Wednesday Workout: Functional Strength with the Cambridge Sports Union

Audrey ManganMay 29, 2013
For CSU's functional strength workout, all you need is an exercise ball, a medicine ball and stopwatch. (Courtesy photo.)
For CSU’s functional strength workout, you need an exercise ball, a medicine ball, a bench, a pull-up bar and a stopwatch. (Courtesy photo.)

Skiing is an upper-body sport. It doesn’t pay just to have a strong engine; if you want to win sprint finishes you’d better have a strong double-pole, too.

As Cambridge Sports Union head coach Rob Bradlee puts it, “it’s not running on skis. When I was a lad, if you were a good runner you could jump on the skis and run with wooden skis and bamboo poles. You didn’t get much out of your arms then, but not anymore.”

To properly build complete body strength in his athletes, Bradlee develops both their specific strength and something he calls functional strength. The workload he recommends for each age group varies (Olympic lifting is for more mature athletes only) but the principles are the same: strong skiers are fast skiers.

He can back his program up with results, too: at this year’s Junior Nationals in Fairbanks, Alaska, CSU ranked fourth amongst junior clubs throughout the country and he had multiple individual top-10s across age groups.

The key to those results, Bradlee says, was strength.

Which brings us to today’s Wednesday Workout, one of the two “functional strength,” workouts his athletes do twice a week in the summer and fall. On Monday and Friday nights, Bradlee’s athletes do circuits of full-body exercises mostly with body weight — “pull-ups, push-ups, squats, step-ups, those types of things,” he says.

There was a popular article in the New York Times recently called “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout,” which Bradlee says is a good, simple starting point for building all-around strength.

“[It] was wonderful,” he said. “It’s a pretty good description of what you can do.”

To complement the twice-a-week functional strength workouts during the summer, Bradlee also has his athletes do specific strength on their own time once or twice a week — namely, double-poling on an erg or on rollerskis with added resistance.

“Skiing is a whole-body movement requiring dynamic balance with decisive, explosive application of power from arms, legs, and core in a completely coordinated fashion,” he writes in the workout instructions. “To ski fast the athlete must gain strength performing the exact motions of skiing in a manner as close to actual skiing condition as possible.”

Specific strength is a topic for another day, however. For now, here one of CSU’s functional strength workouts. It may look like a long list, but you only have to do each set of exercises once unless otherwise noted.

“We do a much bigger variety of exercises with fewer sets than other programs,” Bradlee says. “Why? Because Coach Bradlee is easily bored and hates doing strength work so the idea of, say, having six exercises and doing three sets is horrifying to me even though I know it’s the accepted wisdom for strength. Seems to work out alright.”


Equipment: medicine ball, exercise ball, step-up box or bench, bar for pull-ups

Group Warm-Up

  • 15 x Wood chop with medicine ball
  • 15 x Rotation with medicine ball
  • 10-20 meters: High knee skip
  • 10-20 meters: High knee run
  • 10 x Heel up walk with straight leg dead lift
  • 5-10 x Lunge walk
  • 5-10 x Inchworm
  • 10 x Burpees


  • 30 secs each leg: quiet balance
  • 30 secs each leg: balance with arm waving and eyes shut
  • 15+ each leg: balance with leg swing
  • Play catch with knee on ball

Core Stability, Hip Stability and Mobility

  • 1 minute: Front bridge
  • 1 minute: Side bridge
  • 1 minute each: Back bridge (1 leg back, alternate march, 15 x ham curls)
  • 15 x Cook Hip Lift (4 inch lift, 6 inch lift, on medicine ball)
  • 15 x Bent Leg abduction
  • 15 x Straight Leg

Plyometric (Explosive speed) Drills (AMAP = As Many As Possible)

Pick 2 medicine ball throws:

  • AMAP: seated throw
  • 15 per side: Canadians
  • 5-10 x high squat throw
  • 10-15 x Superman throw

Pick 2 leg plyos:

  • 2 x 30 skate jesters with light medicine ball
  • 2 x 8+ frog jumps
  • 2 x 8+ classic one-leg hops
  • Max to 1 min: box jumps

Strength (2 sets of each)

  • AMAP: Pull-ups (assisted or unassisted)
  • AMAP: Hanging leg-lifts to waist height
  • AMAP: Push-ups on ball
  • AMAP: Inverted Row

Legs (2 sets of each)

  • 15 x Podium
  • 10+ each leg: Pitcher squat
  • 10+ each leg: Lunge
  • 10+ each leg: Toe Raise

Core (2 sets of each)

  • 10+ x V-sits
  • 10+ x Dog salutes
  • 10+ x Russian twist
  • 10+ x Reverse crunch

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Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

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