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Intensity Training

By Garrott Kuzzy

Incorporating intensity into your training is a great way to improve your skiing. Ski training is based on the theory of stress and recovery. Intensity training stresses your body and breaks down your muscles, and recovery helps build your body back stronger than before. Knowing how to incorporate intensity into your training will help you use your training time more efficiently.

Last month, Brian Gregg wrote about determining training intensity zones. Now that you know your zones, here are a variety of workouts to do within those zones.

First, determine your goals for skiing. If your goal is a ski marathon, your intensity training will be different than if your goal is a 5km or 10km race. The majority of training time, at least half of your weekly workouts, should be done in Level 1, skiing easy, relaxed and having fun.

Level 3 – Lactate Threshold

The primary objective of Level 3 or lactate threshold intervals is to build a fast, efficient base speed. Blood lactate is what makes your legs and arms burn when you’re going hard. Lactate threshold is the point at which your body starts to accumulate lactate faster than it can flush lactate out of your system. By training at this level, you are teaching your body to use blood lactate for energy, so that you can ski faster without “feeling the burn.” Threshold intervals should be the base of any marathon skier’s intensity training.

Two examples of lactate threshold workouts are “threshold pace” and “threshold intervals.”

A threshold pace workout is one long interval at Level 3 (L3) pace. Start with an easy 15-minute warm-up and then get started on one long 30-minute interval. See last month’s article on training zones to know exactly what this pace should be. For your first time, try doing this workout on a loop approximately 5km or 15 minutes in length. Start slow enough that your second loop is faster than your first. End this workout with a 15-minute cool down. This workout is very efficient because of the benefit you receive without taking much time to complete.

A great threshold interval workout is six repetitions of a seven-minute interval (6 x 7 minutes) at L3 with two minutes recovery between intervals. Again, start with an easy 15-minute warm-up beforehand and 15-minute cool-down afterwards. The advantage of a threshold interval workout is that you can go at a faster speed than you can for a threshold pace workout, because you’re allowing your body some time to recover and clear lactate between intervals. You can also go longer (6 x 7 min = 42 min of intensity) than you can in a threshold pace (30 min) workout, without becoming too exhausted afterwards.

Level 4 – VO2max

Level 4 or VO2max intervals build just that, your VO2max. That is, they maximize the volume (V) of oxygen (O2) that gets transferred from your lungs to your muscles by building a stronger heart and capillary system. These intervals stress your body past race pace, so that racing (especially the beginning of a race) feels easier than doing these intervals. L4/VO2max intervals stress your body much harder than L3 intervals, so they should be done only once per week, typically after a strong base of L3 intervals has been established.

The classic VO2max interval workout is four repetitions of four minutes each (4 x 4 minutes) at L4. This pace is just shy of all out and is best done on a climb, so that you are working hard for the entire interval. Be sure to take at least equal rest (four minutes) between these intervals, as well, to let your body recover before starting the next interval. Again, try doing these intervals on a fixed loop or a fixed distance and make each interval faster than the previous. Once you’ve built a base of VO2max intervals, you can increase the number or duration of intervals to 5 x 4 min, then 5 x 5 minutes. Add some speed to your 20-minute warm-up and 20-minute cool-down to make sure that you are ready for this intensity.

Start doing VO2max intervals in the fall, six weeks to eight weeks before the race season. Continue doing one session of VO2max intervals until your first race week. Once the race season starts, a race will substitute for a VO2max interval session. If you’ve got a week without a race, include a VO2max interval set of 4 x 4 minutes.

Level 5 – Speed

Level 5 speed is more important for skiers focusing on sprints and 10km races than marathon skiers, but it is an important part of training for all types of skiers because it helps you feel comfortable on your skis while going fast. Remember to focus on maintaining powerful technique. The benefit to speed training is neuromuscular, teaching your muscles to move fast.

Level 5 speed intervals can be either a stand-alone workout or come at the end of an easy ski to remind your body how to go fast.

As a workout, do three sets of 5 x 30 sec. Go for 30 seconds all out, and then take a two-minute rest. It is important to take full recovery because speed is the goal of these intervals. Also, take 10 minutes of rest between sets so that you’re recovered and ready to go for the next set.

At the end, or interspersed in an easy workout, do 4 x 20 seconds all out to kick in your fast twitch muscle fibers. Be sure to take plenty of recovery, at least two minutes of easy skiing, between each speed interval.

A U.S. Ski Team favorite is “drop-in speed,” where you go down a gradual hill to get up to speed, and then start the speed interval once you’re already going fast. This teaches you to be comfortable on your skis while moving very fast. You may want to wait until you’re on snow to try these speeds!

Incorporating a variety of intervals into your training will not only help you ski faster, it will also make training more fun. Intervals do not always need to be hard. Following a training plan that includes the right type of intervals and the right amounts of recovery will help you race faster. To find a detailed training plan that will help you reach your goals in skiing, log onto