The eternal question of cross-country ski training: how much to train? This is a debate that will never find resolution, for the simple reason that there is no one answer. A recent FasterSkier interview with Matt Gelso stimulated renewed discussion on a topic that has become most heated when the role of collegiate skiing is added to the mix.
We asked three coaches from different arenas of elite ski racing to weigh in on the question. Marty Hall (former U.S. Ski Team and Bowdoin College coach), Pete Vordenberg (former U.S. Ski Team Head Coach, current U.S. Ski Team coach), and Eli Brown (University of Utah head coach) shared their opinions on how elite ski racers should look at hours. None of these coaches have seen what the others wrote, so this is no debate or argument – merely three different perspectives.
Training Hour Charts
First off, let me say that the template for these charts are from the Cross Country Canada’s (CCC) coach’s education program. The original chart is singular in it’s presentation with the prescribed hours being more towards the feminine side of the curve. I have designed and adjusted the hours for a separate men’s and women’s set of charts over the past 20 to 30 years. I think I remember asking Toni Scheier, CCC’s Coaching Coordinator, way back then for use of the template, but not the numbers.
I would encourage you to read the following article and comments (http://fasterskier.com/2010/06/after-ncaa-championship-gelso-to-join-sun-valley/) to give you background, so you may better understand where this is all coming from. One of the keys for any young skier using these charts would be to do it with you club or program coach, so you can decide how you are going to jump into these numbers with potentially some good discussions. Remember, the success to any yearly program is the constant monitoring as the season progresses as to how you are handling your training load, and making adjustments accordingly.
If there is any number that sticks out in my mind over the years, it is the 500 hour year, as it comes down to doing 1.5 hours of training a day. If you are serious about your training preparation, you would expect to be out for at least 1.5 hours in any training session, so that would be a great starting point. And if you are a serious skier in your preparation, you definitely have a training log that you and your coach can refer to for what your training hours looked like this past year, and which may give you your starting point for the new year.
Adjusting your hours is a yearly process you’ll do every spring, hopefully with a coach you’ve been working with, and operating from that well-kept training log.
As you see, there are high limits for the hours when you reach your mid to late twenties, and you will hear stories of people cutting their hours after a few years of these high hours. That would be part of the evaluation process, with discussions between you and your coach. I know Kochie [Bill Koch] did it late in his career–his own decision, and most likely done to prolong his career.
It bothers me that these kinds of numbers are not available anywhere for the xc ski racing community to refer to. We have a great majority of the young ski racing population that are so far behind in international hours right from the get-go, it is almost impossible to catch up.
You can argue all you want to about this, but it is standard operating procedure in Europe–just look at the examples I referenced in the above-mentioned article I asked you to read. One other point is that we all have certain levels of talent (genetics), but you have to be in the same ball park with your preparation if you are going to ever be competitive. We have the programs, we have the skiers, we have the coaches, we have the technicians–we have won medals in both countries, so we can be successful and we know how to get there. Now we need more skiers with the right training base of hours to bring more depth to our programs.
I hope this helps you and your coach get you on track to realizing your potential.
Training Hours and College Skiing
Training has always been about quality more so than quantity, but total volume of hours is indeed an important piece in the development process. The question is commonly asked; Can a developing athlete with World Cup – Olympic aspirations train enough in a college setting to continue their development towards international success? Yes…
For me, the question isn’t whether or not college fits into development, because it has to! The collective resources that make up college skiing in this country are TOO HUGE NOT TO! From coaching, scholarships, medical, team atmosphere, education-life balance, and support, college skiing is a huge resource. We have to use our college system for athlete development. No, that doesn’t mean everyone needs to ski in college, but for those who make do that choice, coaches and programs need to support their long term development goals. College programs need to embrace the challenge of communication and collaboration set by the U.S. Ski Team. And the greater ski community as a whole needs to embrace the resources at hand and make college skiing a strong option for our best developing athletes.
You could say, “but Eli, you haven’t sent a skier onto World Cup, and not many others have either, so how can you support this?” That’s true, but the basic framework is there. And the resources are tremendous. For the record, there have been and will be former college skiers on the World Cup and at the Olympics: Garrott Kuzzy, Torin Koos, and Simi Hamilton all made the most recent U.S. Olympic Team after skiing in college. Additionally, there are former college skiers racing at World Cup or close to that level in Europe: Sara Svendsen, Kjetil Dammen, and Snorri Einarsson are a few examples.
