What is efficient strength training for Cross-Country skiers? Very few of us can claim to have the exact answer. The question is usually not how to get stronger, but what is effective relative to skiing faster, and at the same time balancing this with other forms of Cross-Country training.
It does not help to have big and strong legs and huge triceps when skiing up a long hill if your oxygen uptake (Max VO2) is low. Then you end up with lots of muscles filled with lactic acid, and little to help pull or push you up the hill. Therefore, in practical terms, basic endurance and aerobic/anaerobic capacity training are the most important elements, then comes strength, technique, speed, explosiveness etc.
Some coaches claim that a certain percentage increase in strength is directly related to skiing faster in a 10 km. This in my opinion is looking at training from the wrong angle. It removes the fact that Cross-Country skiing is mostly about endurance, capacity and technique. Other elements help, but are small parts of the most fundamental, the “engine”.
From experience, common sense and practical applications the last few years, I have created an example of strength training for Cross-Country skiers. I have tried this myself for several years, without jeopardizing endurance. My running feels the same, the muscles do not feel any more sore or heavy than what’s normal (I am pretty much always sore anyhow, if you ask). I have also discussed this with many skiers and coaches, with positive feedback.
Strength should be done at a minimum twice a week with weights during the dryland season. The exercises should be adjusted and changed, but the following illustrates the system. We focus on the same as with other hard training (example intervals) – don’t deplete your body of strength, but energize it. This means – short, hard and effective sessions without many series.
First warm-up for 5 – 10 minutes, using easy weights, stationary bike or running. Before starting each of the individual exercises do 10 – 12 repetitions with easy weight. This may not be required after you’ve warmed up well, or after a few exercises.
To improve in strength, you need to “stress” yourself and lift hard. There is no use in going half-heartedly. The two last repetitions on each set should be hard to complete, especially on the last set.
Every exercise: First warm-up with 10 – 12 easy reps – then do two series of 6 – 8 reps. If you can do 9 reps x 2 sets you need to add some weight, rather than adding number of reps.
Combine two and two exercises (i.e. do pairs as in a superset, then take a longer break before the next pair). Be efficient and use/train the big muscle groups. You will not gain size (hypertrophy) from this type of training, you’ll just get stronger. This statement is based on experience and positive feedback from athletes, and not scientific research. In the end, positive experience and measurable improvements are what counts. It is also important to know that this system does not impact the most important training element, endurance.
Suggestion for exercises and combinations
1. Bench press (put legs on the bench, not on the floor) & Pull-down
2. Rowing /arm-pull while sitting & Arm-press with dumbbells using incline bench
3. Back and stomach
Back: Use incline bench with feet or legs fastened. Lay on stomach with upper body hinged outside bench. Raise your back with straight back and use dumbbells or weight plates as load.
Stomach: “Pump”(as you’ve see boxers do) or crunch stomach until fatigue. Stomach is the only exercise with many reps. Can also use weight plates as extra load.
4. Legs: Squats & hamstring curl (can do 10 – 12 reps with both of these)
5. Finish off the session with triceps-dips to fatigue
Complete this session twice a week. If you feel you need to do more strength, a third weekly session should be done with slightly reduced weights; same number of sets, but with 10 – 12 reps. Don’t go “all out” on this session, but the two last reps in each set should still be hard. You can also skip the leg exercise this day, since they normally get more use than the upper body through other training activities. A potential forth session should use the same system as the first two sessions, but with three sets. This would be the hardest session of the week.
Eight exercises are usually enough per session. Write down your weights, such that you can notice improvements.
If you are “very” stiff and sore in one muscle-group, you can skip the related exercise (but you better be real sore).
It is not very effective to stretch after hard weight training, since the muscles are stiff and “hard”, and not very elastic. They do not react well to lengthening (as stretching does). It is best to first bike or run easy for 10-15 minutes, or stretch at a later time (which is the simplest).
I feel strength training should be looked at as a way to improve the following areas (in priority):
– will help improve technique (which will result in higher skiing velocity)
– will help improve stabilize your body
– will help increase speed
– will help prevent injuries
We look forward to hearing some feedback regarding this somewhat difficult topic of proper strength training for Cross-Country skiers.