Make your dry-land training count
Because the snow season is finite, cross country skiers have developed dry-land progressions that mimic the on-snow technique. These progressions help clear the summer cob-webs and re-institute specific skiing muscle memory and body position awareness.
Body position is the foundation of efficient cross-country skiing. It provides a balanced, stable, powerful base. Key points to this position include supple bent ankles and knees facilitating a forward position; and level hips, think of pelvis as a cup of water. We do not want to spill the water, or visualize the tailbone pointing directly down to the ground.
Maintaining this body position places us in a powerful dynamic position, while also allowing us to use the mass of our bodies to produce free energy in forward propulsion. Let me explain. Body position becomes ineffective when skiers believe they are finding the forward position by hinging at the hips – this places the hips and glutes, the mass of the body weight behind them and they are then fighting gravity. In the correct body position — skiers essentially fall with the mass of their bodies from one forward move to the next forward move with my hips/glutes pressing forward on to supple bending ankles — free energy.
Dry-land training demands that the skier continues to mentally visualize and connect the movements to on-snow technique. This training is extremely effective, but as with all of our training it demands sincere intention and purpose — do it like you mean it. Cross-country skiing is heavily technique driven and dry-land is a fantastic opportunity to set the foundation of solid movement patterns and habits.
Like all endurance pursuits, cross-country skiing is a game of efficiency. Dry-land affords the opportunity to refine movements and make every movement count toward forward propulsion.
A classic (also known as stride or diagonal) technique progression would resemble the following steps, and would take place on a steep hill.
Step 1 — Find that athletic stance: a powerful, balanced efficient body position, feet shoulder width, flex ankles and knees and press hips forward, hips level and torso fairly upright (again avoid hinging at hips placing mass of weight behind).
Step 2 — Maintaining body position: swing arms fore and aft from the shoulder sockets, focus on creating a long pendulum-like relaxed movement.
Step 3 — Leg swing: initiated by hips creating similar pendulum movement, relaxed range of motion, and again check back in with body position.
Step 4 — Arm and leg swing together: opposite arm, opposite leg swing forward and back, just like walking and running. Maintaining athletic stance and initiating at the body’s core. I think of my hands and feet as blocks of cement – shoulders and hips create the movement with hands and feet following.
Step 5 — Fall forward drill: grab a partner and practice falling forward from ankles, keeping heels flat. Preserve the body position – hips forward flexing only at ankles, feel the free forward energy you generate. Experiment with the difference when you hinge at hips forward – very little to no energy produced.
Step 6 — Shuffle: ensure good body position and then using the mass of your body shift weight forward on to supple relaxed ankles and knees, the feet are forced to keep up with the rest of your body. Place your hands on your hips to assist in continually pressing them forward. Your forward falling body position is creating all the energy.
Step 7 — Extended diagonal motion: use the pendulum movement of the opposite leg and arm described above, flex forward slightly at knee and ankle and move arms and leg past the body with proper timing, pressing hips forward – basically striding on to the next standing leg and opposite arm forward. After each movement forward – hold the position, check for balance and body position. Then repeat.
Step 8 — Kick impulse which replicates setting the wax pocket (grip that allows forward propulsion on classic skis): It is a quick compression in to the ground – for a split second we feel our entire transfer of weight. For this motion I think of standing on a scale and creating impact down to see the scale numbers soar. This movement has also been described as similar to squishing a bug.
In classics skiing we generate energy – by free energy of forward falling body position, the kick impulse and the pendulum leg drive and arm swing.
Step 9 – Timing leg and arm drive with the impulse down – as the opposite leg and arm pendulum drive forward the other standing leg, impulses down. Dry-land is an ideal opportunity to nail the all-important timing of this maneuver. After each move forward check balance and body position.
Step 10 – Link the movements, described above, and punctuate with fluidity, rhythm and symmetry.
Once this technique is mastered it is applied to perform cross-country specific intervals known as ski walking, and plyometrics referred to as bounding.
Ski walking is performed by linking the progression with timing and applying power and energy to the movement, while maintaining body position. Ski walking is also a great tool for endurance runners seeking an efficient way to scale steep canyon trails. Ski walking can be performed with or without poles.
Bounding, also performed with or without poles, is the linked movement above, characterized by quick powerful movements to improve explosive strength. These are short bouts of 10-30 seconds.
There is also a dry-land progression used to institute and mimic skate ski motions, and is equally effective to build efficient cross-country relevant muscle memory.
Once the snow flies there are citizens races nearly every weekend in the Truckee-Tahoe Basin. In my opinion racing is the most effective way to improve your learning curve, and meet new skiing partners. Check out farwestnordic.org for further details on clinics and races.
See you on the trails when the snow flies.
Julie Young was a top U.S. professional cyclist for 12 years and has since transitioned to trail running and cross-country skiing. She is the owner of o2 Fitness and now coaches endurance athletes in the region. Check her out online at www.o2fitness.net.