TrainingFall conditioning for the middle-of-the-pack Cross-Country skiers – how to optimize for the racing season

FasterSkier FasterSkierSeptember 11, 2003

This article is for those of you that would like to improve your standing on the result sheets this winter, or for those of you that would like to “cream” your buddies Cross-Country skiing going up your favorite Canyon or any other groomed Cross-Country track this winter.

If you haven’t already started your serious conditioning training by the time you read this article, you should not expect to see improved results until a bit later into the winter season. For those of you that have exercised well through the summer, and feel you have a good base, you should be able to go fast through the whole season.

Up until September, the focus of a Cross-Country skier should be on building a good base of general endurance and general strength. This can be done in a variety of activities, optimally in a combination of hiking, running, biking, rollerskiing/rollerblading, weights/strength, swimming and even flatwater kayaking, rowing or canoeing. Since Cross-Country skiing involves using all four limbs and the whole body, cross-training and overall body fitness is required.

However, come September, you need to start specializing in the way you are training for Cross-Country skiing. This means you need to start getting stronger and better in the motions and muscles you are specifically using when Cross-Country skiing. You also need to start preparing your cardiovascular system and body for racing.

Specific methods for Cross-Country fall training

So, what are the best summer and fall activities for specialized Cross-Country training?

1. Rollerskiing (or rollerblading with a skier’s push)
2. Uphill hiking or trail running with ski imitation strides (ski walking or ski bounding)
3. Repeated short uphill ski imitation drills with motions and rhythms as when skiing on snow
4. Strength and weight training with exercises simulating ski motions
5. Balance and coordination exercises optimally combined with core strength

Rollerskiing is by far the best method of improving your Cross-Country racing results and skills. With today’s rollerskis you are able to closely simulate snow skiing, and thus training and improving the exact muscles and motions you are using on the groomed winter surface. Rollerskiing is also gentle on your knees (especially if wearing kneepads), and will especially give you the specific strength improvements you can never gain in the weight room, on the bike or on the running trail. Rollerskiing can be done at different intensities (see below), but needs to be done on safe roads or paved bike-trails (see www.torbjornsport.com for rollerski equipment).





Specific intensities for Cross-Country race preparation

In addition to the specific methods, you also need to start training at a higher intensity (i.e. with a higher heart rate) to prepare for the demands of racing. This means you need to incorporate the following into your weekly and monthly training regime:

1. Interval training sessions (bouts of 2 – 6 minute intervals)
2. Pace, time-trial or race simulation sessions (20 – 30 minutes steady pace)
3. Speed and explosiveness sessions

Interval, pace and time-trial sessions are done at a heart rate that will stress and thus stimulate your body to get stronger. The optimal heart-rate can be determined by finding your true maximal heart rate (MHR) and multiply by 90%, or by finding your actual average racing heart rate (in a 5 or 10 km race). Finding these heart rates requires a heart rate monitor (a $100 cost). The goal of this type of training is to make your body able to maintain a higher heart rate and therefore higher average speed throughout the whole race (or equivalently improve your energy systems such that you can maintain a higher speed with the same heart rate as today).

These high intensity sessions only need to be done once or twice a week (depending on how many total days you are training), and only for 15 – 30 minutes (where your heart rate is high) at a time, for example 4 x 5 minute intervals. You can do these sessions using any method, but you will improve most as a skier by using rollerskis (versus hiking, running or biking).

Speed and explosiveness should also be practiced with the goal of becoming better at certain parts of racing. These skills are important at start, finish sprints and when passing other skiers around the ski track. It is also a way to improve your maximal skiing speed, which when improved gives you added confidence in many racing situations. Speed is best developed in short maximal bursts of 10 – 20 seconds, and as mentioned above, most specific when done on rollerskis. Explosiveness is best (and only) done on foot, starting out in a variety of vertical jumps, which later should be done as more horizontal jumps.

For more information, details and practical guidance regarding Cross-Country training, you can contact John Aalberg and Torbjorn Karlsen through their Personal Coaching Service at www.fasterskier.com or at www.torbjornsport.com.

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