Nordic Ski Racer - cross country ski racing    
Home  |  Racing |  Training |  Rollerskiing |  Trails |  Weather |  Equipment |  Forums |  Photos & Video

Training Blocks for 2004-2005
Training Hard or Training Smart?
September 11, 2004 - By Mike Muha

August was an oddball month - lots of travel knocked me off my training plan. Traveling to Tucson for my company kills two days - one day traveling there, one day traveling back. I was there on two occasions in August. The first trip was for one day only. I had a killer interval running session up Sabino Canyon (1-2-3-4-4-3-2-1 minutes intervals) followed by a long run back down. The second trip was for two days. A killer 30 minute pace running session (90% of max heart rate) then the long run back down the canyon just killed my legs. The next day I did a weight session at the local Bally's, but upper body, core, and abs only - my legs were empty and sore. I had time for a 35 minute run the next morning before my plane left. My legs complained the entire run.

Low walk up the hill, part of Thursday night's NordicSkiRacer strength session.

Jill and I also drove up to Ellsworth to visit my Mom, brother, and sister who were all in town at the same time. My sister's beau  Steve and I spent several days biking, taking advantage of some of the big hills in Antrim County. (Well, he may have felt taken advantage of. Guess I forgot to tell him about the hills before we started riding...) No rollerskiing, no running.

Then, I made the decision to do circuits and spenst sessions with Dan Motowski once a week instead of heading to the gym. I wanted to work on explosive strength in the legs (spenst) and do some strength exercises that required more balance or core strength (the circuits, including medicine ball). Also, it's fun doing these sessions with others. Dan and I published our workouts in the calendar and now we others routinely joining us.

The Experiment

Up north, I just biked for fun. At the Michigan Cup Meeting pre-ride, we hammered hard. In Ellsworth, we did some big climbs and pushed hard the flats (Steve had a new triathlon bike with aero bars and was chomping at the bit to go fast).

I did take advantage of my biking in northern Michigan to compare heart rates of a "hard" bike ride with a planned training session on the bike. What did I find?

  • I had great fun simply going hard on my bike!
  • I was worn out by the end of each ride.
  • I had a workout that was twice as long as my normal training session, but majority of it was in the 75-85% of max heart rate range - the range where you get the least payoff for the most work.

When I do a planned workout, I work on a specific goal, like increasing VO2max. My goals for the Michigan Cup Meeting weekend and the long weekend in Ellsworth were to have fun and get to know my future brother in law better, not to optimize training. But it reinforced the concept that "training hard" is not the same as "training smart."

Had I taken that same amount of time and planned it out, I would have spent much more time in the 60-75% or 85-95% of max heart rate ranges and gotten much more training benefit.

Strength Block

Torbjorn had us doing a strength block toward the end of August. It was to the gym every other day, and focusing on a couple max strength exercises (3 sets of 6 reps to failure). I also did some doublepole intervals up a gradual hill for strength.

August's technique focus was on initiating my poling with an abs crunch and on bending at the ankle, not the hips. In the old days, we tended to fall on our poles, bending at the hips. The current thinking is to generate speed by crunching down on poles - it's a bend at the waist, not the hip, and it's just like doing a crunch lying on your back. At the same time I'm crunching, I'm trying to bend at the ankle so my lower leg and back stay parallel. The ankle bend puts my hips forward and up the hill or down the trail. It also preloads the leg to push off hard.

A second focus was learning to actually use my legs when V1'ing up hills. I have a poor V1 habit where I tend to fall from leg to leg instead of pushing off one leg onto the other leg. I've made good progress by skiing up hills without poles or with minimal power on the poles. I still have to think about - maybe by snow time it'll be ingrained in my muscle memory.


It's September now, and I'm in the middle of an intensity block - and seeing some big changes. The intervals so far have been "hard" intervals - in the 90-95% of max heart rate range, and 3:30 to 6:00 long - but they've all felt relatively easy! And the distance I cover in each interval is about the same as the previous interval.

This is a far cry from May and June. During those months, intervals at 85-90% felt hard, and the distance I covered was less and less with each interval.

Progress! Maybe there is something to these intensity blocks.

Of course, life steps in. Replacing a failed water heater ate one of my intensity days, and the traditional "it's Friday night and time to get the house cleaned" evening killed another one. And another trip to Tucson this week will force me to replace a doublepole interval session with running.

The rest of September

After the intensity block is over - and it's a long one - things get back to normal. During the normal block, there will still be intervals, but at least one will be longer (2 x 12 minutes!). There will be a few session focusing on strength - weights and lots of doublepoling.

If you're not doing interval session yet, it's time to get started! Do a 4 x 4:00 at 85-90% or 90% of your max heart rate. Take the first 2 minutes to get up to the target heart range then stay there for the rest of the interval. Don't go too hard - the goal is to exercise your heart not burn out your muscles.