Summer is no time to relax for Canada's best winter athletes, who are sweating hard with less than a year to go before the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. We asked medal hopefuls to dish on their summer workout regimes and share their best exercise tips for our readers. This week: Alex Bilodeau.
Almost four years ago, moguls skier Alex Bilodeau flew down a ski hill and flipped into the record books by becoming the first Canadian to win gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Sochi will be the 26-year-old Concordia University student's third Olympics, and his last. From now until competition heats up in December, Bilodeau will alternate each month between honing his skiing everywhere from the Swiss Alps and Whistler's peaks – and improving his fitness back home in Montreal. He'll do multiple workouts per day, five to six days per week. That includes gym sessions, cardiovascular work on a road bike, plyometrics or strapping on skis and flying off a ramp into a lake.
Focus: the back
"When we ski down a course and everybody looks at us from the bottom, it looks so easy. But to make it look easy, you need to move the upper body as little as possible, and every movement comes from the lower body. To make that lateral movement happen without showing it, we need to have a strong core. Also, when we are in the air, it's very important to have a strong core to keep your upper and lower body parts [rotating] together. And if my core is not strong in my landing, my upper body collapses as I land, or I can't resist the rotational forces that are happening."
How I work it
"Most of the exercises I have for my back also work my entire core. We do pivot planks, pikes with a ball, Russian twists with a medicine ball. We don't concentrate much on the upper back, but there's a lot of lower back work, like Supermans, where you lie on your stomach and do a sort-of crunch for the back."
My best exercise
"I don't use a lot of weight when I do my back extensions. When I do it, I'm bent over a ball with my feet against the wall. It's all about where you put your hands and where you finish the movement. The way my coach has me do it, your hands are behind the ears, but with the elbows really high behind me. You finish the back extension by pulling your shoulder blades together and really contracting everything as you finish the extension. That makes a huge difference all across the back."
"It's normal to get that ugly face you get when something is really painful. My trainers remind me, Alex, focus on the right thing. It's important to focus on having a calm face, and push all the energy that I'm losing into what I'm doing. It's all about energy management. When I ski and I'm really tight, I'm not as fluid in my skiing. And it all starts in the gym."
Biggest gym mistake
"You know those machines for back extensions? People think they're strong, and they take a big weight of 45 pounds in their hands and go, but their back is so rounded, and it's so bad for their back. … I could make people do back extension with no weight and a set of 10 and they would be dead, just by the way they place their hands and the way they finish the movement. The weight doesn't matter."
The bottom line
"If I stop skiing moguls for two weeks, and then I do one run two weeks later, I'll have problems getting out of bed afterward. We call that 'mogul back.' There's nothing to simulate the impact moguls have on your back. There are only moguls skiing to get you fit for moguls skiing. It's a bit like hockey. You could be the fittest guy ever, but if you don't play hockey for a couple months, you'll be sore the next day."
This interview has been edited and condensed