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Your Best Season Ever: Training to Train in the GPP

A solid Phil Brown (photo: Andy Mielzynski/Alpine Canada)

A solid GPP will carry you all the way through championship season. Phil Brown skis to silver at the Canadian national championship giant slalom this past March (photo: Andy Mielzynski/Alpine Canada)

In my previous article, I discussed the merits of the Regeneration phase in a periodized training plan. In this follow-up, I’ll be delving into some of the nuts and bolts of the actual training portion of an overall training plan.

If you recall from the Regeneration article, periodization is the systematic planning of blocks of time, or macrocycles, where different trainable qualities are overloaded or rested in order to elicit a predictable training peak. Put simply, periodization is planned and strategic training.

The flow of all training elements, large and small, is from a direction of general to specific. This can be seen in a properly structured warm-up up to the lay-out of the macrocycles of the overall training plan. The first training cycle in the off-season is called the General Preparatory Phase (GPP), and for good reason. This is the block of time in which training is in its most general form, laying the foundation for future training that is more specific in nature. This foundation forms the portion of the calendar where we are focused on the “training to train” physical qualities before transitioning to a more “training to race” focus. Whether you’ve already begun or are still gearing up, make sure your general preparatory phase training program addresses the following guidelines, and you’ll be sure to set the trajectory of your training efforts towards success.

The GPP should include and address the following:

  1. Entry Testing ‑ Fitness testing to assess various physiological qualities as they pertain to your athletic and ski racing performance such as aerobic power and capacity, anaerobic power and capacity, strength, speed, power, balance, and flexibility are likely to be evaluated either by field test or a laboratory. The data from this testing battery will serve as a time stamp of fitness against which some aspects of the training program may be targeted and as a reference to assess training progress over the course of the summer.
  2. Musculoskeletal & Movement Assessment – A thorough assessment of the health and function of the body’s soft tissues and bony structures is critical in the GPP. This assessment should be performed by a qualified physiotherapist or other accredited physical therapist experienced with this type of evaluation. The information gathered here will provide your trainer with a direction in which to correct deficiencies and imbalances (commonly referred toto as “pre-hab”) as well as potential physical issues that may need further follow-up with a qualified therapeutic professional.
  3. Medical/Other Assessment – If possible, a general health assessment from a medical doctor is an excellent practice, whether your team provides this or not. A common assumption is that all young and fit athletes are free of health concerns. Having a doctor’s check-up yearly will clear you of any potential issues that could be complicated by heavy training and competition. In addition, have your eyes checked. Vision is a huge part of performance on the snow. This is a great time to have any visual deficiencies addressed so that you are well adjusted to any corrections come your next on-snow training opportunity.
  4. Aerobic Base – Developing a larger aerobic base is a critical quality for ski racers primarily as a recovery quality. The specific demands of ski racing do not put a heavy demand on the aerobic energy system as many races across the disciplines do not last long enough to really tax this quality; however, the volume of training in summer and fall ski camps is a different beast altogether. We can all attest to the crazy demands placed on the body to complete multiple runs over consecutive days, oftentimes at altitude, that characterize the summer and fall camps. Your ability to recover between runs and between days will be largely determined by your aerobic fitness. Furthermore, establishing an aerobic base will give you the qualities necessary to effectively train the anaerobic system off snow in the specific phases of training. Remember: Train to train!
  5. Structural Balance – This term refers to the balance of the physical structures as they pertain to the left and right side of your body. In general, an imbalance in the physical size of the legs can be attributed to differences in muscle mass. With regards to injury prevention, particularly injuries involving the knee, differences in muscle mass between the left and right thighs are a large predictor of injury potential. This is due to the fact that muscle produces force, and if balance of the function in the thighs is sought, then we need balanced muscles since a larger muscle, in theory, will produce more force. An anthropometric exam in your fitness test or by a qualified trainer should be able to identify any gross muscle imbalances.
  6. Functional Balance – The ultimate purpose of left and right balance is to have both functioning the same. This includes the ability to produce equal amounts of maximum force as well as being able to coordinate left and right efforts in producing maximal force. In my observations over the years, it is the left leg that generally exhibits a weakness in maximal force and the coordinative abilities, as this is most commonly the non-dominant limb. If you do a quick poll of your teammates and competitors, I’ll bet most of those with a previous knee/leg injury had it first occur on their left side. Train your weak leg to be as strong as your dominant leg and your overall risk for injury will be significantly reduced.
  7. Establish Habits – The final key component of the GPP is neither a test nor a trainable physical quality. Instead, I’m suggesting this is a great time of year to re-establish all of your good training habits that you may have softened on during the Regeneration period. This includes accountability to a daily schedule and program, committing to the small details of your training program when no one is watching (“Ugh, I hate cardio!”), getting quality sleep, and supporting your training efforts with optimal nutrition and possibly supplements. The behaviors you exemplify in your dryland training are highly likely to carryover to your on-snow world, no matter how positive or negative.

Remember, the training period is systematic and progressive. Future training relies on the successful completion of previous cycles. The general preparatory phase is the first major training cycle and sets the direction for the rest of your training period. Kick your summer off on the right foot, and you’ll be one step closer to fully realizing your dryland training goals.

Matt Price is a strength and physiology consultant with the Canadian Sports Centre Calgary who enters his 7th season this year as the head of strength & physiology and sports science for the Canadian Alpine Ski Team. Matt operates Meridian Athletic Development, a high performance sports conditioning and science consulting service in Calgary (www.Meridian-AD.com). For more training tips, stay tuned for future articles and follow him on Twitter @MADmattprice.

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