Q&A with Gus Kenworthy

The Olympic skier talks German Volume Training, his go-to indulgences, and more.

Gus Kenworthy is many things—an LGBTQ activist, a crusader for animal welfare—but he’s most known for his talent on skis. He placed second in the men’s slopestyle competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and earned two silver medals at X Games Aspen in 2016.

But he suffered a few setbacks at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. With a broken thumb and a painful hematoma that caused bruising and swelling from his knee to his hip, he finished in 12th place. “Had I not been at the Olympics, there’s no way I would have been skiing,” Kenworthy, now 26, says.

Since returning from South Korea in February, the Telluride, Colorado native has taken the longest break from the sport since he turned pro. He talked to Furthermore about his new ski-free training regimen, his lack of a strict diet, and his next big fitness challenge.

What’s it like for you to step back from skiing while you recover from your injuries?

Taking time off is crucial but I’m definitely hungry to get back on the snow. Earlier in my career, I never took breaks because I just wanted to compete and win. Now I know when to take time off or pull out entirely. Sometimes it’s important to be tough, and other times you just need to say “this isn’t worth it.” Right now I’m focusing on recovery and making sure my body is working the way it’s supposed to.

Even though you’re not skiing, are you preserving your strength in other ways?

Yes. I actually just started a new training regimen. To help me put on size, I’ve been doing German Volume Training. Instead of hitting multiple body parts in one session, each day I do three exercises that work a single muscle group. For example, on chest day I’ll do incline bench presses, decline bench presses, and flies, completing 10 sets of 10 reps each at a weight that’s 80 percent of my max. I divide my routine into chest, leg, back, shoulder, and arm days. In some ways repetition and consistency is key in the gym, but at the same time it’s good to shock your system and mix it up.

How has your body responded to the new routine?

It seems to be working. Each body part is basically sore until the next time I target that muscle group one week later. I can manipulate the plan to help me with my skiing, whether it’s getting stronger or building more explosive power.

Are you doing cardio as well?

Not right now, but I will soon. I’m signed up for the AIDS/LifeCycle ride next June, a 545-mile charity ride over seven days down the California coast. I went to the finish line at this year’s race to cheer on some friends. My sponsors said they’d match donations, so I’m hoping to raise $1 million. After next ski season, I’ll definitely focus more on cardio with that in mind.

That's a big challenge. Are you a seasoned cyclist?

I spin after leg workouts to flush lactic acid out of my muscles, but I have very little cycling experience. I know if I put in the work, I’ll be okay. I’m used to pushing my body in lots of different ways.

Are you involved in any other charities?

The Shred Hate campaign reached out to me at the beginning of my pro career and I was eager to get on board. I work with another charity called GLSEN that makes schools safer places for LGBTQ youth who have higher risks of suicide, depression, and being bullied. We need to make schools safe places for kids.

You’re a big advocate for the LGBTQ community. How did people respond when you came out in October 2015?

I thought it would make me a pariah and that people would avoid me because of it, but my expectations were blown away. I got a lot of words of encouragement from my team, sponsors, and competitors, and I felt very loved. Sports are meant to be a sanctuary where you have a team environment and are looking out for one another, but at the same time they can be really isolating if you feel you don’t fit the traditional mold. Coming out was a huge step for me and it helped me as a human and an athlete. It’s important that every LGBTQ person accept themselves.

When do you plan to return to the slopes?

In September I’ll travel to New Zealand to ski for a couple weeks. I feel lucky because I have good muscle memory: A couple of years ago I took nine months off after an injury and I was nervous I would lose the feel for skiing, but I ended up winning my first event back.

Do you put an emphasis on nutrition to keep you healthy?

I don’t focus on my diet a ton, but I know that certain foods will sit heavier and make me feel worse if I’m jumping the next day. If I know I’m going to the beach or Fire Island I might cut down on indulgences like cake and pizza. I wish I was someone who meal prepped and counted my macros, but I’m not.

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