Ski training program

An image of a blond, kettle-bell-hoisting athlete fills Austrian skiing guru Guenther Birgmann’s computer screen. Every muscle fibre is contracted, every sinew flexed, each cable-like vein is on the verge of popping – waiting, it would seem, to be cast in bronze, like an ancient Olympian. Or maybe it’s more like a naked Terminator, sent from the future to save a delinquent youth. The body in question belongs to Austrian, downhill-skiing legend Hermann Maier, a dual Olympic gold medallist and an indestructible piece of athletic hardware widely known as “the Herminator”.

Birgmann, former trainer of the Greek national ski team, runs the snow-sports division at New Zealand’s Treble Cone resort, where Maier and the rest of the Austrian team prepare for the World Cup season. He is the man who helps program the machine.

“You probably think the perfect body for a skier is a slim upper body and huge legs,” says Birgmann, in his heavily accented Arnie-glish as he points at Maier’s well-rounded physique. “It’s not. The best bodies for skiing are like decathletes. They have all the factors in their training and the disciplines they compete in to make the perfect athlete.”

You may not be an Olympic decathlete or an iconic killing machine, but if you’re tackling the slopes this winter you’ll need to be in good all-round shape. That first run looms as “Judgment Day” and if you’re not prepared, you won’t have the energy to ski at your optimum or, even worse, you risk getting injured. Get it right, however, and on the final run you’ll be the one uttering the immortal words, “I’ll be back”.

So how do you make sure your Judgment Day passes without exhaustion or injury? The key is to maintain a base level of fitness that you can build on, Birgmann reckons.

“The biggest mistake people make is that they don’t keep themselves in shape over summer, autumn and spring, so that in winter when the snow falls they think ‘Okay, let’s do something’, but we all know it’s pretty hard to catch up.”

A week in the snow is a far cry from the gruelling intensity of the decathlon, but Birgmann believes the same holistic approach to training is the only way to beat ski-fatigue.

“Your whole body has to be fit,” he says. “Skiing and snowboarding are challenging outdoor sports that call on your body to perform at high altitudes and in sometimes very demanding environments.

“The fitter you are, the better and longer you’ll be able to ski each day and the lower your risk of injury.”

The six-week program, below, has been designed to improve both your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, so you have the strength and ability to sustain short bursts of exertion repeatedly throughout the day. It also aims to improve your coordination, balance, flexibility and agility to allow you a more dynamic and athletic range of movements. What’s the pay-off?
“If you’re fit you can have 20 runs at a high level, of a high quality,” Birgmann reveals. “You’ll be able to go home and not be tired or sore, nor have to rest for a week afterwards. Most importantly, you’ll be able to say that was a good trip.”

Follow this six-week program to avoid an athletic apocalypse
Download the six-week program: click here

Upper-body workout

Do three sets of 20.

Back Arches

Lie on your front with your ankles crossed, arms straight out in front. Raise your upper body off the floor, keeping your neck in line with your spine. Hold for one second and then slowly lower to the floor. Do three sets of 10 repetitions.

Reverse Curl
Lie on your back with your legs bent, knees together and feet flat on the floor. Curl your legs up and pull your backside off the floor. Return to the starting position. Do three sets of 20 reps.

Back Extensions

Sit on the floor with your legs bent, feet flat on the floor. Position your hands behind you, then raise your body so that your trunk is parallel to the floor. Hold for one second and slowly lower. Do three sets of 10 reps.

Bench Dips
Place two flat benches parallel to each other, about a metre apart. Sit with your hands on one bench and feet crossed on the other and slowly lower your body until your upper arms and forearms form a right angle, before returning to the start position. Do three sets of 10 reps.

Do three sets of 20 reps.

Twisted Curl

Lie on your back with your legs bent, knees together and feet flat on the floor. Place the left ankle on your right knee. Curl your right shoulder up to the left knee, keeping your lower back on the ground. Return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg and shoulder. That’s one rep; do three sets of 15.

Lower-body workout

Do two sets of the following drills over 20 metres, increasing the distance by 10m for each, every two weeks. When you get to 30m, add an extra set and start again at 20m. Perform the drill, jog for 20m and walk back; take five minutes to recover per set.

Walk on toes; walk on heels; bum kicks; skip with high knees; jog with high knees; high skips; side strides.

