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Strength and Power for Cross Country Skiing

Mon, Aug  11, 2008 - By Zach Weatherford

[This article originally appeared on the United States Ski and Snowboard Association web site.]

Zach Weatherford
US Ski and Snowboard Association
Strength and Conditioning and Video Specialist
1500 Kearns Blvd
Park City, UT 84060
435-640-8575 z
weatherford@ussa.org

Strength and Power for Cross-Country Skiing

Competitive cross-country skiing is a demanding sport that taxes both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Ski events can range from 2 – 120 minutes, depending whether it is a 1-kilometer sprint or a 50-kilometer endurance competition. Cardiorespiratory endurance for a skier becomes the corner stone of the athlete’s training. Different methods are used to enhance endurance, such as long distance recovery and technique skiing, threshold or steady state, and VO2 maximum training. Strength and power weight training is also typically incorporated into the overall program, even though it has been shown in studies to not have a significant affect on maximal oxygen uptake (2,3). However, studies have shown that strength/power development can facilitate a change in an athlete’s reduction of workload. This reduction of load would increase the efficiency of the ski movement, thus increasing the athlete’s time to exhaustion (1,3). The two factors associated with a reduction in workload and an increased time to exhaustion include the ability to develop a greater maximal force as well as increase the rate at which the maximal force is produced.

In cross-country skiing, the primary objective of the strength and power program is to support the athlete’s cardio training by enhancing the efficiency of the athlete’s skiing. A yearly-periodized plan consists of five strength and power phases: technical/preparatory, base power, maximum power, power/velocity, and maintenance. Each is similar in exercise prescription but varies in exercise intensity, volume, and objectives. Although the training regimen continues to develop force throughout the year, the main objective is to increase the rate at which that force is produced. This goal of the program is to focus training in the area of plyometrics and explosive weight training.

Testing / Evaluation

Evaluation and testing of the athlete is conducted prior to, during, and after the training season. Evaluation consists of a battery of tests used to analyze both the aerobic and anaerobic metabolic systems. The tests are conducted over a period of three days followed by feedback on performance to both the athlete and coach.

The first day consists of a velocity roller skiing test. The velocity test consists of a double pole and skate ski technique over a distance of 120-meters. Splits are taken at 40, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110, and 120-meter distances. The objective with this test is to evaluate the athlete’s velocity and accelerations in roller skiing. This velocity testing can give valuable feedback as to whether the athlete is generating greater amounts of force and increasing the rate of the force production within specific ski techniques.

Day two focuses on the analysis of the athlete’s aerobic capacity. While roller skate skiing lactate threshold and VO2 maximum tests are performed on an oversized treadmill (10’ x 8’). These tests provide significant information for developing the cardiorespiratory program. During these tests an evaluation of the athlete’s efficiency of skiing can also be noted.

Strength and power is evaluated on day three of testing. Using a calibrated force scale and position transducer, ground reaction force and displacement are measured while the athlete first performs an isometric maximal squat then a series of static and countermovement vertical jumps. The body weight static jump is performed from the 90-degree squat position. The jump is analyzed for peak power, velocity, time to peak force, and rate of force production. The countermovement jumps are performed at various intensities of body weight, 20kg, and 40kg barbell loads. These jumps are analyzed for displacement, peak force, and peak power. Lastly, the upper body strength is evaluated using a pull-up field test. This consists of a single dead hang pull-up. External weight is progressively added until maximal effort is achieved.

Phase I Technical / Preparatory

The main objective of the technical/preparatory phase is to ease the athlete back into strength training without negatively impacting the cardiorespiratory training. This phase typically lasts four to six weeks. Weight training consists of two to three days per week with intensity varying between 50 – 70% of one repetition maximum, 10 – 6 repetitions, and 2 – 3 sets per exercise. The workout is designed to last no longer than 45 minutes and muscular fatigue should be avoided. The workout is designed to provide neuromuscular coordination and exercise familiarization.

