By Teemu Virtanen
Long distance skiing is a versatile sport that requires a lot of training hours with many diverse workouts increasing an athlete’s physical capacity, endurance, VO2max, strength and speed. The last quality in that list has become more important over the years in long distance skiing, and in particular the ability to sprint fast whenever needed (quite often at the end of a race). Of course, maximum speed is more essential for skiers focusing on sprint and short distances, but even in long distance races speed is an important factor when one wants to win races, achieve successful breakaways during a race, and simply just be able to ski faster.
Speed training may sound quite simple, but for long distance skiers it would mean an ability to ski fast when their muscles and body are tired after a long period of racing. To improve this ability, a skier needs to do specific workouts to trigger his or her body to go fast when he or she feels worn-out.
The benefit to speed training is neuromuscular, teaching your muscles to move fast. When doing speed training, you should focus on your technique and make sure to keep it intact. Speed training intervals can be either a stand-alone workout, come at the end of a workout to remind your body how to go fast or be incorporated into longer sessions that can also be intensive in nature, therefore simulating race conditions.
One great example of speed training is to do three sets of 5 x 30 sec intervals. Go for 30 seconds all out, and then take a two-minute rest. In this specific workout, 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.
A more intensive version of the above is to 10 x 30 sec sprints with a 30-second recovery. This is more than just a speed training session since the intensity of the workout increases exponentially from the session describe above due to the short recovery time. You can do this during your long endurance session and have more than one set.
To make it even harder, you can go 15 seconds all out and then recover for 15 seconds. However, the recovery is so short that this exercise easily becomes extremely taxing, and thus turns into VO2max training. Team Ramudden’s coach Mattias Reck is known for his so-called “40-20 intervals” where one goes all out for 40 seconds and then has a short 20-second recovery. Depending on the nature of the workout in question, the amount of the sprints varies.
There are many variations to this type of speed training, and you should find the best method for yourself. An important factor to keep in mind is that if your recovery time is short, the intensity of your training will grow making the workout more a “capacity” session than pure speed training. Sprint skiers tend to have long breaks in-between their intervals since speed is the primary goal, but long distance skiers often have shorter recovery as they need to be able to go fast when exhausted.
You can sometimes try longer intervals, but they can easily become too intensive to be pure speed training. For example, one-minute intervals going fast on a gradually descending track or road on roller-skis can work well for this purpose. You can get up to speed first and start your interval once you’re in full speed. However, keep in mind that the idea is develop your speed and not to get too much lactic acid in your muscles.
When you are doing an easy workout, you can have a set of short intervals at the end or interspersed in theworkout. For example, you can 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.
You should add these speed intervals to your regular training program, and if your training includes the right type of intervals and the right amounts of recovery depending on what ability you are aiming to improve, you will certainly race much faster and be able to sprint fast even if you have many racing miles behind you.