by Cat Weakley, The Telegraph, November 30, 2017
It’s 7am at the subterranean Workshop Gymnasium and spa within the Bulgari hotel in Knightsbridge, and I’m trying my damnedest to do as trainer Brian Walpole instructs. “No, don’t go straight down, move back,” he says patiently, as I squat incorrectly for about the 25th time. I puff with annoyance; why can’t I do this?
I’m persevering because I want to be ski fit, and this exercise harnesses muscles I’ll need on the slopes. If you’re only skiing for one week a year it seems a waste to stop for breathers halfway down every piste, or to allow aching muscles to dictate the easy route down instead of a more exciting challenge.
I enjoy a day spent recovering from aches and pains in a spa, but I don’t want to feel it’s a necessity on a blue-sky powder day in a ski resort. Even so, really useful advice specifically for ski fitness is hard to come by.
This is where the Ski Fit programme at the Bulgari hotel comes in. Designed for skiers of all levels who want to ensure they’re in top physical shape on the very first morning they take to the slopes, it typically lasts three months, but can be adapted to shorter time-frames if wished. What’s more, it takes a holistic approach, incorporating nutrition advice, massage, osteopathy and yoga as well as gym sessions to create a finely honed skiing - or snowboarding - machine.
I’m The Telegraph’s deputy head of ski content, have skied for years and am pretty fit, but my first session with Brian was an eye-opener. As he assessed me to determine what we should work on, I was pushed well out of my comfort zone.
“For you it’s not about cardio,” he said, as I lay on all fours, struggling to twist down to touch one wrist with the other elbow, and failed to perform the squat to his satisfaction. “Your hips and upper back are very tight, you’re quad-centric with weak glutes and hamstrings, your shoulders curve forwards and your knees fall in.” Alright, Brian, don’t hold back.
“Amazing” he later added, with impressive feeling, as I managed to twist successfully 10 times. I felt better.
After the assessment, we moved into circuits, homing in on the things I found most difficult with creative exercises using rollers, balls and bands and the odd machine, and including some I had never in all my fitness-focused years done before.
I felt like I was in some kind of Channel 5 truck-dragging competition as I hauled a giant weight with sideways steps across the floor, recommended to improve my weaker turn direction. Other ski-centric exercises targeted balance, core and dissociation - separating upper and lower body movements.
As well as correcting and encouraging me, Brian suggested how I could do some exercises at home and on a ski trip. Our hour-long sessions always began and finished with stretching, with Brian stressing the importance of of recovery: “If you’re told to warm up by yourself, it doesn’t seem as important.” Each hour flew by as I had to focus so hard, and ended with a 70-calorie pea-protein shake made by Brian that actually felt like a reward.
Personal-training sessions may be with different trainers during the course, but communication between the team at the gym means the transition is seamless. At a session with Workshop Gymnasium founder Lee Mullins, I was quizzed about what I eat for breakfast on a ski trip. Porridge, eggs and butter are all good for breakfast, he said. Croissants, unsurprisingly, are bad.
The Ski Fit programme includes unlimited access to the hotel’s gym and 25-metre pool. My half hours spent swimming after early training sessions felt like the last word in luxury. I swear the water felt silky and easier to move through than in less salubrious London venues. The weekly training sessions are also complemented by six hour-long osteopathy sessions. The aim can be simply to make sure the body is performing at its peak, or to address specific injuries.
At our meeting osteopath Susannah Makram listened patiently as I listed issues with back, knees and shoulder and then looked at my posture. This helped her conclude, rather as Brian had, that many of them stem from issues with a tight upper back and rounded shoulders. She said she would start with hands-on treatment - which at first felt like a luxurious massage, using oil and suction cups but, as it continued, was anything but ordinary.
With slow and increasing pressure at key points - often using her elbows - she got deep into my muscles, which at the time made me feel as limp as a cat being picked up by the scruff of the neck by its mother. Afterwards I felt taller, broader, and more energised than relaxed. The pressure was followed by manipulation to give more movement in my hips, seized up by years of cycling.
On a skiing trip I took while still completing the programme, I was sure the gym sessions had woken up the adductor - inner thigh - muscles that can play a huge part in powering through tougher snow conditions. And doing a few squatted crab steps with an exercise band in my chalet bedroom before breakfast helped wake up the right leg muscles for the day ahead. What’s more, though I had had a challenging time with my back two months prior to the trip, I suffered no pain on that occasion.
The final pieces of the puzzle for the Bulgari’s holistic regime are yoga sessions to increase strength and flexibility and reduce the chance of injury; deep tissue massages; and, after the ski trip, a Swiss Perfection facial to help skin recover from a week of facing a rollercoaster of sun, cold, wind and snow.
From the same house as La Prairie, SP products are available in only a select group of hotel spas and are said to contain enzymes and proteins that promote skin renewal through hydration and oxygenation, and by stimulating cell renewal. A central part is the application of a product-soaked mask, which covers the equally weather-vulnerable mouth, left on for half an hour. At the end, my skin felt plumper, fresher, and certainly people commented that I looked well.
Committing to a ski fit programme that is so targeted must help make it possible to ski to the peak of your ability on a skiing holiday. Despite the tough love from the trainers I was soon hooked by the way they targeted weak points, knew what I needed to ski better and made the programme so varied and interesting. What's more, I could feel the benefits of both the fitness programme and the osteopathy sessions on the slopes, and the personal attention is so effective, not to mention addictive, I can imagine some of the hotel's most extravagant clients might even continue the sessions after the programme is done.
Bulgari Hotel London’s (020 7151 1055) three-month Ski Fit programme at the Workshop Gymnasium and Bulgari Spa costs £8,430 and includes a one-hour functional movement screening; 12 sessions of ski-specific personal training and 12 sessions of yoga; nutritional advice; six massages and six osteopathy sessions; two Espa body rituals and one 90-minute facial.
Shorter programmes arranged on request.