You’ve probably been biking, hiking, and climbing all fall—but as the days shorten, the leaves drop, and winter quickly approaches, it’s time for cross-country skiers to get more specific with their Nordic training.
During the summer months, general endurance and strength training should be done on a regular basis to maintain fitness. That can include almost any endurance activity, including running, hiking, cycling, or swimming. Strength training should also be done—hitting the major muscle groups or areas of weakness that you might have, but just one to two times a week.
Nordic-specific training refers to exercises that closely mimic Nordic skiing. The obvious aerobic exercise is roller skiing. With the roller ski equipment available today, the feel of Nordic skiing is closely reproduced for 100 percent carryover to skiing on snow. If you are new to roller skiing it will take a few hours to get comfortable on roller skis, but usually the learning curve is quick.
For those who have balance issues on roller skis and fear for their epidermis, Nordic walking is also excellent for Nordic-specific endurance training. Any type of ski or trekking pole can be used, but the length of the pole should allow the elbow to be at 90° when holding the grip. The motion of Nordic walking with poles should be as close as possible to skiing on snow. Nordic walking is somewhere between running and walking, but not jumping or overstriding. The body should be leaning forward from the ankles, in a good Nordic skiing position. There should be little to no movement up and down. The most common mistake made when skiers practice ski walking is trying to reach far up the hill with each stride, instead of keeping up a good cadence with shorter strides. When overstriding occurs, the hip falls behind the ankle, causing your weight to be too far back. This is comparable to a late kick in classic skiing, an inefficient and bad habit to develop.
The next section covers specific strength training for Nordic skiing. These are excellent indoor exercises that can be done a couple of times per week in about twenty minutes to help improve your skiing.
Upper Body Strengthening At times during both classic and skate skiing, the shoulders and arms are responsible for more than 50 percent of the propulsion power leading you down the track. Studies have shown a direct correlation between top Nordic skiers’ upper-body strength and where they finish in the World Cup standings. Simply put, the stronger the upper body, the f Sport cord poling Replicating the poling motion with a sport cord is the best way to achieve Nordic-specific upper body strength. Use a good athletic stance, with your feet staggered and elbows out to the side, wider than your hands. Pull down on the sport cord from a height about level with your eyes. Pull all the way down to the hip region by extending your shoulders and elbows. Don’t forget to engage your abdominals as well, by doing a slight crunch to assist in the down motion. Aim for 5–6 sets of 15–20 repetitions.
Lower Body Strengthening/Balance Nordic skiing with excellent technique requires a high degree of balance. Nordic-specific training in the fall should therefore include both static and dynamic balance exercises.
Mini-band Hip-strengthening exercises with a mini-band doubles as a balance exercise. A mini-band is placed around the ankles. Stand on one leg and pulse the other leg out to the side. Keep the tension on the band throughout, and continue pulsing until fatigue develops in the standing leg hip musculature. Also try pulsing the leg forward and back. The pulsing leg never touches the ground and the standing leg stays stable with the knee slightly bent. Try 2–3 sets on each leg and pulse until fatigued. Work up to 60 seconds.
Dynamic Lateral Lunges Turn a basic lateral lunge into a dynamic strength and balance exercise with a lateral hop. With this exercise you jump laterally (side to side) from one leg to another, landing in a good athletic stance. You can either pause for 1–2 seconds in a single leg stance position and work on your balance, or immediately jump back to your other leg. Make it more challenging by holding a medicine ball, and more challenging yet by throwing the medicine ball up as you launch off from one leg and catch it when landing on your other leg. Try 3 sets of 15 repetitions; if you can easily complete 15 then it is time to add weight (dumbbells or medicine ball).
Don’t Forget the Core!
Plank Sequence When the quads or upper body are fatigued from the exercises above, go right into a plank sequence for a couple of minutes and work your core. Try to hold each position for 30–60 seconds. Keep your spine straight in each position, and you should feel all of the work being done with your abdominal muscles. If the exercise becomes easy, then lift an extremity as shown.
With 2–3 sessions of Nordic-specific strengthening, and a few sessions of roller skiing or ski walking each week, you will be confident and comfortable once the ski tracks are groomed.
Dan Streubel, M.P.T., an avid Nordic skier, owns Streubel Physical Therapy in Driggs. During the fall you will spot him roller skiing up Ski Hill Road, and in the winter toeing up to the start line of just about every Nordic race in the area.