How to Improve Your Power-To-Weight Ratio This Winter
Gravity is a strange and wonderful force, capable of being both friend and foe. It’s at the heart of the Earth’s hydrologic cycle that brings precipitation from the ocean to fall inland as snow. It stymies our quest to conquer ever increasing elevations on a sled. And it’s also the hidden force that unleashes the deadly fury of avalanches. Simply put, gravity dominates our destiny in the hills, even shaping the future of the mountains themselves.
To mount a successful snowmobile attack on gravity you will need to improve your power-to-weight ratio, and that can benefit both man and machine.
Improving Your Body’s Power-to-Weight Ratio
All serious athletes train their bodies to improve this ratio. High intensity weight training is your best way to build strength and create lean body mass. It also helps you prevent injury by strengthening joints and making bones denser.
While there are countless ways to exercise and many different opinions on the best way to do so, here are some basic principles to building muscle and a few must-do exercises for your preseason regimen.
Endurance versus Explosive Power
Muscle science is complicated, but in simple terms there are two types of skeletal muscle fibers we are concerned with—slow-twitch (type I) and fast–twitch (type II). Slow-twitch muscle fibers support long distance endurance activities like gripping handlebars all day, while fast–twitch muscle fibers support quick, powerful movements like pulling on stuck machines.
The actual exercises performed in the gym are basically identical for both fiber types, but the amount of weight lifted and the amount of reps done in each set will determine which muscle fibers are better targeted. Use lighter weights and do more repetition (20-50 or more reps) for endurance and heavier weights and less reps (8-12) for more explosive power.
A combination of both is recommended ensure your ability to ride all day but also have the strength to get out of a nasty situation. Super-heavy, one rep max type powerlifting might be fun, but generally you’ll gain excessive muscle mass that you and your machine will then have to haul around in the hills.
Tailor Your Workouts to Match Your Riding
If you’re a good rider who rarely gets stuck, then lean towards endurance training to maintain a lower body weight. If you’re new to sledding and pull on your machine a lot, then tilt your strategy towards explosive power training until your riding improves then transition to endurance training. Being as light and as strong as possible should be the goal.
A typical workout starts with heavier weights up front, higher reps during mid-workout and finishes off with cardio to burn fat and keep the cardiac muscle in shape. Do this at least four times a week, and you will improve your power-to-weight ratio.
Note that there are hundreds of exercises and variations that this article won’t cover. It is necessary to have a well-balanced program that targets all areas. Unbalanced programs can actually cause joint and other problems over time. If you wreck a sled you can always get a new one. Wrecking your body is not advised. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then hire a personal trainer.
Deadlifts are a must for any serious bumper puller. This compound movement will engage your entire body with a focus on glutes and lower back. Posture is critical to avoid injury. Once you get it right, take this to the backcountry and use the same form to lift machines out of the snow. Stamping out a platform in the snow so you can use your legs will help you lift more and avoid lower back injury. If the bumper is buried, consider using a short strap to get your body aligned correctly before pulling.
Squats are another must for sledders. This compound movement is similar to deadlifting but focuses less on the back and more on the quadriceps. High rep sets of squats will ensure you have the leg strength necessary to posthole through chest-deep snow in the event that gravity steals your sled from you.
Seated rows can be done either two- or one-handed. The focus here is pulling power and grip strength. You’ll need these same muscles to pull start your sled many times throughout a solid day of riding. You’ll also use these same muscles to hang onto and steer your handlebars, throwing your weight around to control your sled.
Endurance is the key here. The more advanced your riding is the more you’ll need arm endurance. The solution is high-repetition seated rows.
Improving Your Sled’s Power-to-Weight Ratio
The power-to-weight ratio of your sled is another critical component in the battle against gravity. If you have a bottomless war chest then carbon fiber everything, add a race gas turbo, and install high-performance clutches and a lightweight track to reduce rotating mass.
For most, the reality is a limited budget. The most cost-effective way to improve power-to-weight ratio is to install an aftermarket exhaust system. Your sled can instantly shed 7 kg or more without losing power.
Shedding weight by getting rid of unnecessary components or replacing them with lighter aftermarket versions is usually cheaper than adding horsepower. Look for other components to delete or replace with lighter materials. The lighter your sled is, the more floatation it will have on snow and the easier it will be to maneuver, allowing you to conserve more energy. This acts in parallel with your stronger, lighter body to conquer gravity. One thing to remember is that putting your sled on a diet will make it more susceptible to damage.
Use the Right Fuel
Input affects output. Putting the right fuel into your machine and body will have a huge impact on performance. Everybody has an opinion on this or that, but some things are not up for debate.
New sleds under warranty should always run the factory recommended oil from your dealer. If you have a warranty issue, the manufacturer will want proof that you ran their oil in their machine. Some dealers will go so far as to calculate the expected consumption based on your sled’s mileage and track that against your purchases.
Got no warranty? Run whatever oil you want, but buying high quality lubes will save you money in the long run. Of course, pump high quality premium fuel into the tank. No ethanol, ever.
Fueling Your Body
Supplements for human consumption is another area with plenty of debate. Every day there are new supplements on the market that make outrageous claims. Most of them are bogus and you shouldn’t waste your money. Stick to the basics, like a good pre-workout formula. Make sure it includes creatine monohydrate and not too much for stimulants. Drink lots of water during your workout—at least a liter per hour. Your post workout should always include at least 30 g of high quality, micronized whey protein powder.
Riding Day Nutrition
On riding days, don’t take pre-workout formulas before going to war in the hills. They don’t stay in your system long enough to last all day and you want to avoid a nutrition crash. There are some supplements emerging that are safer, more natural and can give you the mid- or late-day boost you need to keep going. Post ride protein shakes are a must.
If you want to ride like a pro, then ditch the canned energy drinks and leave the alcohol at home.
– Alex @hipgnosismedia
Special thanks to Body Garage in Fernie, BC for stepping up in the war against gravity.