Basic Training Design

Training Levels

In order to become more fit and faster in cross country skiing, skiers have to work moving at varying intensities to target different systems within the body, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and musculoskeletal. Cross country skiing is a challenging sport because it requires skiers to have strong muscles and strong hearts. Skiers need to work well aerobically as well as anaerobically. Just like you lift weights in the gym to get stronger muscles, you need to move at different intensities to get stronger systems within the body. Moving at different intensities also makes your muscles stronger and trains all the parts of your body to work together as a unit. Different speeds and durations of work target different systems. It is important to work in all intensities and to balance this type of intense training with rest and also lots of distance skiing. Copy the below chart for students to put in their notebooks.

Training Intensities for Cross Country Skiers (adapted from Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center)

Level 1

Easy training used for recovery, warm up and warm down. Very important for recovery between hard sessions. 60-70% of max heart rate or effort

Level 2

Everyday distance training pace. “Bread and Butter” of the endurance athlete. Moderate activity, typically between 30 minutes and 3 hours. 70-80% of max heart rate or effort

Level 3 Low

Fast Aerobic work or Marathon Pace. Typically used in pace work ranging from 20-90 minutes. Fatigue builds from the duration. Often good to work on technique while moving at this type of pace even if for a short duration. This pace helps to build muscle endurance. Can still talk while moving. 80-85% of max heart rate or effort

Level 3 High

Anaerobic threshold pace. “Comfortable Fast” typically used in pace from 20-60 minutes or intervals from 5-20 minutes with short recovery. 30-50 km race pace. This is also used to build muscle endurance while also working to strengthen the heart. Talking become increasingly harder and focus needs to increase to keep moving. 85-90% of max heart rate or effort

Level 4

VO2 Max or interval pace. Fast sub-maximal effort with heavy breathing, but a lightness in the muscles. 5-10km race pace with intervals typically between 2 and 5 minutes with equal to slightly less recovery. 3-5 repetitions. Used to strengthen the heart and lungs. Talking is not possible, muscles will feel fatigue and some burn, focus to keep going is required. 90-95% of max heart rate or effort

Level 5

Anaerobic training or sprint pace. 95% effort with work times between 30-120 seconds with long recovery. 5-10 repetitions. Used to develop the anaerobic system, training the body to work for longer periods without enough oxygen. Muscles will have the “flood” feeling or burn immediately after finishing. That feeling is the anaerobic system working. 95-100% of max Heart rate or effort

Level 6

Speed. Typically between 5-30 seconds short bursts with long recoveries. 10-15 repetitions Used to increase speed by developing fast twitch muscle strength. 

The majority of training (70-80%) is done in L1 and L2. However, working in some faster paced workouts, not only makes you faster and stronger, but is also fun and a good way to spice things up. All of these intensities can be developed into fun workouts such as the L4 workout described next. Have kids race head to head, make relays, put a jump in the middle or an obstacle, or develop challenges for the kids to work through.

To have kids find their max heart rates, you will need a real heart rate monitor. Have kids ski or bound with poles uphill for 3-4 minutes as hard as they can and record their heart rate at the top. 220 minus skier age is a good approximation if you do not want to do a max test.

Training Design

To design a training plan, start big and then work small. Start with the year or the season if you will only have your athletes for a period of time. Think about what goals you want to accomplish during that time. Big work periods must be followed by rest periods in order to absorb the work and see the benefits. 

Next, break things down into months. Think about when there are holidays, school events, other community activities. Plan big work periods when less of these things are going on. Think about what your goals are during that month. 

Then, break things down into weeks. If you want everybody to be proficient in all three skate techniques by the end of the month, then you might plan to focus on each one for 1 week and the last week is used to pull it all together or to let kids work on their weaknesses. Within a week, you want variety in training so while the focus of the week might be working on V2, you will want to have a day to focus on speed and another day to focus on using V2 over long distances. 

As kids get older, it is important to let them know why you are doing what. This will help them to learn basics of training (an AK state standard) and to have more of a vested interest in the workout. Remember to always be flexible and have a backup plan or two. Something to do inside if the weather is too bad or if there is a safety hazard. Lastly, there is no set formula for the best way to train or the best way to teach kids how to ski so always remember to adapt what you learn and know to the local community. Kids that are excited, having fun, and engaged in skiing is ultimately the most important!

Example Week:

Focus: Skating V2

Monday: Instruction, skill work, drills, and stations
Tuesday: No pole skiing, games, downhill practice
Wednesday: Speed Relays
Thursday: Distance skiing with skill work stations
Friday: Relay races, team sprint, or race
Saturday: a long distance or adventure ski
Sunday: off