Wednesday Workout: Inside or Out, Improve Your Double Poling

FasterSkierJuly 17, 2019

We are trying to stay slightly ahead of the overuse injury and poor air quality curves. You may be midway through your summer training schedule and dealing with a bum ankle. Or you live in a place like much of the Western U.S. that has been or will be affected by poor air quality due to wildfires. 

Whatever the causation, skiers can find themselves in make-do mode. If the air quality index (AQI) is high where you live, or a bum ankle precludes running or roller skiing, you have training options. And to remain optimistic, what you might think of as a compromise, can, in fact, benefit you in the short and long term. 

Talk to most elite athletes who have trained abroad, and they will tell you that double pole specific workouts are the norm. Double pole capacity remains one mandatory piece of results success. This is where a Ski-Erg and upper body specific strength programs come in handy.

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Many athletes are lucky to have access to a ski-erg. If you don’t, please don’t stress. According to a study published in 2017 that compared the effects of strength training and specific ski-erg training on junior cross-country athletes, both groups made double poling gains. 

The researchers examined double-poling gross efficiency, maximal speed (V max), and peak oxygen uptake (VO2 max). 

No ah-hah moments in terms of an either-or. “No between-group differences were found for any of the investigated variables,” was a key conclusion.

Sadie Bjornsen of the U.S. during the second leg of the 2019 World Championship 4 x 5 k relay in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: John Lazenby/

For those with access to a ski-erg, here’s a 2017 Wednesday Workout from a newly married Sadie Bjornsen. (Congrats!) If your local air quality is sub-par, we’re hoping the ski-erg is located indoors. (If you have a bum ankle, grab a chair, sit down in front of the ski-erg, and begin pulling.


The Start: “I start my workout with a fifteen-minute warm up. During this time, I often shut my eyes, and visualize skiing. This helps bring in true ski form, and feel my movements, rather than just fall into a ‘SkiErg-specific technique.’”

Getting Speedy: “During this time, I will do some little ten-second increases in power to warm up my back and arms, and get ready to go hard.”

The Workout: “After fifteen minutes, I begin the workout known as 30-30’s. This means 30 seconds of intervals followed by 30 seconds of recovery, then repeat for 30 minutes. What may feel easy at first, quickly catches up after 10 minutes, so I always start this workout more conservative than feels appropriate.”

Keeping It Going: “After about five minutes of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, I start to see a common number of watts I am exerting during the 30 seconds. This is where I set a goal. Maybe it’s 190 watts I am hitting, I want to continue to reach that level or more for the next 25 minutes of this workout. This becomes increasingly hard around 20 minutes, and requires a certain amount of mental power. The 30 seconds of rest begins to pass too quickly, and I find myself becoming really focused in my own little world… forgetting where I am (maybe a garage, maybe a gym).”

Finishing Up: “By the end of 30 minutes of 30-30’s, I am pretty worked, and feel like I have just done a race out on the snow. This is when I bring myself back to my surroundings, and finish with a fifteen minute easy warm down to help flush my arms out.”

Final Thoughts: “Not only does this one hour pass really fast, but it is a really focused workout that feels like it truly helps build specific power. I always make sure I finish this workout with a little five minute walk. This helps flush all my muscles, but also helps make sure my back goes back to moving naturally after a pretty intense workout.”


And to keep things fair between the siblings, here’s a 2017 non-ski-erg double pole specific workout from Erik Bjornsen. This session is more suited for those smoke-free days. 


The Workout: Solo, high-focus, double-pole distance session

Erik Bjornsen of the U.S. skiing to 17th overall during the 15 k classic at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: John Lazenby/

Find suitable terrain and timing: “I choose the terrain based on how hard I want the workout to be. I try to fit this workout in mid-week between intervals sessions,” he wrote in an email. “The point is to get the biggest benefit without fatiguing the body too much.  

“Most often I head up Campbell airstrip road. It’s a five-mile-long road, with a majority of the terrain measuring out at a gentle 5% incline,” Bjornsen continued. “There’s one steeper climb in the middle that’s about 500 meters long. For this workout, I go out and back twice.”

Warmup: 15-minute easy Level 1 (roller)ski to the start.

Go-time: Typically takes him 1 hour and 20 minutes to rollerski the 5-mile section twice.

“The steep 500-meter section is VERY hard to double pole — that portion of the road is something you would for sure stride in a race. During this workout, I try to spend an hour at L2 [Level 2] and end up bumping up to L3 [Level 3] only when double poling up that steep segment (2 X 5min in L3). I like having the two short but demanding double pole sections in this workout.

“The important part of this training session is not the 2 x 5-minute L3 sections, it’s the time before and after that L3 effort. You have to figure out how to get the muscles to recover from the hill while still double poling and determine what gear/tempo to use while still applying power efficiently — and recover at the same time.”

Cool down: 15-minute easy ski home.


  • “The idea is to work specifically on double pole and upper body strength. You get an opportunity to work on all gears, from long double pole to very quick choppy double pole up the steep section.

  • “You can gain a lot from just focusing on two intensity sessions a week throughout the summer. This is a way I find I’m able to gain quite a bit from specific double pole training. But ideally, you don’t fatigue the body so much that it takes energy away from the true intensity sessions.”

Lastly, here’s the strength protocol from the 2017 study we mentioned up top. After a specified warm-up, here is what the researchers prescribed for the non-ski-erg test group.

(1) for different training days, the participant was allowed to alternate between five repetitions maximum (RM) of snatches, squats or deadlifts at 60–85% of body mass,

(2) 8 RM sit-ups or vertical sit-ups,

(3) 6 RM pull-downs, chin-ups or seal row

(4) 6 RM of pushdowns, bar-dips or narrow bench press

(5) 6 RM of belly-backs with or without dumbbells.

“All five exercises were conducted with two sets per exercise and 1-min rest between sets. Thereafter, the participants completed 5–10 min with different core-stability exercises, which were followed by 90 s of cable crunches, 60 s of pulldowns with a rope, and 30 s of triceps pushdowns with a rope without rest between exercises. After 1-min rest, these three exercises were repeated once. Finally, 3 sets of 45 s of medicine-ball slams (3–5 kg) with 15-s rest between sets were conducted. After the group-specific training session, the [strength] group performed 20 min of roller skiing using the double-poling technique in the heart-rate intensity zone MIT”

Happy double poling. 



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