Ski fitness column

I received several calls after last week's column about getting in shape for skiing with the 24-hour Fitness Center. Most of the questions were about the use of the plastic ball in training.

I'll get into that, but remember that everything I do in this series is under the direction and control of a highly educated fitness trainer, along with written permission from my physician.

The training I'm undergoing is very specifically designed to improve core stability - that is, increasing the strength and balance capability of the body with the very specific goal of improving my ability to ski moguls.

So the training I'm undergoing may not be right for individuals seeking more strength, losing weight or building endurance (although all of those goals are included in my program).

So, to the specifics.

Right now I'm using a 65cm inflated ball for three exercises. The first sounds simple. Sit on the ball, both feet on the ground, hands beside the hips on the ball. Close the eyes and then with one foot on the floor, lift the other leg up and then extend it until it is horizontal to the floor. Hold it there for a count of two, then slowly lower it. Repeat a dozen times or more.

Nothing to it, right? Not for me. With the eyes closed you lose reference to your surroundings and the nervous system alone has to control balance. It's very easy for the ball to start to roll out from under you.

"Some people can't even lift their one foot off the ground," said fitness manager David Curiel, four-time nationally certified trainer. "It's a body reflex: if the brain doesn't think the body is capable of performing an action it will cancel the message to the involved muscle group so that nothing happens."

I'm slowly getting the hang of this exercise. At first I almost took a couple of falls to the side but the trainer intervened. If you're going to try it, have someone standing by.

The second use of the ball starts with the body on the back on a mat. The ball is at the feet and you put one foot on the ball, the other leg straight up in the air. You then arch the back to lift it off the mat, hold it for a two-count, then slowly lower. Repeat 10 times.

The third ball exercise is a variation of an old ski exercise. The ball is placed against a wall and you stand with your back pressing against the ball. You slowly lower the body with the feet in place until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Hold that for 30 seconds, then rise. Pause, then repeat at least four times.

There is a definite challenge to this series of exercises as you can easily tell how you are progressing. That's the fun part of it.

Another part of my program involves the old jump rope. This has proved to be exceptionally difficult for me. It's the same old thing, rope behind you, then swung forward while you elevate on your toes. As you improve your timing you start to swing your feet so that you land first off to one side, then to the other. This is obviously a superb exercise for skiing the moguls, since quick offsets of the skis without swinging the body are exactly what you do on the bumps.

I'll go into the rest of the program in future reports, but I'd like to touch on the nutrition side of this program. Taking my age, weight and general physical condition into account, a computer generated-program has outlined a series of dietary meals andnutrional supplements. While weight loss is not the goal of this program, weight affects everything else in the program. So I have six basic meals outlined, along with a booklet that shows me what I can substitute for items: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner. Never a snacker, trainer David said snacks are important in keeping down peaks in energy, so I guess I'll start bringing apples and the like to the office.

The fitness program goes into depth about weight loss, with some factors I never considered. Chief among these is the "set point" the body arrives at during adulthood. This is a weight that the brain considers right for the body. Once it is set, it's there for good, short of genetic changes. This explains the yo-yo failure effect of all the quick weight-loss programs.

By reducing calorie intake, the brains decides that it will reduce both fat and muscle. And since muscles burn more calories than fat, the dieter has to decrease calorie intake even more to stay in place, which is obviously a self-defeating cycle.

"The only way to change the set point," David explained, "is with a combination of exercise and nutrition control."

So calorie control inevitably becomes part of my program.

So far it is impossible to notice any change in my condition, although Sunday I did a almost all-vertical hike where I exceeded my past performance considerably. Maybe it was just the beautiful day and the panorama that continued to unfold as I climbed higher and higher.

Now, if I can just remember to buy a jump rope and get that side swing down.


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