.: Ski XCOttawa.ca :: Skiing in Ottawa and Gatineau Park

Training with the big picture in mind
By:  Justin Demers   (2008/06/28)


The XC Ottawa team regularly publishes training articles that are meant to give you new ideas for workouts. To many experienced athletes, these are a great tool to create variety after years of training. When I started training, I found these articles really nice and instructive but I could not find the big picture anywhere. I kept wondering how to you link all these workout suggestions into a year of training. I learnt how to organize a workout and a week but the year and multi-year plan escaped me until a year or two ago. Here are the building blocks to a fairly common approach for most skiers.


From a racer's point of view, the ski season starts in spring. A quick rest and it's time to start for the next year again. It takes a full three seasons to be ready for action again but much of that is surprisingly refreshing after a few months of skiing.

  • Rest is key. You worked hard all winter so take it easy for a little while. Your body and mind need to recuperate. Take 1 to 2 weeks of complete break with the occasionnal fun activity. Don't do these with a training mindset.
  • Adaptation is the next step. The first month or two is all about letting your body heal from the ski season and getting used to new forms of activity. Volume should be minimal at first and then gradually increase to summer levels. This can mean as little as 30 min of riding or 15 min of running for the first outings.
  • Good activities include cycling, running in trails or on the grass, hiking and swiming. A combination of these is even better as less stress is induced on the body. As you get closer to summer levels and that your body has adapted, bike, canoe, and hiking trips are a good way to have fun and accumulate those slow pace hours.
  • At this time of the year there is very little intensity. Most of the training is done slowly. Once you are comfortable, the summer portion of your training has arrived.


It may not feel like summer yet but for training purposes you can start into the routine that will take you up to mid September and fall. Many consider that this summer training is where strong skiers are made. The summer training prepares your body for the intensity of the fall training and the winter racing. The imperative word here is slow. There is no prize for the best summer skier. Go too hard now and you will run out of steam before or during the winter.

  • Now is the time for those epic training days combining many sports. Hours and slow speed are the guidelines. Occasionnal zone 3 efforts are good as are local races in the summer sports you usually pursue. Drills that improve technique and balance are also very good.
  • Some athletes have a tendency to do too much at this time of the year. If you notice general fatigue and lack of motivation, it may be a sign that you need a little less. Remember that the body is trained by successive cycles of stress and then rebuilding. If you always train before having fully recuperated, you end up gradually weakening your body.


With fall usually comes the excitement that snow is coming. This point in the season is critical as you can generally notice if you've trained too much or too little if you pay close attention. In the first case you can take a week off and start gradually again with distance and put off intervals for a little while. If you have trained too little, don't do anything out of the ordinary. In just two months you can overtrain and jeapordize your ski season.

  • In early fall you can do more long intervals (3 min and more in zone 3 or 4). Volume should drop a little as intervals are very stressful for the body. Watch out for sleep at this time of year. The change in training pattern usually coincides with school starting and other changes. Catching a cold is a clear indication to back off a little.
  • Later in the fall you can start short intervals. These are again not to be abused. Starting these slowly in late November will have you ready for early January which is when most races start. If your racing season starts in late November, it gets tricky as there is a balance to be kept in order to stay fit through March. In that case I would consider joining a ski club with a good coach.


As soon as skiable snow is present I consider it to be winter. Truly a magnificent time a year after many months of preparation.

  • If you don't have any races for another little while, it is a good idea to up the volume and lower the itensity until you are used to skiing. This is just like spring. Use those hours to get your technique together again. Even elite racers feel very awkward and have poor coordination at first.
  • Once you are ready, start those longer intervals again and progressively shorten them. If you are aiming for one big race like the Gatineau Loppet, try and do at least one shorter regional race just to get used to racing.
  • When the races are done all that is left to do is have fun until the whole cycle starts again.
Interesting Reading. . .
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