Specific Strength Training
for Nordic Skiing
By Garrott Kuzzy

Whether you are a high school, college or master skier, strength training will help you ski faster with more power and greater efficiency. By putting your muscles under greater stress while training, especially in the off-season, you will build strength and make skiing feel easier when the snow finally falls.

Ski-specific strength training works the specific muscles that will be used during cross country skiing, as well as the cardiovascular system, and is typically done on rollerskis. This can be considered an endurance workout, a strength workout and an interval workout, all rolled into one. Because of this, specific strength is one of the most efficient workouts possible. If you have relatively little time in the off-season to devote to ski training, this workout should be the first to be added to your regiment.

The Workout

Team CXC roller skiing near Lake Placid, New York

This specific strength workout can be done on either classic or skate rollerskis. It consists of skiing a constant distance of around 200 meters about 15 times using three different techniques: singlestick, core-only double-pole and double-pole.

Single-stick is similar to the poling action used in classical striding, except you don’t kick with your legs. Core-only double-pole focuses more on the abs than on the arms. Arms stay in a locked double-pole position and do not follow through as they would in a typical double-pole. The power for core-only double-pole comes from the stomach and abs. The final exercise is a standard double-pole, which uses both the arms and core.

Be sure in all of these exercises that your upper body remains relatively upright, which will keep your hips forward, and your legs should be relaxed.

Find a long, gradual uphill grade with relatively little traffic. A bike path with a slight uphill would be ideal. After a relaxed 15-minute warm-up, mark a start line at the bottom of the climb. Ski up the hill for about 75 seconds and mark a finish line.

Now return to the start and ski the stretch you just marked using single-stick technique at Level 3, or about 90 percent of race pace, focusing on power and quickness. You will ski using single-stick technique for the first five times up the hill. Time yourself during each interval and try to go progressively faster on each interval. Experiment with using a higher tempo on some intervals and more power on others. Pay attention to which variables feel easier and which are faster and try to combine them so that you’re going fast, but feeling relaxed.

Do the next five intervals while keeping arms locked at a 90-degree angle using core-only double-pole. This should be 10 to 15 seconds faster than single-stick over the same distance. Focus on using your core as the primary power source on each pole plant, crunching the way you would in a sit-up. This will build strong abdominal muscles. Be sure to get adequate rest between each interval. Skiing relaxed back down the hill should give you enough time to recover.

Finally, ski the final five intervals using double-pole technique. These should be about another five seconds faster than the core-only double-pole because you are using your arms more and getting full extension. Again, vary your tempo and power on each interval to find the fastest, most efficient technique. End the workout with a relaxed 15 minute cool-down.

If done properly, this entire workout can be completed in one hour: 15 minutes warming up, 15 x 1 minute of intervals, 15 x 1 minute of rest, and a 15 minute cool-down. It is best to complete this workout once every week.

As you get stronger, you can make this workout more challenging by finding a steeper grade to ski up or by doing more sets of each interval as you build endurance. It is important to keep the interval time around one minute, so that each interval is strong and powerful.

This workout is especially productive for those skiers with little time to train each week or bikers and runners whose training builds more leg strength than upper-body, ski specific strength. This workout will likely be one of the most challenging, but will also offer the greatest rewards of increased power and efficiency once on snow in the winter.

Garrott Kuzzy is in his second season on the Central Cross Country (CXC) Olympic Development Team. Originally from Minneapolis, he graduated from Middlebury College in 2006. Garrott is a competitive runner,mountain biker and Nordic skier who currently resides in Hayward, Wis., where he works for New Moon Bike and Ski.