Level 3 and 4 Roller-Ski Training

Shane MacDowellAugust 29, 200919

It’s the end of summer and you’re sweating in the 90 degree heat as you pound the pavement with your poles and glide smoothly over the road while your heart beats like a well oiled machine at 180 beats a minute and your whole body screams as it tries to clear lactic acid as quickly as possible.

This is level 4 training or race pace training. This training isn’t something that needs to be done all the time during training, but it is one of the workouts that helps to increase a skiers VO2 max.

The goal of level 4 training should be to work at around 90-93% of your hearts max stroke volume according to USST World Cup coach Justin Wadsworth.  This training can be done through interval workouts or time trials which would help to work on 5 and 10k race paces for women and men respectively.  Race pace training is used to strengthen your heart so that as training season turns into race season your heart will be able to pump more blood effectively through your body. Level 4 also helps increase VO2 max so that while racing or performing at a high level of intensity, your body and neuromuscular system can work more efficiently. This means that you as a skier can keep good efficient technique longer into the race or workout, which usually translates into faster skiing.

Intensity training isn’t all about speed; it should be looked at as a progression as the year goes on, according Wadsworth. It’s recommended that skiers start out at level 3 training or threshold training, where the skier’s muscles can effectively handle the amount of lactic acid that is being formed.

According to Wadsworth, at the beginning of the training season, intervals should be kept light at threshold. A good example of this would be a 20 minute pace workout or 4×4 minute intervals with equal rest. As the training season goes on, and a skier gets more fit through threshold training, they should start bumping up the intervals with variations such as 6×4, 5×5 or 4×6. As this progression goes on and a skier gets stronger they can then begin mixing in some easy level 4 intervals around mid July. These workouts would then revert back down to the 4×4 minute intervals and the progression can start again while also throwing in level 3 workouts once a week.

Interval training should be done at least once a week starting May 1 and carried out until the end of the training season. These intervals should be done with an activity that requires the whole body, such as skate or classic rollerskiing, according to USST sprint coach Chris Grover.

When it comes to interval training, “variety is the key. Mix up the methods, the type, duration, and intensity of intervals to keep variety and [to] work on different aspects of your athletics,” said University of Utah head coach Eli Brown.

Threshold training is crucial to being a faster more efficient ski racer.

“It gets your efficiency and your aerobic system more efficient, working all the time with oxygen will help your overall training. When you get to level 4 training more aerobically fit, [it] helps speed recovery and allows longer harder training, helping neuromuscular [transmission],” said Wadsworth.

For the sprinters in the crowd, there are some sprint specific workouts that can be done in order to gain speed and efficiency.

Some of these workouts consist of 30 and 90 second intervals that are done at sub-maximal effort or a little below as hard as you can go according to Grover.

Some examples would be 8×30 seconds with 30 second recovery in between intervals and then 10 minute break in between sets. Another would be 4x90seconds with a 2 minute recovery between intervals and another 10 minute break between sets.

While doing all of this intensity on rollerskis, and working towards the goals of becoming a fasterskier, it is important to try to picture yourself skiing on snow to help with technique, said Wadsworth. The most important of all is being safe and conscientious of cars on the road. So for intervals, try and find a small loop with one good hill and safe way down and just ski loops.

Andy Newell
Andy Newell

Shane MacDowell

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  • davord

    August 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Intervals should not be done ‘early in the season.’ They should start at about this time or even early September. I just read on langrenn that Tord Asle Gjerdalen just started or is about to start his interval training. I have never heard of any European start interval training on May 1. Even if it’s once a week, there needs to be a goal. Also important is duration, repetitions, etc. You want to get in the groove and want to get back from a month long break from ski season and adapt to dryland: running, biking, hiking, rollerskiing. To me doing intervals early in the season just makes your fitness profile look like the edge of a buzzsaw, up and down, if you will. People generally get excited for training when May (new season) starts, and there would be a tendency to ‘overdoing it’ thus creating potential injuries, overtraining early in the year, etc. The season is long and generally patience and building on your base would be good, if not better. I still don’t understand levels. Wouldn’t it be easier to look at your heart rate? For example, easy training, long distance or recovery HR: 60-70% of MaxHR around 120-140 BPM for an athlete with a 200 MaxHR.
    75-85% or medium intensity where you are doing a pacing workout or light intensity probably around 150-170 BPM, 85-90% or 170-180%, approaching if not on the anaerobic threshold, just about or on race pace and anything above 90% would be going over the threshold and going all out, to put it simply. This to me seems easier to calculate and keep track of on your heart rate, providing you are using your heart rate. I have no doubt in the professionalism of the US ski team coaches, and keep on keeping on, but I am just stating what’s been written in sport physiology books, training methods from various national teams (various sports) and research from physiology, biology and exercise physiology experts. Just my opinion anyway. Every athlete has their own preferences and ways of training that are best and most comfortable to them, so good luck to everyone with their training.

