TrainingKalla Became the Best With the Bjœrgen-Method

FasterSkier FasterSkierFebruary 5, 2008

Editor's Note: According to Beckie Scott’s personal coach from 1998-2006, Torbjorn Karlsen, this is very similar to the training method that Beckie used from 2004-2006 enroute to her best season ever in 2006 – 4 World Cup victories, 9 World Cup podiums and second place in the overall World Cup. Karlsen and Scott worked closely with one of the pioneers of the “interval-block” training method – sports physiologist Jan Helgerud of Norway. This style of training involves high intensity blocks where intervals are performed as often as twice per day for up to two weeks. The intervals are typically at 90-95% of maximum heart rate (level 4) and are roughly four to six minutes in length. Karlsen told FasterSkier that after Beckie's success, he was surprised that the Canadian team expressed no interest in learning about the details in Beckie’s training program or to bringing the “Helgerud” method to their program. This article was translated from the Norweigan newspaper Dagbladet.

Ever since Marit Bjœrgen’s gold medal breakthrough in the 2003 World Championship, the traditional elite coaches in Norway have questioned her training methods. Today it looks like they need to find some new answers. Charlotte Kalla, the new Swedish ski darling, has become the best in record time after switching to Bjœrgen’s much discussed interval training method.

“It was a totally new plan. I had only read about it earlier,” said Kalla to the Swedish paper Aftonbladet early last fall; at that point Kalla’s goal was simply to establish herself among the ten or fifteen best skiers on the world cup, with the additional hope of gradual development leading up to the Olympics in 2010.

“It’s been serious—effective workouts with high load,” is how she described the changes in her everyday training. The Swede’s surprisingly fast development has drawn attention to the controversy at the top level of the Norwegian ski community regarding Marit Bjœrgen’s training methods.

It’s easy to be happy that the old, slightly worn cross-country nation Sweden has been able to develop an athlete that has invigorated the whole sport. But it’s less fun for the Norwegians when that Swede has used a revolutionary Norwegian approach to training that the Norwegians themselves struggle to believe in.

Last summer the Swedish commissioner Joakim Abrahamsson started to use the debated Norwegian interval method with his female Nordic skiers. Prior to beginning, Abrahamsson explained the basis of the training:

“The goal is to raise the maximal oxygen uptake using workouts close to a maximal effort.”

But it is Charlotte Kalla’s performance in the Tour de Ski that may be most convincing evidence of the method’s effectiveness.

But in the Norwegian endurance community, the strong results have yet to convince. Sven Tore Samdal, the ex-national team coach and Bjœrgen’s personal coach, has been denied a close working relationship with the Olympiatoppen (The Norwegian Olympic sports development organization) and other prominent Nordic coaches. In the last issue of the ski magazine Skisport, he bitterly comments on the lack of cooperation:

“We were the best, but we were told that we were training wrong. And yet last year the women’s team wasn’t performing and nobody spoke up.”

It is clear that discord is preventing a concerted effort by the Norwegian cross country community.

The mistrust is already evident. While Charlotte Kalla used Bjœrgen’s recipe to outclass Virpi Kuitonen in the conclusion of the Tour, Marit Bjœrgen was sick and already heading home to Norway. And that was the after-effect of an illness that the current national team coach Egil Kristiansen didn’t even know about.

This conflict is influencing those minor details which, independent of the training methodology, determine success at a high level. It isn’t as simple as just bringing back Samdal after Marit’s disappointing season last year.

The confidence that is the basis for any program must be regained.

This conflict echoes last year’s major debate about who should have control over the highest level of sport in Norway. The debate about what type of training gives the best results involves many more people than just the ski competitors and their coaches. The only way for new research results to be rapidly integrated into the national training effort, is if the Olympiatopp is strong and has the resources and means to direct the various sports.

On this issue, both the Ski foundation and the Olympiatopp have struggled to build relationships with both the competitors and the coaches. The disagreements have gone on for so long that it finally has been the Swedes who have benefited from the Norwegian program.

If you personally want to get the most out of your physical training, there have continually been new reasons for training like Marit Bjœrgen and Charlotte Kalla.

The scientific community at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and at the University Hospital in Trondheim, whose research forms that basis of Samdal’s training method, have presented a new study that substantiates the connection between hard interval training and the development of the heart’s stroke volume and maximal oxygen uptake.

Under the leadership of the sports physiologist Jan Helgerud, this Norwegian research group has published clear results in the American journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, which demonstrates the different effect of traditional distance training compared to interval training.

The new study was conducted with forty healthy, non-smoker, fairly well trained, young men who followed four different training programs through 8 weeks; the first training program was easy distance training, the second was distance training near the lactate threshold, and the last two consisted of varied types of intervals.

While all the test subjects naturally became better trained after the eight weeks, it was only those that did the interval training that showed a meaningful increase in the heart’s stroke volume and maximal oxygen uptake.

It is precisely the connection between stroke volume and oxygen uptake that is about to be accepted as truth in endurance circles. Evidence seems to show that the heart is trained in the same way as other muscles. Therefore the maximal training provided by intervals is the way to develop the heart to pump more blood.

The controversy for both the competitors and the coaches has focused on how much this type of brutal effort can be tolerated by individuals. For instance, Marit Bjœrgen’s inconsistent results have been used as criticism for the new training principles. However, this criticism lacks scientific heft and Charlotte Kalla’s success probably won’t provide the skeptics with any new information.

For now all we know is that Kalla has become the best with the Bjœrgen-method—and she did it in record time.

Source: Dagbladet

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