"If I train more and I train harder, I can improve", sure MAYBE...
By: Karl Saidla (2009/10/18)
It is kind of a reassuring thought....”If I train more and I train harder, I can improve”. It keeps us from dwelling on other questions like “what if I just don\'t have the skills to pay the bills?”, or, “ Is roller skiing in compression garments really the best way to impress the people I want to impress?”
Furthermore, training more and training harder is a pretty simple answer to come up with when pondering how to get faster. It is, for instance, a lot simpler to just add 100 hours to your total yearly training volume (just punch it right into that old spreadsheet program you've been using to make training plans with for the last ten years) than to really delve into the questions about the kind of subtleties that might be holding you back. (I don't mean, for instance, like whether your recovery drink has enough whey protein in it, or if you are doomed because you didn't order sunglasses with an integrated MP3 player in them...)
I'd say that it's true that you want even a rough idea of how fast you are capable of going, you have to be willing to train quite a bit, and you also have to be willing to do some focused and tough training. At the same time, however, my casual observation is that there are many different amounts and types of training that seem to allow for great performance in different people. On the every popular question of total hrs of training, for instance (which, I happen to think, you hear people talking about just a little too much) I've heard everything from 550hrs per year to more than 1000 from people who are connected with athletes that are winning World Cup medals. On top of that, nobody other than those really closely connected have any idea how those hours are counted or what they consist of. To me, it seems like the only thing we really do know is that different approaches work for different people.
This brings me to the crux of what I'm pondering here (Maybe I should do less pondering and more doing...but here I am): finding the sometimes elusive feeling path to skiing as fast as you can ski probably has more to do with figuring out what kind of training works for you (leaving aside all the other important aspects of running your life such as how to curb your habit of buying products like the “Slap Chop” from that guy Vince who's always on t.v), than it does on knocking off some particular # of hours or completing an intensity block just like so and so who really killed it last season or is in “sick” shape right now.
Most of us have some pretty glaring weaknesses that need to be overcome if we are really going to make the most of our efforts. This is applicable at virtually every level of the sport. One of the most obvious examples would be people who have great fitness but poor skills in terms of technique, balance, agility and the ability to adapt to different terrain and snow conditions. Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency for us to work like crazy on getting “fitter” one way or another (often to the point that we are really just making ourselves tired---I have certainly done this), but then do a relatively poor job of actually applying this fitness when we put on our skis and trigger the wand. A skier in this predicament could logically train a bit easier and a bit less, but spend some significant time working on the development of skiing skill and probably see an improvement in their racing.
Likewise, at a physiological level, you might find similar glaring holes if you thought about it. I am not really qualified to comment here, but I think it's safe to say that people don't benefit equally from the same types of training. While one of us might see a huge improvement in racing by concentrating on doing some more speed training, for someone else, it might make more sense to emphasize long, easy distance workouts. What makes sense also varies throughout the year and changes as an athlete develops in one area or another. Obviously, there are many of these kinds of considerations you could spend some time thinking about.
I think asking ourselves these kinds of questions is not a terrible thing to do at this time of year. For sure, you can't dwell on what you've done up to this point in terms of getting ready. On the other hand it might pay to ask yourself what kinds of things are really going to bring you the kind of benefits you are looking for in the last part of the “training season”.
While I haven't pointed it out yet, the reason I am interested in this kind of thing is I am continually grappling with these kinds of questions with respect to my own training. Obviously, the specific things you identify will be different for different people. To finish off, here are a couple of personal examples. :
Flexibility. In the course of trying to figure out why I have had nagging calf strains in both my legs this summer, it was pointed out by a physiotherapist that I am not very flexible, and in her professional opinion, more flexibility might help with both my calf injury and my skiing in general. One of my trusted advisors ( I figure that his Phd in Math, while not strictly related to skiing knowledge, is an indication that he's not the dullest knife in the drawer) says that I should spend less time training, and more time at a Yoga studio. I think Chandra Crawford likes Yoga too.....and she's not really a shabby skier or anything. I've been exploring the feasibility of this, and, in the mean time, spending more time doing the stretches recommended by the physiotherapist. My impression is basically that this feels good, particularly when I'm out training and some movements just seem plain easier than they used to. Interestingly, an interesting article called "How Long Can You Go - Forward That is", by Ross McKinnon, appeared on www.skifaster.net this week. I thought it was interesting because it described in fairly simple terms how you can be limited in terms of trying to achieve desirable ski technique by a lack of flexibility.
Speed training. In my case, looking back at things, I would say that while I did a fairly good job incorporating short sprints into my training, I think I often was sprinting in terrain that was too tough, and possibly, for too long. This year I have tried to incorporate for different types of sprints: some on downhills, some on the flat following a downhill etc. I still do some sprints on harder terrain, but not as many, relatively speaking, as before. Thanks to having all these new options to play with, I've also just done more sprinting than I have in the past. My impression is that some of these newer types of sprints I have been experimenting with are not very fatiguing, but do seem to be contributing to what I might the capacity for “easy speed”--e.g. Going really fast....but not necessarily working that hard to do it. I would also say that they have seemed to have helped with coordination in general. Skiing movements at lower speed seem easier after you've challenged yourself to do them well at a faster speed.