  • EricStrabel

    August 30, 2009 at 5:09 pm


    When it’s written that Tord Asle Gjerdalen doesn’t do intervals in the early season, this should not be interpreted as he does not do any level 3 or 4 during that time. There are several methods of accumulating time at those intensities that do not require “intervals”. Also, “intervals” can mean very different things to different people – especially between different cultures.

    It is critical, when viewing a sliver of someone else’s training to see how it fits in with their big picture before making any assumptions or conclusions. In the example of Gjerdalen, to assume his early season training is entirely “easy” (and what is “easy”?) because of the absence of “intervals” may be furthest from the truth.

    Nevertheless, I am curious and I suspect others could also benefit to hear more about your examples in sport physiology books, training methods from various national teams (various sports) and research from physiology, biology and exercise physiology experts.

    I think “levels” have been used as a convention to represent the intensity zones that you suggest. The reason why heart rates are not used directly is because higher intensities beyond steady are not represented by higher heart rates. Heart rate can not represent the full spectrum of intensity.

  • davord

    August 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    No, they cannot, but to be honest with you, neither can levels 1, 2,3,4,5, etc. Tell me who uses levels anywhere else? So you are saying that you should do it by feel? I mean that’s like saying okay, today I feel really good and I am just gonna hammer and kill myself, no matter what my pulse is and what the training for that day/cycle is. This is a false philosophy “no pain no gain,” and anyone who thinks that intervals right after a long break in training is the way to go either has no skiing experience in his/her life or just isn’t educated enough. We need more coaches in this country that have more experience with actual theories on how, when, what and all that. People with backgrounds to books, field testing, past ski racing experience, and actual college degrees with physiology, exercise physiology, etc. Essentially experts that specialize in these fields. Just go to Russia, Germany, Norway, Finland and you’ll see. It seems to me that we have too many ‘gurus’ out here that just tell people to go out and do it, when there actually needs to be clear objectives and goals that need to be reached, periodization, balancing rest and training, training cycles, blocks of 2-3 weeks followed by an easy week or what have you. Hours are another thing that get blown out of proportion. It’s not how many hours you train, it’s the quality of those hours. You can train all you want and feel good during the summer and fall months, but if you don’t get enough recovery you’ll be tired for the winter, I can guarantee you that. Too many good skiers from this country have been burned out by that. I am not saying that if you are 25-30 years old that you should only be training 500 hours a year, but if you train smart and consistent, maybe only 700 hours would suffice, rather than 800. I am not bantering here, just putting my knowledge and excellent sources of people I have at my disposal.

  • EricStrabel

    August 30, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    It doesn’t matter who else uses the level 1-5 (or 6, or 7) convention language. All that matters is that all of those involved in the planning and implementation of a training program have a common and complete understanding of it. Otherwise, I guess we should all start speaking Russian, German, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, etc.

    This was exactly the point of my first post: to not run off with a little bit of information without understanding it’s relationship within it’s entire system. Which apparently, is exemplified by twisting what little I wrote into something completely opposite and unrelated.

  • davord

    August 31, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Not to get too carried away with the language speaking, because I know there a lot of Scandinavian, namely Norweigan huggers/wannabes out there who try to implement Norweigan methods and models into their own training and look where that got them… I may not know all of the 6913 estimated languages in the world, I know only 5. But that isn’t the point I am trying to get at here, if it was, I’d have to write a college paper on it, and I don’t have time for that at the moment, it would be detrimental to me, you and this article, which incidently contradicts itself. My point is that yes, obviously each program, club, nation and the professors, doctors, physiologists, psychologists, etc have their own methods, but there is a commonality out there and then it spreads out to various communities, as people and cultures alike interpret them, think of it like the animal kingdom. You can interpret training and fit it into your liking, obviously everyone has their own training plans, I don’t have to beat the bush with this. Earler I mentioned that the article contradicts itself, it does because at first the author writes of how intervals start with at least a session a week, then you taper ff and then start up again, while at the end it basically says that it should be more of a progression that anything else. So what should it actually be? A progression, or a progression then a slowing down and then progressing again? It’s all a bit confusing. Training is like building a house, first you have to plan the house, how you envision it, where to put the walls and how big you want the rooms and then you can put furniture and your other necessities, you can’t just put in the furniture before you have the walls and floors, you need a base first. Another example is playing an instrument. I played the violin for a while so this would be my example: first you learn all the basics; all the strings, notes, tempos, etc., then you can start playing faster and changing to ‘flatter’ notes, higher and lower notes, not just trying to jump into playing fast, because you need a base and basic knowledge of how to play first.
    Sorry for the long and run-on sentences, i hope this all makes sense, if not tell me in which language you want me to write it in. I’ll be happy to write in for you.

