By Andy Keller and Charlie Dee
CD: Andy, the days are cooler and shorter, so I’m projecting snow in my future, but I’m really far behind in ski training because of elbow tendonitis.
AK: Returning from an injury, Charlie, you need to work on both strength and flexibility for the area affected by the injury. So while you’re strengthening your upper body with weights, stretches and theraband, let’s work on specific strength drills on roller skis that will help you transition from all that biking you’ve been doing and get you ready for snow.
CD: I’m an old guy. Why shouldn’t I just roller ski easily for a few weeks, then add speed? I’d rather see different terrain than do boring, monotonous drills.
AK: Correction, you’re a competitive old guy. Think about it this way, Charlie: with climate change, we simply can’t count on snow like in ancient times when you were my age. When that first eight inches hit Ironwood or Calumet, you’ll drive up and be having so much fun, you’ll want to “just ski.” Why not put in your drill time now, on asphalt?
CD: That’s truly an ineluctable argument. Let’s start with skating.
HORIZONTAL POLES REVEAL FLAWS
AK: After you’ve warmed up on roller skis, find a loop that takes you about five minutes that’s flat or has very mild hills. Hold your poles horizontally out in front of you, hands at shoulder width and elbows slightly bent. Ski that way for five minutes, then put the poles on and ski easily for five, then go back to holding the poles in front of you.
CD: What am I trying to accomplish here?
AK: Two things. The horizontal poles reveal what your upper body is doing. Since a goal of efficient skating is to have a “quiet” upper body, you want those poles to stay basically horizontal as you engage your lower body by pushing off and gliding side-to-side.
CD: Whoa, that’s not so easy. When I push off my left ski to glide on my right, the poles want to dip to the right.
AK: That means you’re twisting your upper body, and anything you do with the upper body affects the lower body. Your poles dipping to the right indicates that you’re not fully transferring weight to the right, but rather cheating by bending your upper body that way. Try it again, but go slower and focus on firing your abs to stabilize your upper body.
CD: Well, it took the full five minutes, but I stayed a lot more horizontal the last portion.
AK: I can see that. For the next five minutes with the poles, keep that feeling of the abs stabilizing and the quiet upper body. Don’t even think about poling technique.
EQUAL SKATE-OFF WITH EACH LEG
CD: You said there were two goals. What’s the second?
AK: For your next loop with the horizontal poles, concentrate on getting an equal push-off from each leg. This also starts with your abs. In V1, many people skate off harder on the side they’re poling to but weaker on their “push” side. There’s an explanation for this, but no good reason! With the poles out in front of you, naturally you’ll use both legs equally.
CD: So this drill builds leg strength on both sides while developing better technique. What should I concentrate on when I add poles for five minutes after the five without them?
AK: Again, don’t even think about your poling at this stage. Stay relaxed whether you’re in V1 or V2, and concentrate on an equal push-off from both sides and a quiet upper body. Remember what we’ve stressed in previous articles: keep a “tall” body position without too much bending at the waist, and fire your abs to initiate the poling, as well as to stabilize the transition from one ski to the other.
CD: Got it: four five-minute loops and every other one without poles. On to classic.
AK: For classic, find a 150-250 meters long hill with a moderate grade, 4-6%. If it’s too steep, it will undermine our goal of increasing ski-specific strength while honing in proper technique.
CLASSIC: TRY “LOCK AND LOAD” DRILL
CD: I’m holding the envelope to my head like Johnny Carson playing “The Great Carnac” and predicting we’re going to be doing some double poling.
AK: Of course, but not before we do “core-only poling,” also known as “lock and load.” The big picture is that we’ll go through four exercises, each on the hill, and doing 2-5 reps for each depending on your conditioning and how quickly good technique breaks down.
CD: So I start with lock and load. I remember this as a double-pole with no follow-through, where the emphasis is on abs initiating a double-pole, the chest crunching towards the pavement, but the movement stops as soon as the pole-tips hit the asphalt.
AK: Good memory for once. You want to concentrate on planting the poles as hard as you can, crunching into the road, but as soon as they hit, relax the abs and return your upper body to the “high body” position, with shoulders slightly rounded.
SELF-COACHING IS CRUCIAL
CD: Should I go as far up the hill as I can stomach?
AK: With all four of these drills, you need to do some self-coaching. Notice where on the hill your technique breaks down, and don’t go any further. Just turn around, ride to the bottom and start your next rep.
CD: So this isn’t a drill to build anaerobic capacity?
AK: Not initially. Skiing with the focus on technique will probably get you into Level 2 or 3 for your heart rate, but the main goal is to work on converting our general strength to proper ski technique strength. That’s why you don’t search for the steepest hill around for these drills: that would be more anaerobic, you would feel you’re conquering something, but you’d sacrifice technique to do it.
CD: So after 2-5 reps with the lock and load, then I should do a full double pole, right?
AK: Yes. Now add your follow-through to the core-only poling without losing focus on that initial abs-followed-by-chest crunch. And with both of these poles-only drills, it’s fine to use skating equipment. Double poling is the link across all techniques in both skate and classic.
CD: Adding the follow-through allows me to get further up the hill than with core-only.
AK: That’s because you’re utilizing more muscle groups. But as soon as you feel your technique slipping, turn around.
CD: I’ve done a lot of double-poling drills, but emphasizing that initial crunch from the first drill makes me more powerful.
AK: Two more drills. The next is single sticking, where you use classic striding pole technique without using your legs. Just keep your knees bent in a good balanced position, skis parallel and pointing down the trail. Now, use classic poling without any kick.
DON’T BE A “MOUNTAIN CLIMBER”
CD: This is difficult, and I don’t get as far up the hill.
AK: True, but when you build up to five of these reps, you’ll develop specific strength in both your arms and abs that will make you a more powerful strider. Now be careful that you don’t become a “mountain climber” when single sticking.
CD: I think I just did. I was planting poles like they were ice axes on the side of a mountain and just inching up the grade of the hill.
AK: You went too far up that hill. I want to see you with a smooth, not choppy, striding motion, swinging your arms from front to back with the only stress on your body coming at the moment the poles strike pavement. As soon as you notice yourself struggling like a mountain climber with ice-axes, turn back down the hill.
CD: What’s the final striding drill?
AK: Lay the poles on the ground and use the same hill to stride up while mimicking single stick poling with your empty arms.
CD: I get much further up the hill with this one.
AK: That’s because your legs are so much more powerful than your arms. The focus here should be on dynamic leg swing. Your power comes from quickly swinging your un-weighted leg back in front of your weighted one. Having effective and complete weight transfer between you two legs will maximize this power. We’ve been telling our CXC skiers to snap that leg back so the hip is thrusting forward.
CD: The best tip you gave me here is when I fell out of rhythm, you told me to keep my hips forward, like I was falling into the hill instead of over-reaching uphill with my foot and ending up on my heels. That was a good correction.
AK: So that’s four classic drills: lock and load, double pole, single stick and legs only. Now do one more set of 2-5 reps putting them all together and striding up that hill relaxed and smoothly.
CD: Without doing speed intensity, I’ve gotten good work-outs from all these drills.
AK: Specific strength training helps the body make the physiological changes needed to eventually go fast. It’s ideal because it builds strength while focusing on technique.
CD: Next month let’s talk about the proper mix of distance training with intensity to be ready for snow.