Plyometrics or velocity training is also introduced to the athlete during this initial phase. Intensity and volume is very low. The objective is to provide the athlete with a series of exercises that incorporate coordination while gradually increasing the speed of movement. To accomplish this goal, traditional plyometric or vertical jumps are not utilized, but rather low intensity footwork drills. An example would be a low volume jump rope and agility speed ladder. This portion of the workout is considered the specific warm-up and is conducted after a thorough general warm-up.

Phase II Base Strength and Power

Phase II of the yearly plan is a continuation of phase I with an increase in the intensity of weighted exercises and the addition of vertical jump plyometric exercises. Again, there should not be a significant negative affect on performance of the cardiorespiratory program. The gradual progression is critical to the overall success of the training. Weight training consists of three days per week, intensity of exercises ranging from 60 – 85%, and volume from 6 – 4 repetitions. This phase should correspond with the cardiorespiratory training and last for 6-8 weeks. Due to the increase in volume and intensity careful consideration should be put to the weekly periodization plan. Quality cardio training should be the priority and done prior to weight sessions. Ensure there is adequate recovery between weight sessions and high intensity cardiorespiratory training. Typically 36 to 48 hours is recommended.

Cross country ski athletes log upwards of twenty-five plus hours of cardio training per week. Cautious considerations need to be put toward the progression of the plyometric workouts. With these high volumes of training it is imperative that all precautions are taken against overuse injuries. Plyometrics could potentially contribute to overuse injuries to bone, joint, and muscular tissue. Plyometric exercises should be incorporated while the athlete is rested and prior to any cardio or weight training. Progressive overload and proper warm-up is vital to prevention of jump training injuries. Low volume and intensity of exercises are utilized during this phase. The exercises incorporate basic vertical, unilateral, and horizontal jumps with emphasis on the kinesthetic awareness and positioning during the landing phase. This will provide a solid foundation for lower body power development.

Phase III Maximum Strength and Power

The third phase is vital for developing and maintaining power throughout the competitive season. This phase comes at a critical time within the training season; intensity in cardiorespiratory training is increasing, many athletes are on snow, and competitions begin. However, this is an opportune time to gain quality strength and power. It is important to be consistent throughout all training and have a balanced well thought out training plan.

The objective of the phase is to increase the athlete’s ability to produce maximum amounts of force. While the primary focus is force development, the secondary purpose is to continue enhancing the rate of force development. Both the weight training and the plyometrics take on a greater intensity. Weight lifting continues three days per week with intensity ranging between 70 -90% and a volume of 5 – 3 repetitions per exercise. A gradual build up of volume in plyometric exercises continues.

Phase IV Power/Velocity

During phase IV, power/velocity training makes a shift from development of force or strength to the rate at which that force is produced or power. Speed of movement and explosiveness becomes the primary goal. Plyometric volume and intensity increase while trying to maintain strength gains. Intensity and volume of strength exercises drops significantly to 30 -70% and 3 – 5 repetitions per exercise. Emphasis should be placed on the quality of movement velocity during the exercise.

Phase V Maintenance

During the heavy portion of the competitive season, the athlete moves to a maintenance phase of the periodized program. This period of training is designed to be a continuation of the power/velocity phase. Plyometric volume drops while trying to maintain the intensity of exercises. Strength exercises continue to emphasize velocity of movement with the same volume and intensity as the power/velocity phase. Training is typically reduced to 1 – 2 days depending on individual travel and competitive schedules.

Through an organized and consistent strength and power plan, efficiency of a cross-country skier can be enhanced with increases in maximal force production and the rate at which the force is produced. This efficiency is noted in the reduction of workload and an increase in time to exhaustion during a maximum effort. Careful consideration should be placed upon a gradual progression in both the plyometric and weight training to boost the athlete’s cardiorespiratory training.

1. Hoff J, Helgerud J, and Wisloff U. (1999) Maximal strength training improves work economy in trained female cross-country skiers. Medicine Science in Sports and Exercise, 870-877.

2. Osteras H, Helgerud J, and Hoff J. (2002). Maximal strength-training effects on force-velocity and force-power relationships explain increases in aerobic performance in humans. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 88: 255-263.

