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Wild Rumpus Sports

Wednesday Workout: Athletic Movement with USSA Strength Coach Tschana Schiller

Simi Hamilton utilizing the hurdles at the Center of excellence in Park City, Utah. (Photo: USSA/Sarah Brunson)

Simi Hamilton utilizing the hurdles at the Center of excellence in Park City, Utah. (Photo: USSA/Sarah Brunson)

This week’s Wednesday Workout comes from Tschana Schiller, Senior Strength and Conditioning Coach with the United States Ski and Snowboard Association in Park City, Utah. Schiller develops strength programs for many of the U.S. Ski Team athletes and was an essential part of the USST camp that took place at the end of May. We asked Schiller for advice regarding nordic athletes and her response was simple, yet essential: athletic movement.  


Lately I have begun to utilize a different focus for some of my cross country athletes as well as other disciplines of athletes that I train. With the trend for kids to specialize in one sport starting so early, I have noticed as many athletes age they actually begin to lose or get worse with their athleticism or movement capacity. If you look at cross country skiing, the movements utilized occur primarily in the sagittal plane. When I assess my athletes during testing and training, they typically move pretty well straight forward. However, as I incorporate more multi-directional movement the efficiency of their positions seems to decrease.

You may ask, “If cross country skiing movements are pretty straight forward, why is it important to train in any other direction?”  My immediate answer is that you still need great movement capacity in order to be a better, well-rounded cross country skier. There are certainly instances during the course of races where an athlete may need to avoid another skier falling, be agile enough to move around a skier that just snapped their ski pole in front of you, or just move laterally around others in order to set yourself up to attack a hill. If you don’t have the ability to maneuver your center of mass, quickly and efficiently, then you may be missing an important component in your training.  The more cumbersome your movements, the more time and energy you will use trying to make the move. The best athletes, no matter what sport or discipline, have the ability to make their movements look easy and effortless.

Tschana Schiller, USSA Strength and Conditioning Coach. (Photo: USSA)

Tschana Schiller, USSA Strength and Conditioning Coach in a 2013 staff photo. (Photo: USSA)

I am a big proponent for strength training. The majority of my programs are based around whole body movements crossing multiple joints. My strength programs are set up with a few main goals: address weaknesses/imbalances, improve force and power production, and help prevent injuries, amongst other things. That being said, the weight room can be a pretty sterile environment. There is nothing too terribly athletic about squatting. It’s a brilliant exercise and nearly all of my programs incorporate some sort of squatting variation (split, single leg, double leg, etc.) as it requires good mobility and develops great force production. As far as movement capacity goes, however, there is not much in the gym that can mimic what takes place on your skis.

Developing strength and power capabilities in the gym can most certainly help the characteristics of skiing and should be used in dry-land programs, but it is highly beneficial to also incorporate a movement oriented session or ‘athleticism type’ exercises into your strength program.

The exercises are simple – anything like jumping, sprinting, speed ladders, agility drills, shuffling forward, backward, laterally, etc. all help to train athleticism. Focus on movement quality, not quantity. How you move and keep a rhythm at first is most important. If your arms are flailing around as you run and cut, you are using extra energy where you don’t need it.

I have also trained many athletes who perform these drills with so much tension that they cannot stay relaxed.  Occasionally this happens in skiing as well. This does not mean be lazy with your movements. Instead, work to develop a flow and tempo that allows you to use only the energy required for the movement but not more. For example, if you are squeezing your traps up to your ears and your fists are gripped as you sprint and cut during an agility drill, you are taxing your body unnecessarily. You may be able to pull this off for a short drill, but if you tried to maintain that for 30 k you would be fatiguing yourself instead of saving that energy to use it when you really need it.

The great Muhammad Ali once said “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”  A good boxer is relaxed and efficient with his or her movements but can strike with strength and power when needed. This also goes for cross country skiing.  Finding a rhythm and tempo with your movements in the gym and on your skis allows you to save that force and power for when you really need to lay it on.

Multidirectional/Athletic Movement Exercise Examples

Lateral shuffle and reach:  

Set up two cones starting roughly 10 meters apart. Side shuffle and reach down to touch the cone. Keep steps even and smooth. Shuffle back to the other cone and touch.

Start with three sets of 15 seconds.  Progress to 20 to 30 seconds, or to cones further apart.  Once you have mastered this move, you can shuffle and pivot to touch the cone (you would end up facing the opposite direction), pivot back and continue to shuffle to the other cone, pivot and touch. Get creative with this.  Other progressions can use a cross-over step in the shuffle, pivot and reach, etc.

Micro hurdles:

Use six to 12 inch hurdles for agilities. Forward skip/knee drive drills through six to eight micro hurdles into a 20 meters acceleration or build up sprint.  Work on correct running mechanics keeping elbows in and hip, knee, ankle alignment and staying ‘tall’ through the hurdles.  Do five to six sets.

You can progress or challenge yourself by going laterally through the micro hurdles then opening the hip into a forward acceleration for example. You can also change up the drills through the hurdles then follow it up with a shuffle and pivot like the above drill.  Again, try to find a rhythm and solid tempo while remaining relaxed and efficient.

If you are not doing it already, try adding some more multi-directional, athletic type movements to your strength plan.  Don’t discard the normal strength and power training because this is a vital component as well, but consider some more ‘big movement’ exercises.  How are you shifting your weight?  Are you staying balanced?  Are you able to use those strength and power gains and actually propel yourself athletically now on your skis?  Remember, to improve or maintain athleticism, YOU HAVE TO MOVE!