Are You in Shape to Ride?

IMG_0096Forehead sweating, goggles fogging, gasping for air, barely lifting one foot in front of the other through the snow around your sled, finally removing your helmet to come back to life. Aching shoulders, jello arms, fatigued thighs, sore core, waking up the next morning wondering how that machine that you love so much could’ve caused you this pain! Does this sound familiar. I think we’ve all been there. Whether it is digging out your sled (or a buddy’s), hiking up to retrieve your sled from a dismount, or simply pounding a beautiful day of pow, this snowmobiling thing is tiring. Despite popular belief, mostly among jack-wagons riding trail sleds, sledding is one giant smile-inducing workout.

Last fall I was finally ahead of the game…and it made all the difference. Let me share with you my regimen, why it is my regimen, and how I designed it. I am no world-class strength coach, but I do have a fair amount of experience in the area of strength coaching. We’ll start with a functional analysis of the maneuvers we all do when back country mountain sledding and the muscles required to perform them. I will then show you exercises to ensure those muscles are developed along with sets, reps, and duration.

Maneuvers

  • Rider neutral climbing/turning/side-hilling: Depending on your riding preference, this is likely the position you spend much of your day in. Though this requires the least physical strain, thus using the least energy, this position does warrant some physical preparation.
    • Muscles needed for this maneuver: shoulders-and-arms
      • Shoulders, lats, and traps all work in unison with the arms to control the
        handle bars and stabilize the core section of the body.
      • Biceps for pulling-in the far end of the handle bars and triceps for pressing the close end down and away.
      • Core abdominal muscles stabilize the body throughout the continuous weighting and de-weighting movements and also enable the upper and lower body muscle groups to function independently.
      • Quads adjust the pressure applied to the running boards through weighting and de-weighting movements.
  • Opposite foot forward turning/side-hilling: To me, this is why you get in shape. The fun aspect of riding that requires significant strain and energy consumption. IMG_0194Continuously flicking and guiding a sled into precise positions throughout the day is unbelievably tiring. I know the dweebs who don’t ride sleds think snowmobiling is as effortless as pulling the throttle, we all know the exhaustion that results from these technical movements.
    • The muscles needed here are almost identical to the neutral position but with much higher intensity. Muscles needed for this maneuver:
      • Shoulders, lats, and traps all work in unison with the arms to control the handle bars in widely varied positions.
      • Biceps for pulling-in the far end of the handle bars and triceps for pressing the close end down and away.
      • Core abdominal muscles stabilize the body throughout the continuous
        (and sometimes violent) weighting and de-weighting movements and alsoquads enable the upper and lower body muscle groups to function independently.
      • Quads, to a much greater extent than
        in the rider neutral position, adjust the pressure applied to the running boards through weighting and de-weighting movements.
  • Digging out of being stuck/lifting IMG_0092sleds: Not fun, but necessary. When you or your
    knuckle-head buddies get stuck, you want to be efficient as possible to maximize pow time! We often don’t think about this aspect of riding when attempting to get in shape, but it has a huge bearing on how your body reacts throughout the day.

    • Muscles needed for this maneuver (other than those previously mentioned):
      • Glutes enable the lifting of dead weight (sled) more than any glutesother single muscle.
      • Lower back muscles! This can, and does, ruin a winter very quickly. This is often more about proper sled lifting technique, but strength certainly helps.
  • Hiking in snow (for various reasons): You get chucked off your sled and end up away from your sled (remember to wear your tether!), someone is stuck in a tight spot wherecardio you can only get so close without stuck-ing yourself, etc. This is somewhat uncommon, but because it happens frequently enough and requires a specific type of being “in-shape”, you will need to be prepared for it.
    • Muscles needed for this maneuver:
      • Cardiovascular system. This is obviously used for the rest of the maneuvers listed above, and increasingly as the day goes on.
  • General Riding Muscles: A final note on muscles needed to ride. You’ll need forearm strength, mostly endurance (yes, I know where this comment will go :)). Oddly enough, if you haven’t been wearing a helmet in the off-season, neck muscles are put under a very different strain than it’s typical duty of carrying your bean.

Exercises

Next up, I’ll create a list of the muscles we want to develop. We need to acknowledge that ultimately, every muscle in the body is used. But the reality is that most of us are weekend warriors lacking the time to tune every part of our love machines to perform solely for sledding (and lovin’). So let’s cut this down to a manageable list to make the best use of our workout time.

  • Shoulders and arms
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Abdominal muscles
  • Lower back
  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Forearms (I won’t address this, ride a dirt bike or mountain bike in the summer/fall)
  • Neck muscles (I won’t address this, participate in something that requires a helmet in the off-season)

Now, what specific exercises and routines can be used to develop these muscle groups? I try to simulate the sledding maneuvers by matching the lift movement to the sledding movement. I also model my overall routine after the routine of muscle use while riding. For example, during a day of riding most of us would experience a pattern similar to this:

Hard ridingIMG_0198

Short rest while talking to friends

Digging a friend out

Lifting sled

Hard riding

Exploration riding

Hard riding

Short rest while talkingIMG_2004

Hard riding

Climbing back to sled after dismount

Digging yourself out

Lifting sled

Digging some more

Short rest while talking to friends

Because we don’t spend all day in the gym, this pattern has to be condensed while still attempting to simulate the experience for your muscles. For this reason, short rests are eliminated. Based on this overall analysis, this is what I do and I would suggest as a basic pre-season strength program.

Routine

  • 3 minute warm-up run

  • [Repeat the following 3 times for total of 3 sets of each lift and 6 minutes of running, maintain a brisk pace between lifts]
  • Standing dumbbell curls, 1 set of 8
  • Wide grip (approximately as wide as your handle bar grip) overhead dumbbell triceps extension, 1 set of 8 (overhead extension example)
  • Dumbbell front raise, 1 set of 10 (front raise example)
  • 2 minute run

  • [Repeat the following 3 times for total of 3 sets of each lift and 6 minutes of running, maintain a brisk pace between lifts]
  • Kettlebell (or dumbbell) swings, 1 set of 8 (kettlebell swings example)kb
  • [Repeat the following 3 times for total of 3 sets of each lift and 6 minutes of running, maintain a brisk pace between lifts]air-squat
  • Air squats (feet approximately as wide as when on running boards), 1 set of 18
  • Preacher curls, 1 set of 8 (preacher curl example)
  • Tricep extensions w/plate, 1 set of 12 (plate example)
  • Weighted hyperextensions w/light plate, 1 set of 8 (hyperextension example)
  • 2 minute run

  • 3 minute cool down walk

*Consult a physician before starting any workout program.

It is important to note that this program can be adjusted to meet your needs as your muscles develop. Also, on the last set of any lift, you should be coming close to failure on the final few reps. If not, you aren’t building muscle. The saying, “no pain, no gain,” really does apply. Finally, this program is not intended to make you a gladiator. It is intended to get you in shape for a great season of riding sleds. There was a time in my life where I wanted to be strong and look strong…at this point, I just want to be functional and ride!

IMG_0141

Tell us about what you do to get season-ready in a comment below!

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