For this week’s workout, FS tagged along during an uphill double-pole session with the Montana State University nordic team on Oct. 27. Reporter Gabby Naranja did a few sets on bike, which she found equally fun and thrilling.
BOZEMAN, Mont. — The one workout no skier should sacrifice? Specific strength. At least, according to Matthew Johnson, head coach of the Montana State University (MSU) nordic team.
“We try to do a specific arm strength workout once a week,” said Johnson, who joined the MSU Bobcats in June after the resignation of former head coach Kristina Trygstad-Saari.
The importance of a double pole, specific-strength workout, Johnson explained, goes beyond just grinding your arms to a pulp in order to climb up a hill. These workouts are about “figuring out how to use the technique and the strength that you’re finding in the gym and applying it to your poling motions out here in varying types of terrain,” he said during an MSU training session last week.
Of course, that in no way negates the noodle-arm effect brought on by most double pole, strength-specific workouts.
“Sometimes it is about getting a consistent steep grade and working it, making your arms tired and then just being able to hold it [while] keeping your technique together and keeping your core strength together,” he said.
As a cross-country skier, arm strength is just part of the game.
“Rollerskis are great imitations of skis, but they’re not perfect,” Johnson said. “[Therefore] a lot of our classic skiing is going to be arm specific, strength specific, because that’s a really important thing with actual skiing.”
For MSU skiers at least, the arms do not go neglected.
“We want to develop a team that trains together and races together,” Johnson said. “We also want to see an upward result trend for every athlete right through [U.S. SuperTour] Spring Series [in March]. Since our college season doesn’t start until the 10th of January or so, we’re really pushing the fitness aspect of this all the way through November into December.”
According to Johnson, it’s workouts like this that will lead to better ski performances, particularly with the college race schedule in mind.
“It’s really easy to waste time rollerskiing,” he said. “[When] you do a double pole or a ski session you’re doing the same motion thousands of times. Every single time you practice that motion you’re either making yourself better at it or you’re ingraining bad habits. Like they say in music, practice makes permanent, so we try to practice good permanence.”
Especially for a college athlete with limited time to ski, “practicing good permanence” is important.
“College skiing is so incredibly hard sometimes because there’s a huge time constraint with school and social life,” explained Anja Gruber, former University of Vermont (UVM) college ski racer, two-time NCAA champion, UVM business-school valedictorian, and current assistant coach for the MSU nordic team. “I don’t think anybody could get through college racing on their own. It’s really important to be part of a team with good energy.”
And despite a recent high turnover of coaches, the MSU nordic team maintains an upbeat outlook. Super-senior Sawyer Kesselheim of Bozeman, Mont., indicated that he would like to see MSU men’s nordic “consistently have three guys place in the top ten at races.” When asked about Johnson, Kesselheim spoke favorably of the new coach.
“I really like Matt,” he said. “He’s super focused, organized, and professional. He has good workout plans and keeps the workouts exciting.”
This enthusiasm extends into MSU’s newer team members as well. “It’s been great having Matt coach us,” said freshman Sarah McCandless from Jackson Hole, Wyo. “He’s got great positive energy.”
Whether or not Johnson’s athletes actually have fun during these workouts, the benefits are undeniable.
“We’re dealing with a group of athletes who are here to work hard,” Johnson said. “It’s a big responsibility being on a team at a school like this and as they expect a lot of us, we expect a lot of them. There are a lot of moving parts, so you have to be creative, flexible, and on top of things, motivated.”
Warmup: 25-30 minutes easy Level 1 skiing double pole and double-pole kick
The Set: 2-4 times double pole up a 3 k hill. Johnson suggests “finding something with some rest so you can recover and feel the difference between the different [transitions].”
Purpose: To figure out how to apply gym strength to double pole motions in varying types of terrain
Goal: Rather than speed, focus on maintaining correct double pole body position throughout the hill while in a fatigued state
Cool Down: 25-30 minutes easy Level 1 skiing
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Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.