Where possible we avoid bike sessions as the mechanical differences between that and the sport are great, although we have used some to reduce lower limb loading. Another reason for the fairly simple conditioning work is contact time. I see them once a week for 2 hours and disseminating large amounts of information in that time is difficult. In the coached sessions we usually involve some metabolic work including slideboards, sleds, grappler etc, that makes me feel a bit better about them going for a carvery lunch!

Training review

I’m fairly happy with where we are so far. The original tested lifts are now exceeded for multiple sets and jump heights are nudging up, although I wasn’t anticipating increases until the end of this block due to fatigue. Landing mechanics still need work, particularly single leg and we’ll continue to work on it, although I think some hip adductor tightness is impacting here. Some areas I’ve started to think about as a result of training so far are variety in bilateral lifts and vertical pulls, although I’ll start to address this with eccentrics and band work later in the summer. I’m going try out front loading bulgarian split squats to see how that effects torso angle, potentially a similar way to the back/front squat.

For my own coaching development I’ve been working on my own communication skills by trying to implement some general ideas I picked up after reading Mindsight by Dan Siegel and also increasing the amount, and hopefully quality, of non-verbal communication throughout the session. I do this by allocating periods where I only communicate coaching points non-verbally.

The future

For the rest of the season, we’ll start a transition towards power development using lower load lifts for rate of force development, more plyos and agility work. We won’t leave strength training behind at any stage though and we’ll begin more lateral movements for greater crossover to skiing. The plan is also to utilise the hypoxic chambers available at perform centre where we train once they’re up and running. For my own development, I’m going to work on my word count, limiting the amount I use while I coach, the aim of this is turn me into a coaching sniper rifle rather than a machine gun. Toying with dictaphoning a session or 2 to check on this.

Cool. So I’ve laid it on the line, a bit long for a blog I know. If you made it this far well done and thanks. Feel free to question, critique and suggest. If anyone wants, I’m happy to jump on skype for a chat. It will certainly help me, but hopefully you guys will get something from it and we can continue to progress and grow our field. That will only happen if we engage positively with each other and with those outside of strength and conditioning.


Neil Welch

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