By Teemu Virtanen
You have had a chance to read about favorite workouts of some of our Pro Team Athletes, and as we are now starting the new year it makes sense to recall the basic elements of long distance ski training. In any endurance sport, the core training methods are long slow distance training, often called LSD training, pace/tempo training, interval training, fartlek, long fast training and strength training.
Long slow distance training is the core, or the foundation, for any cardio training. As the name implies, the idea is to do a long workout with a slow pace. For long distance skiers, this could mean exercises that can last up to five hours or even more. For recreational skiers and goal oriented semi-serious skiers, this would mean 2-3 hour long slow paced ski workouts, and at the moment this would mean skiing on snow.
As you get more experienced and your aerobic base increases, you can add short sprints in your long and slow exercises to break the monotonousness of your training, but you need to avoid the common drawback of the LSD training, which is to reach the point of diminishing returns. This term describes time spent training that provides little in the way of results. In other words, you keep repeating your training and there is no change.
That’s why you need tempo and interval training. Pace or tempo training is simply the effort level at which your body is able to clear as much lactate (a byproduct of burning carbohydrates) as it produces. Your body’s lactate clearance is at the same level as its lactate production, meaning the dreaded dead-leg or dead-arm sensation doesn’t set in.
The key difference between a race and a tempo pace is that when you are racing, going all out, your body bypasses this limit and fatigue kicks in quite rapidly. While in a tempo training, you can keep the same pace steadily for at least 20-30 minutes, and preferably much longer. You should do your tempo training at your anaerobic threshold or lactate threshold pace. The length of your tempo training depends on your physical shape, experience and goals.
Then, interval training is a type of training that involves a series of low- to high-intensity workouts interspersed with rest or relief periods. The high-intensity periods are typically at or close to anaerobic exercise anaerobic while the recovery periods involve activity of lower intensity.
Varying the intensity of effort exercises the heart muscle, provides a cardiovascular workout, improves aerobic capacity and permits the person to exercise for longer and at more intense levels. Interval training can enhance lactate threshold and increase VO2 max and improve your speed in skiing. 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.”
Both Petter Eliassen and Tore Bjørseth Berdal told us of their favorite workouts, which were both examples of interval training. A close relative of interval training is speed training, which is an important part of training for all types of skiers because it helps you feel comfortable on your skis while going fast. The benefit to speed training is neuromuscular, teaching your muscles to move fast.
A speed workout usually has short 20-30 second all-out sprints with sufficient rests. It is important to take full recovery because speed is the goal of these intervals. You can do this workout in sets of e.g. 5 x 20-30 seconds and have a 10-minute break between your sets.
One method that combines both interval and speed workout is called “fartlek”. The term comes from Sweden, and it means "speed play”. Fartlek training involves varying your pace in an unstructured manner throughout your workout, alternating between fast and slow segments during your exercise. The sprints and intervals within your fartlek workout should be between moderate to hard efforts with easy efforts throughout. This is a stress-free workout that improves mind-body awareness, mental strength, and stamina.
The long fast training is practically an extended tempo workout where you go for a long time with a relatively fast pace. This is a special training for long distance skiers, and many Pro Team Athletes add race-like elements in this long workout to imitate our races. This can often mean that the workout can be from three to five hours long and have intervals and tempo training built in. You need to be a very experienced and physically strong skier to be able to do these types of demanding workouts. The recovery time needs to be substantial after a workout like this.
Finally, we have strength training that can be done at the gym or in a natural way, which now means double-poling on steep hills with repeated efforts. Strength training — also known as weight or resistance training — is physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance, including free-weights, weight machines, or your own body weight.
There are two types of resistance training; isometric and isotonic. The former involves contracting your muscles against a non-moving object, such as against the floor in a push-up, and the latter involves contracting your muscles through a range of motion as in weight lifting. You should maintain strength training throughout your race season and find your personal preference and method that keeps your muscle strength in order.