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That's an Excellent Question - How to Sprint Faster (on cross-country skis).
By:  Tom McCarthy   (2006/02/28)


To Gavin: How to Sprint Faster (on cross-country skis).

Following an Ďexcitingí P10 downhill finish to a recent workout (a faster finish than Coach John would have liked), Gavin says to me ďTom, you have to teach me how to sprint.Ē I find this a funny question, and Iíve heard it a couple of times this year. I donít consider myself a sprinter, and compared to some of the real sprint heavyweights in Canada (Phil, Devon, Sean, Ian, etc.), I am definitely not a sprinter. But I am able to sprint faster this year than in other years, which has resulted in a few good results at sprint races.

So, Gavin, hereís how to sprint faster. These suggestions are what I THINK (because I donít know for sure) may have contributed to a slightly faster top speed this year. And I donít recommend this for everyone; we are all different. If what I am saying disagrees with conventional sprint logic or training plans, these are just ideas. Finally, these are just technical things: I actually think most of sprinting is mental.

  1. Spend time in the gym throughout the entire season, including the race season. I kept doing high-weight, low-rep (between 10 and 6 reps) sets through the winter season, at max weight. I only went once a week, but I kept it at high-weight. I focused mostly on delts/lats/triceps area.

  2. Focus on differentiating the power phase and relax phase of your stride. Practice this through exaggeration. And yes, your power phase should be the split second before your pole plant until after the stomach crunch of the plant, and your relax should be everything else. Thatís for your upper body. I still havenít figured out an optimal lower-body power phase for skating; whether itís at the start or nearer the end of the leg kick, or the whole thing, or the pre-load, I havenít nailed down yet. For classic stride lower body, as you will see below, Iím a complete disaster so I have no idea. For double-pole kick, it starts when the kick propels my poles forward, and ends when I pull back on my poles to crunch the stomach.

  3. Skate weight forward with bent knees and ankles. In some snow conditions this wonít work as well, but generally, I found this year that I need to pre-load my ski with my full weight on top of the ball of my foot, which means I keep my hips more forward than I used to. You can do this and still be smooth with enough knee and ankle bend. I canít comment on how to classic stride fast.

  4. Learn how to hop-skate. And not just offset. Learn the one-skate hop as well. You will see the World Cup sprinters do this all the time. For one-skate, when you land on one ski, jump with that leg and come back down on it. You make the hop your pre-load. If you learn how to do this, you will be able to preload more dynamically even without the hop. For off-set, your hop is from one ski to the other, and should focus on getting up the hill. When you hop, remember to relax and glide at one stage too.

  5. Train less than 500 hours. Hey, I didnít say this worked for everyone! You probably need a good base going in. This is what I did, and I think that because I was doing less volume, I had more snap in my legs to do more dynamic stuff.

  6. Keep doing running striders. I find running is the best way to keep up leg speed, quite simply because itís easier to get the legs moving faster when running. I did running strides and drills almost every week this winter.

  7. Practice starts and finish lunges. We all saw the Olympic sprint, and the lesson there was that the start matters. Practice good double-pole and skate starts, and figure out what start position works best for you. Practice you finish lunge, or at least make sure you wonít pull a muscle doing it.

And, because Iím far from perfect, hereís what Iím thinking about as we use this yearís lessons to help shape next seasonís training plans:

  1. Twice a week in the gym. Iíd like to spend one workout a week in the gym devoted to legs, because Iíve never done that before. Iíve always taken the legs for granted and assumed I needed more arm work. Iím not sure thatís good.

  2. More dynamic snap stuff. I did less of that this year (plyometrics etc) than I have other years, especially into the fall. Iíd like to keep that going.

  3. Classic stride re-construction. I need to seriously re-think my classic stride, not just for sprint but overall. Shorter tempo, less leg-kick at the back, probably more knee-bend, and probably more kick-forward instead of kick-back focus. Stay tuned, I suspect this will be a major focus.
Interesting Reading. . .
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