NewsStrength in Skiing With Zach Weatherford

FasterSkierDecember 5, 2006

When you first started working with XC skiers two years ago, what did you see they could best get out of strength training.

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m still working on that. I couldn’t then, nor can I now pinpoint any specifics. Early on, it’s important to build rapport and trust in one another. The way I approach strength with skiing is that in the whole scheme of things, strength is a low priority. But this low priority needs to be consistent throughout the year, and from year-to-year. Some individuals have specific things to work on over the next couple years leading up to Vancouver in 2010. Other individuals, I see already have great physical characteristics. They just need to maintain. For the most part, there is no immediate concern that we need to fix an area of strength training or our athletes will not be successful. I just don’t feel that’s the case.

The Continental Cup team is a little different. But that’s a big picture, eight years down the road kind of scenario. Their physical characteristics will come as they develop.

From a sport science perspective, what are the unique characteristics of skiing?

I look for athleticism in all the athletes I work with. When I say athleticism, I mean bodily kinesthetic awareness. With cross-country skiers I am extremely impressed with their ability to pick up new skills. Especially considering the volume of endurance skiers do, it’s impressive how fast skiers move while keeping good body awareness. I’ve strapped skis on and it’s a tough, technical sport that takes a lot of athleticism to pick it up. Having athletes with high athleticism makes my life much easier.

Before coming to the U.S. Ski Team, what was it like to work with American athletes winning Olympic medals and World Championship titles?

I had an opportunity to work with many different athletes from a lot of sports that ended up being very successful. What I saw in my four years with the Olympic Committee was three different sets of athletes, all at different stages of their career. You saw the very development level athlete. You saw an athlete that was very high-end, winning medals already. Then you saw those athletes in between, making that transition from development to the elite, meaning their stepping onto the podium. The critical part is development — it always is going to be development. But I think to some extent the support system and development of athletes trying to transition to the elite level is huge. The athlete needs to have some confidence in what they’re doing. They look to their support system — whether it’s their coach, their family, or their NGB — and all these different groups need to be working to help that particular athlete or team. What I saw was as some of these athletes developed, they became more autonomous. It’s not that they did their own thing, because I would associate that with being independent. But they take responsibility for all aspects of their training. So what I strive for is not so much as a strength coach is to get you strong or faster — yeah, that’s what I use — but what I’m striving for is for you to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, to believe in what you do, take that program and cater it to yourself, then be at the point where you know what you need to do, day in and day out. You always refer back to your support system in guidance saying, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ Maybe you tweak it here or there. At that point a person reaches that pinnacle is where I see someone reaching his or her potential.

Even on the road, Andrew Johnson looks to maintain strength gains gained from the preparation phase. (Koos photo).

For the endurance minded athletes, what were some of the things they were concentrated on in preparing for their sport?

It comes back to, ‘What are the priorities of the sport?’ Obviously with any endurance athlete, the cardio-respitory program is number one. Technique is huge, especially when you talk about cross-country skiing. These are the two big priorities, along with managing your overall program, making sure everything’s periodized. Strength plays a small role in all those priorities. Being strong allows you to better handle the volume of endurance training. It helps in doing correct movement patterns. I’m just not too sure how significant a role it plays in endurance training. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Some up and coming juniors skiers are probably reading this interview right now. What advice do you have for younger athletes seeking out information on strength training?

Stick to a simple program. Cover your basic movements. Emphasize multi-joint movements because skiing is a multi-joint sport. Keep it very simple. Keep it consistent – meaning there are times when you definitely back off and back away from strength work during the competitive season, but that you are still trying to work on all aspects of your training during the whole year. More importantly than anything, make sure you don’t substitute weight room work for what is key, and that’s your cardio training.

Zach, what about the other spectrum, the person with a professional career, a mortgage and a family, but is still super passionate about skiing? From a physiology perspective, where could this group stand to find gains in the weight room?

I don’t think age has anything to do with sport in the sense of gaining strength and power. You can make significant gains throughout your entire life. You will see a bit of a drop off in max strength and force. But these decreases are very low. You will probably see a greater decline in speed of movement and thus rate of force development. But I’m not too sure for master’s athletes that this is super critical. When you’re trying to juggle a family, life, kids, what have you, stay with what your most passionate about. Skiing. That’s why you’re into it. The sport. I’d give the same advice to a master’s athlete as I would to a junior athlete. Enjoy what you’re doing. You’re in the sport because you love skiing. Use strength training for what it is. And that’s to gain strength, maintain strength and prevent some injuries so you can keep skiing longer into your life.

In any sport, strength happens in a cycle. You start very, very basic. Training gets a little more complex when going from that development to elite level. You get very specialized and very specific into what that person needs. As you get older and work through the elite years of your career, you don’t need as much specialized non-sport training. There comes a point when you don’t need to do as much as you used to because of the gains you’ve acquired over the years. It’s more a matter of maintaining.

Torin Koos is a member of the National A Team for the United States. A World Cup, World Championship and Olympic competitor, Koos brings this experience to the FasterSkier sportscasting arena for the 2006/2007 season.
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