by Karl Nygren
Agility is a delicate mixture of balance, coordination, speed and strength. All four components must be equally developed or the weakest component dictates the extent of one’s agility. Agility is fundamental in skiing because it controls efficiency. Skiers move quickly from balancing on one foot to the other while coordinating their strength to propel themselves down the trail. Any wobbles, unsure moments or lack of power and speed take their toll. Skiing is a sport of economy and every bit of energy needs to be directed towards skiing faster.
Agility on skis is what is desired but agility must first be built from the ground up off skis. This starts with your feet and how they meet the ground. Landing back on your heals provides a terrible platform for almost any athletic movement. A nice forefoot strike is ideal. I spent a lot of time this past summer changing my running stride so I land on my forefoot. The result is a much more economical, lighter feeling stride because you start from a more dynamically explosive position. Additionally, I feel jumping rope is a great way to work on getting light on your feet. I have incorporated jumping rope as a way to warm-up for strength. Admittedly, I was terrible at first but with practice the improvements were dramatic. You learn be fast and explosive while drastically curtailing your overall movements and jumping only high enough to slip the rope under your feet. This same mindset can be applied to skiing. You should feel light and quick on your skis with minimal extra movements and effort.
Strength is very important but only if it helps you ski faster. Getting so big and strong that you feel cumbersome and slow is extremely counterproductive. This year I made a huge transition in my approach to strength. I focused on explosive fast movements instead of slowly lifting heavy weights. Mainly this was accomplished through plyometric strength exercises. Plyos are jumps but jumps are only plyometric if you land and then jump. The landing phase recruits more muscle and improves the exercise. The repetitions should be kept low around 6 or so to ensure every jump has the highest quality possible. A good example for skiing is one footed jumps off and then back onto a small box. Not only is this great for strength but coordination and balance are also greatly improved.
In general any one-footed exercises are great for balance. Keep this in mind in all aspects of your training. Squats might make you strong but one-legged squats develop strength and balance. Things as simple as brushing your teeth or throwing a med ball to a partner while balancing on one foot go a long way. Be creative.
Coordination requires practice. There is no way around it. The more time you spend on your skis the more natural and coordinated it will become. The development of coordination is much faster, however, if skiing is done mindfully. A patient, relaxed, focus is ideal. Trying too hard can cause robotic movements so try to relax while focusing on coordinating all movement to help you ski faster and more efficiently.
As coordination, balance, strength and speed are improve agility on skis will increase dramatically. You will feel lighter and quicker on your skis so the majority of your energy can be directed towards skiing faster.