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Season of David - Part XX
By:  David Zylberberg   (2003/09/09)


The following "The Season of David" article is part of a weekly series by the "infamous" David Zylberberg, one of the original members of XC Ottawa. He is the writer of numerous amusing and sometimes controversial articles which have been the subject of much discussion within the Canadian cross-country racing community over the last 8 months. Hopefully, it will be the source of much entertainment while you are putting off work,school, or chores. David's articles will be candid and will not be censored by the editors of XC Ottawa. (At least not usually) Please address your comments and questions directly to David.

This week I decided to discuss two areas of training that are often under emphasised and that I believe the best skiers to train more than others. I am referring to the amount of training that uses the upper body and the specificity of training. This year I have tried to emphasize these two areas in order to train more effectively. Also, an emphasis on these areas deals with training activities and the maximization of benefits. It does not change general training guidelines about intensity, hours or strength.

I should mention that I am able to make this emphasis myself because Pavol Skvaridlo gives his skiers some freedom in their choice of training activities. We each receive a yearly program that specifies hours in each intensity for each week. Then every few weeks we are given a schedule for the upcoming weeks of team practices and guidelines for how much to train on the other days without activities being specified. Thus, I have some freedom to adjust what I do around what areas I feel to be important.

The importance of specificity in training should be obvious. If skiing fast is the goal of the training then the training should be focussed on skiing fast. Specificity refers to activities that use ski motions. Specific activities can offer some technical benefits, if done right, in addition to the physiological benefits. With specific training the muscular improvements (strength, muscular endurance, speed, lactate systems, capillaries, cell adaptations) occur in ski muscles and transfer towards improvements in skiing. This is important since these adaptations are essential to skiing really fast come winter. General (non-specific) training does provide some benefits and is used accordingly but an increase in specificity should lead to more productive training. Specific training includes roller skiing, skiing, ski walking/ ski bounding with poles and some forms of strength training (rollerboard, pullies).

The importance of the upper body in training is slightly less obvious. I like to assume that half of the forces propelling me forward in ski racing are produced from the upper body. This varies with terrain and technique but seems like a rough estimate. Thinking this way also reminds me that a strong, efficient and enduring upper body is essential to skiing fast. Many skiers only use weight training and some skate roller skiing for workouts that include the upper body. I have found this to not develop the proper upper body endurance and functional strength. Remember the muscular adaptations from distance training will also benefit the arms and torso muscles; thereby improving the ability to double pole well in a 10 km race or longer. I like to try to include workouts that are primarily upper body at every intensity level in order to get the full range of muscular benefits in addition to the aerobic benefits that are provided by those types of training.

When I realised this spring that I needed to emphasize these two areas I found something that helped. When deciding what activities to do on which days I would calculate the percentage of training done with the upper body and the percentage of training using specific methods. Both of these calculations involve some estimation of how exactly to treat certain workouts but give a general idea of what is being done. Just checking the numbers reminded me to try to increase the amount of training done using these methods. These numbers are higher than last year and I believe myself to be better trained for ski racing than at this time last year. I also believe that if the top international skiers were compared to many Canadian programs, these numbers would show significant differences and may help explain why skiers doing the "correct hours" and working hard are not improving properly. One other benefit of increased upper body training is that it makes close to half the workouts that are primarily upper body. This helps alternate muscle groups between workouts (will not be perfect since many activities use both), which aids in muscular recovery while still training the aerobic systems. This is really useful for those skiers training twice a day. It also helps add variety to the training program and prevent stagnation.

When I started looking at numbers, I figured roughly 40-50 % of training should be upper body. I try to achieve that every week in summer and fall though will not be perfect and have not gone back to counting how many minutes were in which technique (eg, one-skate, two-skate) while roller skiing. This is just a guideline I followed and which goes from my assumption that skiing is half upper body. It ceases to matter in the winter since training becomes almost exclusively skiing and skiing will use different muscle groups in the proper proportion.

As for specificity, it should be increasing throughout the dryland season. In the winter it will be over 90% and ceases to be of real importance when on snow, since skiing will be the major training activity. I tried to make 50% of training specific over July and August with 60-70% specific in the fall, though this remains a guideline. Spring generally has very little specificity in order to have a mental break and to get a chance to do different activities. June is a slightly-less specific summer month. I am finding that noting these guidelines, is helping make me inclined to use specific training methods and to increase my roller skiing and ski walking/bounding workouts as the year progresses.

I hope these ideas can be useful in your attempts to ski faster. Remember that none of this takes away from the need for every workout to contribute to the goal, and the need to make all specific training effective towards skiing faster.

Interesting Reading. . .
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