Snow season is coming soon. To get the most from your body on the slopes, agility is key. In fact, it's key for every athlete in any sport. Daron Rahlves should know; he's a World Cup ski champion, a motocross racer, and a skicross athlete looking to make his fourth Olympics in 2010. At age 34, Rahlves knows the value of agility.
"For skiing, you need to stay in balance while you're moving around on the hill. Agility is being able to move quickly while staying in balance. It has a lot to do with quickness and power, and is basically one of the skills you most rely on as an athlete," Rahlves says.
He trains by incorporating power into his agility work. "One of the exercises I like to do uses a bench about knee high. You step off the bench and land with two feet, knees flexed. You land in an athletic stance, feet shoulder width apart. Lowering your center of gravity by flexing your knees makes you a lot more stable. As soon as you touch down, you try to explode left or right. Lateral explosion is the most specific agility exercise you can do for skiing," says Rahlves.
Variations on the lateral explosion can be a jump forward or a 180 or 360, which also teaches your muscle memory balance in extreme ranges of motion.
Rahlves says the exercises may seem awkward at first, but he adds, "The more you train, the more natural it will start to feel."
He also uses an exercise called "split jumps" that he got from U. S. ski team athlete Erik Schlopy, explaining, "he was using a big soft gym mat, almost like doing it in sand. You don't want to train on something hard, it will beat you up. You can even do agility training on a trampoline."
For split jumps, start with one leg in front, in the lunge position. Jump up in the air and switch legs, bringing the other leg in front. Always remember, when jumping, land with your knees flexed to avoid shock on your knees and ankles.
Rahlves says, "I'm always looking for ways to maximize my time, so I concentrate on any agility exercise that involves power. A good one is one-legged jumps. Another is squat jumps with weight, where you put a bar on your back, do a squat, and then jump up. That takes strength as well as agility, because you are trying to be explosive and you use quick movements. Squat jumps are really helpful for ski racers, because skiing is all about bracing against gravity and against the forces you create when you ski."
He also suggests incorporating agility into regular activities. "Even when you go for a walk in the woods, jump over logs and from rock to rock. I like to take my dogs running, they get me out more than I'd normally go."
His two huskies, Chevy and Streif, help him speed up his outdoor agility work. If you have to use city streets rather than woodsy areas, use walking on low cement curbs, or trying to walk fast on the curb of a sidewalk. Walk while jumping up on a bench and down again without stopping.
Rahlves also suggests playing different sports where you can use your feet to incorporate agility, such as soccer. Soccer is especially helpful for ski racers, and U. S. ski team athletes use it as cross training.
His biggest piece of advice? "Keep it simple, and get the fun across. It all comes down to having fun. Do the exercises you enjoy and vary them to keep it fresh."