3. Paavolainen, L., K. Hakkinen, and H. Rusko. (1991). Effects of explosive type strength training on physical performance characteristics in cross-country skiers. European Journal of Applied Physiology, (62): 251-255.

4. United States Ski and Snowboard Association. (2005). Strength and Power CD-ROM.

 

Example Workout Structures of Each Phase:

Phase I Technical / Preparatory
Day 1

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Jump Rope Light 4-6 Sets x 50-80 Reps Quick Feet
Speed Ladder Drill Light 4-6 Drills x 2 Reps Quick Feet
Lower Body Lifting
Back Squat 55% -70% 2-3 Sets x 10-6 Reps Slow & Controlled
Dumbbell Lunge Light 2-3 Sets x 6-4 Reps  
Upper Body Lifting
Dumbbell Bench Press 55% -70% 2-3 Sets x 10-6 Reps Slow & Controlled
Lat Pulldown 50% -65% 2-3 Sets x 10-6 Reps Slow & Controlled
Triceps Extension Low 2-3 Sets x 12-8 Reps Slow & Controlled
Shoulder Series Very Light 2 Sets x 15 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core
Physioball Back Extension Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled
Physioball Sit-ups Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled

Day 2

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Jump Rope Light 4-6 Sets x 50-80 Reps Quick Feet
Footwork / Agility Light 4-6 Drills x 10-12 Sec Quick Feet
Lower Body Lifting  
Leg Press 50% -65% 2-3 Sets x 10-6 Reps Slow & Controlled
Leg(Hamstring) Curl Light 2 Sets x 12-8 Reps  
Adduction / Abduction Light 2 Sets x 12-8 Reps Slow & Controlled
Upper Body Lifting
Lat Pulldown 55% -70% 2-3 Sets x 10-6 Reps Slow & Controlled
Dips Body Weight 2 Sets x 10-20 Reps  
Pull-ups Body Weight 2 Sets x 8-12 Reps  
Shoulder Front & Back Raise Very Light 2 Sets x 15 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core
Back Extension Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled
Sit-ups Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled

Day 3

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Jump Rope Light 4-6 Sets x 50-80 Reps Quick Feet
Footwork / Agility Light 4-6 Drills x 10-12 Sec Quick Feet
Lower Body Lifting
Dumbbell Squat Jump Very Light 2-3 Sets x 6-4 Reps Explosive
Physioball Hamstring Curl Body Weight 2 Sets x 8-12 Reps Slow & Controlled
Hip Flexion & Extension Light 2 Sets x 12-8 Reps Slow & Controlled
Upper Body Lifting
Double Pole Pulldown Light 2 Sets x 12-8 Reps Slow & Controlled
Hang Body Pull (Horizontal Pull-up) Body Weight 2 Sets x 8-12 Reps Slow & Controlled
Triceps Extension Light 2 Sets x 12-8 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core
Reverse Russian Twist Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled
Russian Twist Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled

     

Phase II Base Strength and Power
Day 1

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Squat Jump and Hold   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive and Soft Landing
Split Squat Jump and Hold   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive and Soft Landing
Standing Long Jump and Hold   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive and Soft Landing
Lower Body Lifting
Back Squat 65% -85% 3-5 Sets x 6-4 Reps Controlled
Dumbbell 1 Leg Squat Medium 2-3 Sets x 5-4 Reps Controlled
Leg(Hamstring) Curl Light-Medium 2-3 Sets x 10-8 Reps  
Upper Body Lifting
Bench Press 65% -85% 3-5 Sets x 6-4 Reps Controlled
Lat Pulldown 60% -80% 2-3 Sets x 8-5 Reps Controlled
Triceps Extension Light 3-4 Sets x 10-6 Reps Controlled
Posterior Shoulder Exercises   2-3 Sets x 15-12 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core
Back Extension Body Weight 3 Sets x 14-24 Reps Controlled
Russian Twist Body Weight 3 Sets x 14-24 Reps Controlled
V-ups Body Weight 3 Sets x 8-16 Reps Controlled

