Plyometric Power: Jumps for Bumps

You need dynamic strength in the moguls, but how to get it? One of the best ways is with a series of plyometric exercises.

Skiing the BumpsSkiing the Bumps

"Absorb the bump."  If you've ever taken a mogul-skiing class, you've heard it said 100 times. But what does it mean? Absorbing the bump means flexing your legs with enough power so that your lower body, not your upper body absorbs the force of impact. You have probably seen skiers who do not do this. As the ski the moguls, their legs rarely flex, but there is a good deal of upper body movement, which eventually leads to a wipe-out.

Scott Higgins, the Team Physiologist for the US Ski and Snowboard Association, has this to say about mogul skiing: "World Class mogul courses require the ability of the athlete to extend and compress the body in concert with the shape of the snow. An important skill is to be able to move up and down through a long range of motion without balance changing in any way."

Higgins is describing agility, which is the ability to react to changes in stimuli and terrain without an effect on balance, postural alignment or dynamic stability. As such, "mogagility"  is dependent on a number of factors, which include:

  • Dynamic Balance
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Coordination

All of these aspects of fitness can be developed in a plyometric training program. However, the program must be progressive.

What is Plyometric Exercise?

Plyometric exercise presupposes the theory that the concentric or shortening  of a muscle contraction will be far more powerful if it immediately follows an eccentric  or lengthening contraction of the same muscle group. To get an image of how plyometrics in action,  visualize a coiled spring. What happens when you stretch out that spring? It releases a significant amount of energy and then immediately recoils. Now, let's apply these these principles to the human body. During the recoil phase of a plyometric exercise, your muscles are storing elastic energy.  Plyometric exercise trains the legs to act quickly and explosively. Over time, this adds power to athletic performance. Examples of lower body plyometrics include jumping, leaping and bounding movements. A carefully planned training program can help you develop the ability to perform these exercises in perfect form.

The Mogability Training Program

While some people argue that plyometric training can be dangerous, keep in mind that any fitness program can be dangerous if performed in poor form or without the prerequisite skills. Here are are the fundamental aspects of fitness required for plyometric training:

  1. Proprioception (the ability to sense the position, movement and orientation of the body)
  2. Balance
  3. Coordination
  4. Strength
  5. Agility
  6. Power

Notice that proprioception and balance are at the top of the list. Simply put, plyometric exercise, as well as mogul skiing are all about landing technique.  Just as a pilot needs to know location of the runway as well as the alignment of  plane, a jumper or mogul skier needs to be aware of his or her body position in preparation for landing from a jump or recovering from a mogul. As such, your mogability training program should begin with some basic balance and proprioception exercises. For basic balance, refer to the exercises in the Dynamic Fitness article. Here's a cool proprioception exercise you can do anywhere. It was presented at an International Dance Exercise conference by Suzanna Nottingham, who is a ski and snowboard instructor at the Mammoth Ski Resort in California.

  1. Place a piece of loose leaf paper on the floor
  2. Stand on the paper in your bare feet
  3. Close your eyes
  4. March in place for one minute
  5. Look down at your feet. Are they still on the paper?

Needless to say, ski boots are a hindrance to proprioception. By practicing this exercise in bare fee, you can fine tune the sensory mechanisms in your feet and improve proprioception.

Once a considerable amount of balance and proprioception has been developed, you can move on to strength training. Keep in mind,  some athletic coaches  require their athletes to have the ability to squat 1.5 percent of their body weight before participating in a plyometric training program. This makes sense when you consider the fact that impact forces from plyometric exercise may be equal to seven times your body weight.

Integrated Training for Plyometric Power

The National Academy of Sports Medicine has a training concept known as integrated training, which combines traditional strength exercises with balance-challenged  and plyometric exercise that work the same muscle group.  Here are some sample sequences:

Squats: Begin with a set of squats on the squat rack or holding hand weights. Then, hold a set of lighter weights, and perform a second set on a balance board. Next, try a set of  plyometric box jumps. Begin with a low platform, about six inches high. Stand on the platform, jump down and land in a squat.

Lunges: Do a set of lunges with hand weights. For your next set, lighten the weights and place on foot on the balance board. On your third set, perform the lunge, and then jump into the air, switch legs, and land in a lunge with the opposite foot forwards. For an extreme challenge, perform a plyometric lunge. Place your rear  foot on a bench and your front foot on the floor.  Keep your rear foot on the bench, and jump with your front foot. Land with a bent knee.

You can also add plyometric training to your aerobic workouts.  The 1-2-3 Jump is an excellent example, because it teaches timing and coordination. Begin with a run at a moderate pace. Then, break into a sprint, and count to yourself, 1-2-3. On the third count, perform a leap.

With a considerable amount of plyometric training, you'll be  jumping for joy on the moguls. Stay safe and have fun!