Ski Specific Strength Training

FasterSkierOctober 19, 20092

Garrott Kuzzy is a member of the U.S. Ski Team and CXC Team Vertical Limit.  Equipment Sponsors: Salomon skis/boots/bindings, Toko Wax, Polar Heart Rate Monitor, Swix Poles, Rudy Project Eyewear/Helmet, Marwe Rollerskis, Finn Sisu Stonegrinding.

Are you interested in getting the greatest benefit out of your limited workout time? Ski specific strength is arguably the most efficient workout of the CXC Vertical Limit Team. Specific strength takes relatively little time to complete, which is especially important as the fall days get shorter, and although the workout is challenging, the short bouts of intensity make it easy to recover quickly. It is also a great way to build back upper-body strength that was lost in the summer months when running or cycling were the primary focus.

Garrott Kuzzy leading the pack in a US SuperTour
Garrott Kuzzy leading the pack in a US SuperTour

Ski specific strength works the specific muscles that will be used during cross country skiing as well as the cardiovascular system. Specific strength could be considered an endurance workout, a strength workout, and an interval workout, all rolled into one. Because of this, specific strength is one of the most efficient workouts possible. If you have relatively little time in the off-season to devote to ski training, this workout should be the first to be added to your regiment.

A specific strength workout can be done on either classic or skate rollerskis. The workout most often used by the CXC Team Vertical Limit consists of skiing a constant distance of around 200 meters about 15 times using three different techniques: single-stick, core-only double-pole, and double-pole. Single-stick is most similar to the upper-body poling used in classical striding while not using the legs. Core-only double-pole focuses more on the abs than on the arms. Arms stay in a locked double-pole position and do not follow though as they would in a typical double-pole. The power for core-only double-pole comes from the stomach and abs. The final exercise is a standard double-pole, which uses both the arms and core. Be sure in all of these exercises that your upper-body remains relatively upright, which will keep your hips forward, and your legs should be relaxed.

Use a long, gradual uphill grade with relatively little traffic for the workout. A bike path with a slight uphill would be ideal. After a relaxed 15-minute warm-up, mark a start line at the bottom of the climb. Ski up the hill for about 75 seconds and mark a finish line. Return to the start and single-stick at Level 3, or about 90 percent of race pace, to the finish. Focus on power and quickness. Use single-stick technique for the first five times up the hill. Time yourself during each interval and try to go progressively faster on each interval. Experiment with using a higher tempo on some intervals and more power on others. Pay attention to which variables feel easier and which are faster and try to combine them so that you’re going fast, but feeling relaxed.

Do the next five intervals using core-only double-pole. This should be 10 to 15 seconds faster than single-stick over the same distance. Focus on using your core as the primary power source on each pole-plant, crunching the way you would in a sit-up. This will build strong abdominal muscles, while keeping arms locked at a 90 degree angle. Be sure to get adequate rest between each interval. Skiing relaxed back down the hill should give you enough time to recover-about 60 to 90 seconds.

Finally, ski the final five intervals using double-pole technique. These should be about another five seconds faster than the core-only double-pole because you are using your arms more and getting full extension. Again, vary your tempo and power on each interval to find the fastest, most efficient technique. End the workout with a relaxed 15 minute cool-down.

If done properly, this entire workout can be completed in one hour: 15 minutes warming up, 15 x 1 minute of intervals, 15 x 1 minute of rest, and a 15 minute cool-down. The CXC Team Vertical Limit does this workout once per week year-round. If you do not have much time to devote to ski training, this is an excellent workout to complement to running or bike training as well.

As you get stronger, you can make this workout more challenging by finding a steeper grade to ski up or by doing more sets of each interval as you build endurance. It is important to keep the interval time to around one minute, so that each interval is strong and powerful. This workout is especially productive for those skiers with little time to train each week or bikers and runners whose training builds more leg strength than upper-body, ski specific strength. Specific strength will be challenging, but it will also offer the greatest rewards of increased power and efficiency once on snow in the winter.

You can also watch specific strength video in the member area of or follow training plan designed by CXC coaches.

Garrott Kuzzy
Garrott Kuzzy


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  • Patrick Stinson

    October 19, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    That’s a good article, Kuzzy. I think that what you guys with CXC do for the community is great. The core-only DP is also good for teaching you technique that uses your abs more than you arms, something that intermediate skiers can have problems with.

  • Jon Fewster

    October 21, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks for the workout! I am challenged for time and available rollerski terrain. After reading this I realized that there is a perfect hill for this near work. This road is surrounded by very poor rollerski terrain (concrete, traffic, cross-streets, …) but is perfect for such a specific workout. Today I did this workout: 1:30 desk to desk including a shower. The exercises exposed some areas for improvement. I know that by doing these every week I will improve arm and core strength as well as double-pole sprint speed. Thanks!

    Jon Fewster
    Seattle, WA

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