  • T.Eastman

    August 31, 2009 at 1:01 am

    davord, I would start with English if I were you…

    If you don’t train with a sense of feeling the levels you are attempting to attain during intervals, how do you put those efforts to use when racing?

    From my limited experience there is more to good racing than just training and technique. Music, I suspect is similar.

  • davord

    August 31, 2009 at 1:49 am

    I don’t know if you got what I said in my previous two posts, but I am not going to repeat myself in detail right this minute. I don’t need ‘levels’ to know how or what I need to be doing during a race. If I were to wear a heart monitor and apply my heart rates for interval or race pace workouts during training I would just look at my Vo2Max test results, look at my heart rate VT and/or lactate threshold and go from there, same thing with a race. Since my max heart rate is around 208/209 I would know at an approximate estimation that my threshold would be around 180-186 bpm, and right at that mark would be my body exertion for a race of any distance longer than 1.5 or 2.0 km. Obviously everyone has their different heart rates and threshold numbers, that’s why those Vo2Max tests are done, but most anyone would tell you that. Personally, I would not want to coach unless I absolutely knew what I was doing and had previous knowledge of something, actually had racing experience and went through some sort of a school for that. I may know some things about nordic skiing and endurance sports in general, but I would need to go to some sort of specific schooling for that(those) specific sports to know the deatails of mitochondria, ATP, thickness of blood cells, etc. Again, with intervals you need to know why they are done at a certain time, when recovery and active rest needs to be used, etc. Each training cycle during the off season has a purpose and will be utilized as such so that you can peak at certain time during a season, maybe twice if it’s a really important season. I absolutely agree with you on your second statement, being mentally strong, enthusiastic, energetic, ‘enjoying the process’ is what it’s all about. Mental toughness is usually what it comes down to at the end of the day, just ask Thomas Alsgaard for example. you don’t come back from a 57.5 second deficit in a driving storm in a 15km race to catch 14 guys in front of you and win the gold medal without having some burning desire in your body and mind. Likewise if I were a teacher or a musician or a painter or anything else for that matter, I need to trust my practices and reherseals, my rough drafts. That’s the beauty of sport and life in general, the obstacles that may arise at any point and the journey that we take to find ways to clear those obstacles. If you don’t enjoy something you won’t be succesful at it, you can’t force everything and expect it to come out the way you want it.
    BTW, I figure I would stick with English on this site.

  • trondfl

    August 31, 2009 at 2:48 am

    If one of the 5 languages you know is Norwegian you can read on langrenn.com that Gjerdalen is just about recovered from overtraining last season. This is the one and only reason why he hasn’t done any interval training this summer.
    I grew up skiing in Norway and every single Norwegian skier I know does intervals from May 1st both medium and hard intervals short and long. Bjørn Dæhlie was know for training good quality training(intensity) in May so that when he came to the first camp with the National team he was already one step ahead and we all know how that ended….

  • davord

    August 31, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Well good for them! I will repeat myself one more time, not everyone trains the same, not everyone does intervals at the same time, net everyone does the same amount of camps, etc, etc. Our club here in the states does some light intensity during the summer, and we do a few running races and time trials to ‘keep the legs sharp,’ but not any specific interval workouts. We’ve had success nationally and internationally in the junior events now for some 9-10 years, we’ve had several national championships, we’ve had skier(s) qualify world world champs and the olympics and we have a professional coach with a degree in exercise science/physiology. I have no doubt that what Bjorn Daehlie or the other 4 million Norweigan skiers are doing is right for them, otherwise he wouldn’t be where he is now or I guess was. If you remember Thomas Alsgaard’s speech at West Yellowstone a few years back, he said that you have to accomodate your training schedule to your own needs and see how your body feels.
    No Norweigan isn’t one of my specialty languages but I do speak Serbian, Macedonian, German, Russian along with English and can basically understand anything Slavic or Germanic, so I have some understanding of the norweigan language, I catch on pretty fast.