Day 2

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Lateral Squat Jump and Hold   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive and Soft Landing
1 Leg lateral Jump and Hold   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive and Soft Landing
1 Leg Standing Long Jump and Hold   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive and Soft Landing
Lower Body Lifting
1 Leg Press 60% -80% 3-5 Sets x 6-4 Reps Controlled
1 Leg(Hamstring) Curl Light-Medium 2-3 Sets x 8-6 Reps Controlled
Adduction & Abduction Light-Medium 2-3 Sets x 10-8 Reps Controlled
Upper Body Lifting
Weighted Pull-up Medium-Heavy 3-5 Sets x 6-4 Reps Controlled
Push-up Body Weight 2-3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled
Pull-up Body Weight 3-4 Sets x 10-6 Reps Controlled
Shoulder Front Raise Light 2-3 Sets x 15-12 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core
Reverse Back Extension Body Weight 3 Sets x 14-24 Reps Controlled
Seated Russian Twist Body Weight 3 Sets x 14-24 Reps Controlled
Med Ball Physioball Sit-up Throw Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled

*Bolded exercise group together should be executed in a circuit or super set

Day 3

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Jump Rope   4-6 Sets x 50-80 Reps Quick Feet
Agility / Footwork Drills   3-4 Drills x 12-14 Sec Quick Feet
Speed Ladder Drills   4-6 Drills x 2 Reps Quick Feet
Lower Body Lifting
Back Squat 50% -70% 3 Sets x 5 Reps Explosive
Squat Jump and Hold   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
       
Dumbbell Step-up Light-Medium 3 Sets x 5 Reps  
Step-up Jump Body Weight 3 Sets x 3-8 Reps Explosive
Hip Flexion & Extension Light-Medium 2 Sets x 12-8 Reps Controlled
Upper Body Lifting
Double Pole Pull Light-Medium 2-3 Sets x 10-8 Reps Explosive
Med Ball Lying Lat Throw Very Light-Light 2-3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Explosive
Side Raise Light 2-3 Sets x 15-12 Reps Controlled
Triceps Extension Light 2-3 Sets x 14-10 Reps Controlled
Core
Back Extension Body Weight 3 Sets x 14-24 Reps Controlled
Seated Russian Twist Body Weight 3 Sets x 14-24 Reps Controlled
V-ups Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-18 Controlled
Med Ball Sit-up Throw Body Weight 3 Sets x 14-24 Reps Explosive

*Bolded exercise group together should be executed in a circuit or super set

    

Phase III Maximum Strength and Power
Day 1

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Squat Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Split Squat Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Standing Long Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Hurdle Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Lower Body Lifting
Back Squat 70% -90% 3-5 Sets x 5-3 Reps Controlled
Leg(Hamstring) Curl Medium-Heavy 3-4 Sets x 8-6 Reps Controlled
Upper Body Lifting
Weighted Pull-up Medium-Heavy 3-5 Sets x 6-4 Reps Controlled
Double Pole Pull Light-Medium 3-4 Sets x 10-8 Reps Controlled
Triceps Extension Body Weight 3-4 Sets x 10-6 Reps Controlled
Bentover Raise Light 2-3 Sets x 15-12 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core
Weighted Back Extension Body Weight 4 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled
Weighted Russian Twist Body Weight 4 Sets x 14-24 Reps Controlled

Day 2

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
1 Leg Hurdle Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
1 Leg Lateral Long Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Bounds-Horizontal   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Bounds-Vertical   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Lower Body Lifting
Step-ups Medium-Heavy 3-5 Sets x 5-3 Reps Controlled
Dumbbell Lunge Medium-Heavy 3-4 Sets x 5-3 Reps Controlled
Upper Body Lifting
Bench Press 70% -90% 3-5 Sets x 5-3 Reps Controlled
Weighted Dips Medium-Heavy 3-5 Sets x 6-4 Reps Controlled
Pull-ups Body Weight 3-4 Sets x 10-20 Reps Controlled
Shoulder Series Light 2-3 Sets x 15-20 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core
Med Ball Back Extension Throw Body Weight 4 Sets x 10-20 Reps Explosive
Med Ball Sit-up Throw Body Weight 4 Sets x 10-20 Reps Explosive