The following plyometric drills should be performed six to 10 times over 20m, increasing the distance by 10m, every two weeks. Start with two sets and increase by two reps per week. When you get to 10 reps, add an extra set and start again at six reps. Perform the drill, jog for 20m and walk back; five minutes’ recovery per set.

Plyometric drills: bunny hops for both distance and height; single-leg hop with high knees.

Hip Thrust
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Lift your hips off the floor while keeping your back straight.

Glute Lift
Get in a push-up position, but with your elbows on the ground, resting on your forearms. Arch your back slightly, raising your glutes towards the ceiling, squeezing your abs tightly so that you end up in a high bridge position. Slowly return to the starting position.

Flutter Kicks

On a step or platform, lie face-down with your hips on the edge, legs straight and feet on the floor. Raise your legs until they are level with your hips, alternately lifting one leg higher then the other, as though you’re kicking in water.


Joint Rotations
From a standing position with your arms hanging loosely at your sides, flex, extend and rotate each of the following joints: fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, trunk, shoulder-blades, hips, knees, ankles, feet and toes.

Perform six to 10 reps of the following exercises:

Neck mobility
Flexion/Extension Tuck your chin into your chest and then lift it upwards as far as possible.

Lateral Flexion
Lower your left ear towards your left shoulder and then your right ear to your right shoulder.

Turn your chin laterally towards your left shoulder and then rotate it over towards your right shoulder.

Upper-body mobility
Shoulder Circles
Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, knees bent. Raise your right shoulder to your right ear, then back down and up again in a smooth action. Repeat with the left shoulder.

Arm Swings
With your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, swing both arms continuously to an overhead position and then forward, down and backwards.

Side/Front Crossover
Swing both arms out to your sides, then cross them in front of your chest.

Side Bends
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, hands resting on hips. Lift your trunk up and away from your hips and bend smoothly first to one side, then the other.

Lower-body mobility
Hip Circles and Twists
With your hands on your hips and feet spread wider than your shoulders, make circles with your hips in a clockwise direction. Repeat in a counter clockwise direction.

Extend your arms out to your sides and twist your torso and hips to the left, shifting your weight onto your left foot. Then twist your torso to the right while shifting your weight to your right foot.

Half Squat

Stand with your hands out in front of you. Bend at the knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your back straight throughout and looking straight ahead before returning to the starting position.

Leg swings

Stand side on to a wall with your weight on your left leg and your right hand on the wall for balance. Swing your right leg forwards and backwards.

Cross-Body Flexion/Abduction
With both hands on a wall and your weight on your left leg, swing your right leg to the left in front of your body, pointing your toes upwards as your foot reaches its furthest point, then swing the right leg back to the right as far as comfortable, again pointing your toes at the final point of movement. Repeat with your left leg.


Standing with both feet together, lunge forward until the right thigh is parallel to the ground and the right lower leg vertical. Spring back to the starting position. Repeat with the left leg.

Ankle Bounce
With your hands on a wall and all your weight on your left foot, raise the right heel five or so centimetres while pushing the left heel into the ground. Swap feet and repeat in a rapid, bouncy fashion.


Use a standard ladder, 9m long with 48cm2 squares. Spend 1.5 hours working out on it and perform all exercises with ski poles from week four onwards.

Exercise 1 Run through placing one foot in the middle of each square, emphasising arm swing, high knee drive and brief ground contact.

Exercise 2 Stand side-on to the ladder and move in to your right, stepping into the top square with the right foot, then with your left. Step back out with your right then left foot. Repeat all the way along.

Exercise 3 Standing side-on to the ladder, place your right foot in the first square. Step across the ladder with your left foot. Remove your right foot and place it next to your left. Then step forward into the second square with your left foot and repeat the sequence all the way along the ladder.

Exercise 4 Start by straddling one side of the ladder: right foot in the first square and your left outside the ladder. Jump 90º to your right so that your right foot stays in the square and your left lands in the next square. Jump 90º to your left so your left foot stays in the ladder square and your right lands outside the ladder. Then jump 90º to your left again, your left foot still in the same square, your right foot one square further along. Repeat the sequence all the way along the ladder.

Exercise 5 Stand sideways to the ladder. Step into the first square with the right foot. Next, bring your left foot around in front of your right to the other side of the ladder. Step with your right foot around in front of your left to the next square then bring your left behind your right foot to the other side. Step forward to the next square with your right foot and repeat the sequence all the way along the ladder.