The most important thing for a developing athlete to decide is their lifestyle–they could stay out of school and on their own (probably tough), out of school and in a club (solid plan), no school plus job (can be tough depending on situation), in school and working (tough, but necessary for some), school and strong commitment to training (very possible path to success).
So back to training hours. How many is good? Well, a typical year hour progression from junior to senior to World Cup is familiar to us all. No matter what the numbers are, the young athlete to senior athlete development step is a big one. Skiers need to set up their lifestyles to put in a lot of training. Here at Utah, we have a majority of athletes on a 600 hour a year plan. The highest I have had is 750 hours–and that athlete was successful. Training hours can be very individual, but they probably need to be at or above 600 hours during early senior years.
In college, there are tons of opportunities and tons of options. It’s a matter of taking advantage of school and a ski team, simplifying the rest of your life, and putting it all on the line. At Utah, we try to set up seven to 10 workouts together, as a group, every week. We work with academic departments to get the most flexible schedules possible for training, and some athletes maximize training time by taking the NCAA minimum of 12 credits a semester. Most importantly, we work to set up a culture of success on the team, support outside racing and training, and work with athletes year-round, within NCAA rules, to maximize the support they receive, to help them reach their long-term goals. The most important thing that coaches and support networks can provide our early senior athletes is the opportunity to love the sport enough to continue through and after college. Dream and develop, and set a course of action.
The internet is interesting. You can find a lot of stuff, ideas, thoughts, opinions. But you don’t necessarily know how good the information is, or take the right steps in learning to apply the info, even if it is good.
To tell a short story – I trained a bit with Torgny Mogren in the fall of 1994. He said he never trained more than 600 hours his whole career, and generally less. That may be so, but the time I trained with him was damn hard training! The point is that it is dangerous to just look at hours.
The good thing about looking at them is that if you (an athlete) are way off, you probably need to adjust what you are doing, especially if your results are not in line with your goals. But it is much better to focus on what needs to make up the hours of training – which is why I like the more specific documents, and why I like even more that coaches go through the education system, and as always, why it is better to communicate directly with each other and with us than to hunt the web.
On the web, I’d start here and spend some time with that: http://trainingsystem.ussa.org/
Other pipeline documents here:
Elite Development pipeline: Shows the steps all along the way. To see mention of hours see Page 2, stage 5 and 6.
Athlete Competencies: This is a document I really like, that gets into very specific ideas for all age groups. These specifics are certainly more important than the hours, as it shows what the hours need to be made up of. To see suggested hours see page 13.
Swedish development model: This is another good document, but so far it is just in Swedish.
For their hour recommendations they start on page 4 and 5 and even break down the type of training. Page 4 outlines traditional training; page 5 is sprint training. Alder is age, Tjejer is girls, Killar is boys, etc. They even show where someone’s V02 needs to be–Dam means women, Herr means men, and then it shows the V02 by age. Nice touch.
Their training recommendations in this document, hour-wise, are a bit different from ours. But I think anyone can see the progression of hours, and in general (within, say, 100 hours at most), they do show the sort of work that needs to get done. This sort of information has been out there forever.
I have old documents from Norway and Sweden since I was a kid searching for this information myself. I have training from Vegard [Ulvang] and [Thomas] Aalsgard and [Bjorn] Daehlie among others. It is not all the same. People look differently at certain types of training, how to lay it out, etc. But interestingly, the specific workout types and the very general theme has been very, very similar since I started paying attention: train hard, rest well.
This link also has some great info. Check out the training plan and the training log, and also, the compartment syndrome paper is timely and quite good. I would also look at the articles from Sverre Caldwell and Erik Flora, from the 2009 coaches’ education conference, as really good info.
If you go here, you can see the very simple presentation of development pipeline (phases of development). I typed up all this information for the National Cross Country Ski Education Foundation, so let me know if it isn’t clear.
Since I won’t be involved in a blog-ish conversation or internet drama please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or ideas. Thank you all.