Day 3

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Jump Rope   3-5 Sets x 50-80 Reps Explosive
Speed Agility Ladder   3-5 Drills x 2 Reps Explosive
Box Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Med Ball Vertical Throw   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps  
Tuck Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps  
Lower Body Lifting
Back Squat 50% -70% 3-5 Sets x 5-3 Reps Controlled
Dumbbell Squat Jump Medium-Heavy 3-5 Sets x 5-3 Reps Explosive
Squat Jump Body Weight 3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Upper Body Lifting
Double Pole Pull Light-Medium 3-5 Sets x 10-8 Reps Controlled
Lat Pulldown Light-Medium 3-5 Sets x 10-8 Reps Controlled
Lying Front Raise Very Light-Lighth 3-5 Sets x 15-12 Reps Controlled
Triceps Extension Light-Medium 3-5 Sets x 12-10 Reps Controlled
Core
Back Extension Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Controlled
Russian Twist Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Controlled
Med Ball Sit-up Throw Body Weight 4 Sets x 10-20 Reps Explosive

*Bolded exercise group together should be executed in a circuit or super set

     

Phase IV Velocity/Power
Day 1

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Tuck Jump   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Dumbbell Squat Jump   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Hurdle Jump   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Bounds-Vertical   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Lower Body Lifting
Back Squat 30% -70% 3-5 Sets x 5-3 Reps Explosive
Squat Jump   3-5 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Walking Lunges Light-Medium 3 Sets x 5-3 Reps Explosive
Upper Body Lifting
Pulldowns 30% -70% 3 Sets x 10-8 Reps Explosive
Med Ball Pullover Throw Very Light-Light 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Explosive
Clapping Push-ups Body Weight 3-4 Sets x 8-14Reps Explosive
Bentover Raise Light 2-3 Sets x 15-12 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core
Back Extension Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Controlled
Russian Twist Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Controlled

*Bolded exercise group together should be executed in a circuit or super set

Day 2

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric      
1 Leg Hurdle Jump   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
1 Leg Lateral Hurdle Jump   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Bounds-Horizontal   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Bounds-Lateral   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Lower Body Lifting      
Dumbbell Step-up Jump Very Light-Light 3-5 Sets x 5 Reps Explosive
Step-up Jump Body Weight 3-5 Sets x 5 Reps Explosive
Box Jump Body Weight 3-5 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Upper Body Lifting      
Bench Press 30% -70% 3 Sets x 10-8 Reps Explosive
Explosive Pull-ups Body Weight 3 Sets x 8-14 Reps Explosive
Shoulder Series Light 2-3 Sets x 15-12 Reps Slow & Controlled
Core      
Back Extension Twist Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Controlled
Med Ball Sit-up Throw Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Explosive

*Bolded exercise group together should be executed in a circuit or super set

Day 3

Exercise Intensity Sets and Reps General Instructions
Plyometric
Tuck Jump   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
1 Leg Lateral Jump   3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Bounds-Vertical   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Bounds-Lateral   3-6 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Weighted Box Jump Light 3 Sets x 10 Reps Explosive
Lower Body Lifting
Back Squat Jump 30% -70% 3 Sets x 5 Reps Explosive
Box Jump-Quick Body Weight 3 Sets x 5-10 Reps Explosive
Upper Body Lifting
Pull-ups Body Weight 3 Sets x 8-14 Reps Explosive
Push-ups Body Weight 3 Sets x 10-20 Reps Explosive
Bentover Raise Light 3 Sets x 15-12 Reps Controlled
Triceps Extension Light 3 Sets x 15-12 Reps Controlled
Core
Back Extension Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Controlled
Russian Twist Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Controlled
Med Ball Sit-up Throw Body Weight 4 Sets x 20-30 Reps Explosive

*Bolded exercise group together should be executed in a circuit or super set