Distance Roller-Skiing

Shane MacDowellJuly 25, 20091

Every spring, after all the snow has melted and the skis have been put away, each skier must answer the same daunting question: When to start roller skiing and how to go about it for the year?

One of the biggest issues with roller skis for most skiers and especially people that are new to the sport is finding the right roller ski to use.  For many people this issue is easily solved, as they usually agree with how Head University of Utah coach Eli Brown puts it, “the only skis worth training on have the five letters M-A-R-W-E.”

For others the choice isn’t as straight forward, as there are many different brands of roller skis out there and each have their plus’ and minus’.

According to Sverre Caldwell, head coach of Stratton Mountain Ski School, a good roller ski should have a “smooth ride, straight tracking and an on snow feel to them while on the road.”

When it comes time to start using the roller skis, some skiers put it off until the very last minute, while others get right to work after their long awaited rest period.

“I have a general rule,” said US ski team member Liz Stephen.  “I don’t start rollerskiing until the new training season starts around May 1st.”

Whether your one or the other or somewhere in the middle, one thing that is agreed upon by some of the best coaches around the country is, that roller skiing is one of the most important training activities that a skier can do in the off season in order to get ready for the upcoming race season.

Rollerskiing is so important to a skier’s performance level in the off season that APU elite coach Eric Strabel listed it as the second best off season training, just behind snow skiing in Bend Oregon or at New Zealand’s Snow Farm.

According to U.S. Ski team sprint coach Chris Grover, roller skiing should make up at least 50% of a skiers dry land training and should be done 3 to 6 times per week.  This number may vary by age and goals that have been set for the on snow season.  Younger groups such as juniors may only be putting in the minimum of 3 to 4 days on rollerskis, while college and elite skiers may up the number to 6 times per week, depending upon what part of their training cycle they are in.  One of the most integral parts of training on roller skis this many times a week during the off season is to get good distance training in to up the athlete’s endurance.

Andy Newell - roller-skiing
Andy Newell

Distance training on rollerskis is something that is crucial to every racers performance, and is something that should be paid close attention to while laying out a training plan for the spring, summer and fall.

Distance training is so vital to a skiers training as it yields many benefits to the body that will help an athlete perform at a higher level than they would, if the training was not done correctly.

According to Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at the University of New Hampshire Dain LaRoche, distance training helps to increase the aerobic capacity of the athlete’s muscles.

This is done in several ways.  Through distance training, the capillaries in the muscles are increased, allowing more blood flow.  Along with increased blood flow, there is also an increase in size and number of mitochondria in the muscles cells and are referred to by LaRoche as the, “aerobic energy centers of the cell”.  This is very important, as mitochondria are the suppliers of ATP or adenosine triphosphate (a major energy source to the body).  This means that the more mitochondria there are, the more ATP there is, resulting in more energy for the athlete.

Distance training also “teaches the body to use fat as a fuel source” said LaRoche.

As fat is an almost endless supply of energy in the human body, it is important to teach the body to utilize it as an energy source before dipping into the carbohydrate stores which would resulting in bonking once those stores are gone according to LaRoche.  Distance training not only helps with muscular development and energy utilization, but also helps with neurological process’ as well “Skiers rollerski to teach their body to get used to ski technique and become efficient in those positions” LaRoche said.

By rollerskiing with correct technique, the body neurologically learns which muscles to use and which ones not to use.  As the skier trains more throughout the year, the muscles adjust to the repetitive motions of skiing and becoming more efficient by quickly and powerfully contracting at the right moments and quickly turning off when not needed, so less energy is wasted according to LaRoche.

For each athlete the amount of distance and what kind of distance varies depending on the individual’s abilities and personal performance level.

Each individual athlete should evaluate what their goals are for the upcoming season and then create a plan of training in order to accomplish those goals.  Training on roller skis and in general should be a progression throughout the off season in order to make performance gains as the season goes on.

“It’s good to build and develop an increase in distance through the off season,” said Head CXC coach Bryan Fish.  It’s best to first evaluate the distance one may compete in or simply enjoy to do in the winter.  Secondly, see what can be accomplished with maintaining good technique.  Good ski form and dynamic kick/push should be paramount, so technique flaws don’t creep in and get engrained while putting in all those hours.”

When speaking of training as a progression Head University of New Hampshire coach Cory Schwartz noted that in the early spring it is important to start small with rollerskiing between one and two hours and slowly building up to the middle and over distance workouts as the training period gets into the summer and fall.

This progression helps the athlete to build up a base of fitness before they begin doing longer workouts so that they can maintain good technical skiing throughout the entire workout.

With distance training it is important to vary the training times from day to day between short, middle and over distance, while throwing in small speed workouts during some of the sessions to up the intensity a little bit according to Schwartz.

When it comes to over distance workouts, the workouts should range between 2 and 3 ½ hours depending on the athlete.  These workouts can be done between one and two times a month for younger athletes, while older or more elite athletes should be putting in at least one over distance session a week and should be done at level 1 or 2 according to Fish.

During these workouts, along with technique, “pace and effort are amongst some of the most important things to focus on,” said Eli Brown.  “Long easy distance is important as it allows for more work, and more consistent racing later on.”

There is nothing wrong with a long easy workout (over three hours) once a month” said LaRoche.”  “The goal of cross country ski racing is to complete the course as quickly as possible.  This means that the power output and force per stride in a 20k is much greater than that of a four or five hour roller ski.”

Four and five hour training sessions aren’t specific to what skiers do according to LaRoche.  This means that skiers should try and focus more on workouts between an hour and a half to three hours with an intensity higher than level one to prepare the body for the distances that will be raced once the snow begins to fly.

Duncan Douglas - roller-skiing
Duncan Douglas

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Shane MacDowell

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One comment

  • straybull

    July 25, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Correction: Eric Strabel is a coach at the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center, where skiers regularly train on groomed snow throughout the summer at the Thomas Training Center on Eagle Glacier.

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