  • T. Baucom

    August 31, 2009 at 11:34 am


    You clearly state in your first post that “Intervals should not be done ‘early in the season.’ They should start at about this time or even early September”, and you give the example of ONE skier, who, as it turns out, if tronfl info is correct, is merely recovering from an over trained season.
    You are very much entitled to your opinion that intervals should not start until nowish, but then in your latest post emphasize your point that “not everyone trains the same, and not everyone starts intervals at the same time”

    I think your back pedaling like woe

  • davord

    August 31, 2009 at 11:50 am

    That’s what I am trying to get at. I think I am being misunderstood. I just wanted to state what myself and my club have been doing for years and just trying to compare what we do to what someone else does. Perhaps I should not have bolted out of the gate with stating what I stated. This isn’t attacking anyone, I am just stating an opinion. Am I backpedaling a little bit here, sure, because I think I started a little too sharp with my criticizm and concerns. This is for people to know that I am just putting up here a different method of training, for the sake of having a good conversation regarding training. Am I saying what I do is spot on and that everyone should do as I do, no, is Gjerdalen doing it the right way, perhaps, maybe not, at least not last year. This article, in my opinion, was just written to give out suggestions, or tips on how intervals should be done this time of year, and I think we should have more of them I just wanted to add something to it, get people going and see what others come up with, because I believe that we all support our individuals, clubs and national teams very much and would like to see them ski as fast they possibly can. To state that everyone does things differently was perhaps a mistake, because that’s pretty obvious.

  • T. Baucom

    August 31, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Well put. I agree and understand what you getting at now.

  • davord

    August 31, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Thanks. Sorry, I am just pretty passionate about skiing, and this being an Olympic year, it just magnifies it even more.

  • nordic_dave

    September 1, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Ahh well davord for a guy who recently stated that you were reticent to particepate in this type of forum for a obvious reasons. You have exploded in thought and opinion.
    Yes I see your point. HOWEVER, I have also followed Jan Helgerud’s (Norwegian/Sport Physiologist) training philosophy for years and like you have sometimes found a different way that works best for me. My good friend and neighbor Torbjorn Karlsen started this website. I have tremendous respect for Torbjorn and what he has accomplished through out his coaching years. When Torbjorn speaks to me in a very direct manner I listen. Yet he and I can also have a healthy and robust conversation and difference in opinion in regards of “How to..when to…and why” in regards to my own personal training. I still have great respect for his and Jan’s thoughts and science yet adapt to them at different times of the year. There are many times when intensity or threshold level must be reduced or increased for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into.

    You haven’t told us much about where you are actually from and where you typically ski. That might also be interesting information to have to understand your perspective..


  • davord

    September 1, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    I am orginally from Belgrade, Serbia. I have skied for 11 years with the Bridger Ski Foundation in Bozeman, Montana.

  • nordic_dave

    September 1, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    You are the tall dark haired coach at BSF who brings legions of kids to West Yellowstone? Yes I have seen you around I think.
    Stop and say hello sometime!

  • davord

    September 1, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    No, I am his son. He has a bachelor’s degree and masters degree in exercise science/physiology, meaning he knows what he knows what he is talking about, and I think our clubs results for the last ten years or so really bear that out. Am I biased, perhaps, but there are good reasons why.

  • nordic_dave

    September 1, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    BSF does not trump a number of successful U.S. based club ski programs, one of them is in your back yard so be careful in overstating the success of your program. To be sure, it is a very good club and glad to see your team’s achievements as I have watched your dad for a few years now at Soldier Hollow, SV and Yellowstone to name a few places of observation. I also recall someone telling me Leif Zimmerman as having an usually high Max Vo2 score.

    I also think I remember what you might look like if I guess your age to be late teens early twenties?

    If I am correct on who you are, your perspective is most interesting.

  • davord

    September 2, 2009 at 1:00 am

    Carefully look at my previous comment. I didn’t say we were the best club or had the best results. Where our club was 10 years ago and where it is now and where it is heade is not even a comparison, it has blossomed. The only reason we might not be having ‘as much’ success as some other clubs is history. And only time will tell, believe me. I guess you can compare BSF to Sun Valley. My understanding is that their club did not have many x-c skiers and look where they are now. We are on a similar path. There isn’t one club that reigns over everybody. There is A LOT of good clubs here in the states, from SMS to AWS, Sun Valley, etc. It’s good to see. Give us a few more years and you’ll see what I mean. Maybe even this year…

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