Jessie Diggins recently graduated from Stillwater High School in Minnesota, where she earned three individual state championship titles, among other impressive national and international results. Diggins skis for CXC Team Vertical Limit.
One might wonder why an endurance athlete like a skier or runner would ever bother lifting weights. Isn’t specific strength enough? Shouldn’t skating without poles, single-sticking and double-poling build all the muscles a skier would need? The truth is, general strength does more for an athlete than give them killer beach muscles.
The simple answer is that the stronger all your muscles are, the more specific strength you are capable of doing. If you have stronger arm muscles, you will be able to double-pole farther. Another incentive for general strength is that it balances and stabilizes your muscles while you do specific strength. You won’t get very far if you only develop ski-specific muscles.
However, there is more to strength training than lifting as much as you can every day; periodization, or dividing strength training into separate phases to accomplish different goals, is key to improving strength for a specific sport.
Lifting weights is important to skiers because whether you are a sprinter who needs explosive power, or a distance racer who needs a lot of muscular endurance, the bottom line is that you need to be strong all over. General strength is necessary for building specific strength in the same way that distance skis are necessary for intervals. You can’t do intervals until you’ve gotten base training, and the same is true with strength.
I spoke with Jason Cork, head coach of the CXC Team Vertical Limit, for his perspective on why general strength is necessary before improving ski-specific strength. He said that athletes have many basic muscles, like your quads, which provide a basis for strengthening the smaller, more ski-specific muscles. If you don’t have a good base, you won’t be able to develop much power, so before you start getting too specific, you need to be strong enough to do the exercises well, and with good technique.
One way to get maximize the benefits of general strength training is to break it up into periods. In the spring, athletes need to get their feet back under them after the race season, and thus skiers on CXC start with a general strength phase. This allows athletes to build a base and get the basic moves down with good technique.
From there, skiers move on to max strength: more focus on heavier weights with fewer reps, which then leads into the power-velocity phase. Then athletes begin getting more ski-specific, with max power and ski-specific power-velocity phases. During race season, skiers use the weight room to maintain the power they’ve already developed.
Endurance athletes are often worried that too much strength might slow them down by making them too bulky or hindering their agility. This is not the case, as long as a strength program is designed to coexist with endurance training. With the help of CXC Team Vertical Limit coaches and specialists, CXC Academy has created a sample training plan that addresses all of these concerns. When you combine specific strength with general strength, and adapt them both to endurance sports you have a perfect balance.
Finding the key to improved skiing can often be found in strength-based exercises. As long as you maintain a balance between strength and endurance training, general strength can be an asset, and improve performance.
Maddy is on the Nordic ski team at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where her majors are psychology, political science, skiing, and being an awesome JA.