Fall Training and Conditioning: Do's and Don'ts
This article provided through a partnership with American Cross Country Skiers, www.xcskiworld.com.
Perhaps the most unifying characteristic of cross country skiers during the fall months is the amazing shortage of time available to train or improve fitness. Every season you'll run into skiers of all ages that sheepishly admit that they just weren't able to make time for the kinds of fitness-enhancing activities that would make their ski season more enjoyable and successful (if racing is the aim).
The amusing aspect of these confessions to the coach is that so many skiers know exactly where their body is going to complain once they get on snow. They know exactly what they need to improve in order to either go faster or have more fun (or both). They often know the kinds of activities that would really help the whole situation.
So what do you do?
The following is a list of important training/conditioning do's and don'ts with an emphasis on the kind of real world situations and limitations that nearly all of us face on a daily and weekly basis.
Problem: Too little time, too much whining
Start any training/conditioning plan with specific goals and objectives. You wouldn't build a house without a blueprint and you shouldn't approach your fitness routine any differently. This applies to folks that just like to cross country ski a dozen times a year on their local golf course as much as it does to potential Olympians.
Important: Write down your goals and objectives--refer back often. Anything else is simply a vague idea. A written goal is something you can see and internalize. Keep your goals/objectives realistic. If your eye is on racing, pick out challenging, yet attainable, objectives (i.e. such-and-such time for a 10 km) and broad goals such as having fun and staying healthy all season. If you aren't interested in racing, but mainly after fitness in your skiing season, your goals actually might be the same as the racer, but your objectives might be to learn some new techniques, come into the season with better conditioning, or finally conquer a troublesome trail.
Emphasize training with others whenever possible. It is 10 times easier to get out the door on a cold and rainy fall evening if you know a few buddies are going to be out there with you. Particularly for women and juniors, training partners can also provide a certain measure of safety. Make sure that your training partners are reliable and folks you enjoy being with. Also, they should be of comparable fitness unless you have a big group where different abilities can branch off and do their own thing. Nobody likes to feel left behind or like they always have to hold back.
Try to schedule at least one really enjoyable and different workout or fitness session at least a couple times each month. This will depend on your personal abilities and preferences, but if fitness or training isn't fun, over the long haul you just aren't going to do it. Keep the spark alive by routinely giving yourself a few days to do a favorite activity in a favorite place or try something you've never done or go somewhere you've never been.
Avoid the "hot out of the gate" syndrome. Every year you'll see skiers start the fall or winter with all the energy and enthusiasm of a New Year's party and then, a few weeks later, are nowhere to be seen. Realize that personal fitness and athletic training programs are lifetime and/or multi-year commitments. These are no quick-fix remedies.
Along with setting reasonable goals and objectives, realize that it usually takes two or three times as long as we think it will to get to a certain point with fitness. Give yourself time to adjust. Start with a realistic amount of; type of; and duration of workouts. Be patient with the whole process. After just a couple weeks of systematic exercise or training, you'll start to notice little improvements that will slowly grow into big improvements over time.
"No Pain, No Gain" is a myth. Don't get caught up thinking that the only way to improve fitness or race results is to blast away at Mach 3 every time you exercise. In fact, going hard all the time (even when you just work out a couple a times a week) is one of the most common tendencies in skiers that tend to poop out mid-way through the ski season. Vary your easy and harder workouts, particularly if you have racing aspirations, with at least an every-other-workout approach.
Don't forget to be good to yourself. Hey, if you just got up on a weekend morning and treated your body to a couple hour hike or roller ski, you deserve a reward! The same would apply if you were able to squeeze in a few midweek workouts around school, work, family, relationships, or other obligations. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back. Sure, oftentimes workouts can be their own reward. But occasionally, perhaps after you've done an hour's worth of hill intervals in the pouring rain...all that after a tough day at work...that's when a nice hot cup of your favorite beverage or a tasty treat is very much in order.
Problem: Never Enough Time For Workouts
Whether you are an adult trying to juggle work, family and fitness; a college/high school student trying to make the grades and get the race results; or even a retiree wondering where all your free time disappeared to...nearly all of us struggle to free up the time for fitness or training programs. Luckily there are some solutions.
Making Time For Workouts? Do!
Do make the most of your limited time. You've got 45 minutes to squeeze in a workout during your lunch hour. What to do? One suggestion is a "mixed-bag" approach: a quick warm-up jog/walk and light stretch, 10-15 minutes of strength exercises, maybe five minutes of plyometrics/speed, another 10-15 minutes specific foot exercises, and a light cool-down and stretching. Another approach would be substituting a short distance walk/run or even roller ski (if convenient areas are nearby) for the strength and specific exercises.
Regardless of what you do, when you are short on time, have a defined plan and get on it without messing around. Make an agreement with training partners that if someone is late, the group still starts on time anyway.
Do prioritize your fitness/training workouts. If you have three workout time blocks and a maximum of five hours in any given week, you need to make sure that you put only the most important workouts on the schedule. Priority is going vary depending on a variety of factors but, generally speaking, the most important things you can build into any pre-season cross country ski fitness or training program are...
Regular Strength of anywhere from 10-60 minutes per session. Emphasis on important skiing muscle regions such as the shoulders, hip/groin and lower back/stomach.
Regular Intensity or Harder Efforts on one-to-three days per week, depending on your weekly volume and fitness history. Generally, fall quality sessions should be as ski-specific as possible (ski-specific foot or roller skiing being the two most popular choices). The Workout of the Week posted nearly every week of the year on xcskiworld.com is a great resource for coming up with ideas for these sessions.
At Least Once a Week Long Distance which can range from an hour-and-a-half up to five or six hours, depending on how easy you go, the type of activity, your location, your age and your fitness level. Cross country skiing is an endurance sport so, by definition, you need to be able to sustain movement for prolonged periods of time.
Specific Motion Exercises such as ski walking, bounding, plyometrics and roller skiing, done on a weekly or biweekly basis, allow your body and mind to get used to ski-specific motions and range of motion well before you ever step on snow. This means more fun and/or faster times once the white stuff starts flying.
Technique and Balance Exercises are more difficult to do if you have not ever worked with a professional coach or instructor, but can make a world of difference for all ability levels.
Making Time For Workouts? Don't!
Don't use excuses Find ways to use what you have to work with rather than worry about what you don't have in terms of time, locations or coaching. You can have great workouts in a downtown city park with a few grassy hillsides for bounding and a play structure for field circuits. Be creative! You don't need to drive all over the place for great training options.
Don't get locked into certain time periods. Some very successful athletes absolutely refuse to do any kind of workout except at certain times of the day. These folks often end up struggling for motivation, good locations or training partners because of their inflexibility. On some days it may be better to train in the evening and some days it may be better to get up early or squeeze a session into the middle of the day. Do whatever you need to do to get you out the door on a regular basis.
Don't forget to keep doing dryland workouts once the snow does fall. It doesn't matter if you are 16 and aiming for the state title or 64 years young preparing for your first Subaru National Masters; you don't want to drop the dryland ball entirely once the tracks open up. Many of the same kinds of dryland workouts that worked so well in the fall can do the same in the winter. Strength will be easily lost over the course of the winter, as will a certain amount of flexibility and even balance that comes with regular walk/run sessions.
Depending on how often you are able to ski and your overall fitness goals, you'll want to maintain one-to-five dryland workouts year-round. Many folks do not actually live in snow areas and must travel to snow on weekends or holidays. In this situation you have no choice but to dryland train all year so it is vital that you provide yourself with plenty of variety both in terms of types of activities and locations.