Glide Your Way to Fitness, Part II

In part one of this series, I focused on the energy systems used in Nordic skiing, and made some suggestions for how to estimate heart rate-based training zones that relate to the work you're familiar with on the bike. Here we'll move to periodization and implementation of workouts, with the goal of showing how to translate from cycling to skiing. As you'll see, it's quite possible to follow the same phases as cycling.

The Off-Season

Ideally, you have an off-season where you do other things, and take a break from training. You raced your bike all summer, then (I hope) took a week or two off to be fresh to start the skiing season. This should happen sometime between June and August. I'm leaving the window large because you may have two off-seasons, really. One after the Nordic season ends after which you may jump right into spring road races, and one after the road season to recover before you begin serious ski training.

The Pre-Season

The pre-season for the Nordic schedule is where you're swimming, running, roller skiing, and doing strength work in the gym. All designed as preparatory work, and some adaptation to skiing specific needs. This could come in August-September.

The Base Period

The pre-season should transition into a base period, which can take many shapes. For someone in a colder climate, this is when you'd start to get on the snow. If the snow hasn't fallen yet, this is probably the point where you begin to drop the other cross-training activities and begin to focus mostly on rollerskiing, with perhaps some running and weight training still included. Considering that many of you would be coming off the intensity of a summer road season, low intensity work is what you're looking for in this period. The emphasis should be on endurance and tempo work, and begin to incorporate more threshold work each week. It should also include some sprints, but if you're in the gym at least 1-2 times a week, the gym work can substitute for the sprints.

At some point in the base period, you should be hoping to transition to skiing on the snow, and by that point, be hitting the 2.5-3 hours of tempo, and 30-90 minutes of threshold I wrote about in the previous article. If you're doing that, then you're ready to race. The hard thing for many skiers is that the minute there's snow on the ground the races start, so you have to do almost all of your base work on the roller
skis. This should be September-December. I would expect your last month of base to be on the snow, in December.

The Intensity Period

From there, you'll be moving into an intensity period. Once you've finished all your base goals, and hopefully you're able to finish it on the snow, it will be time to pull back all your volume and start to emphasize the intensity. You should be on the snow, and now incorporating the VO2max and AWC intervals into your workouts. This is December-January.

The Peaking Period

At this point in the year, all the training is done for the most part, and you just want to stay sharp for events. So, more recovery days after the weekend, really only one hard day of skiing during the week, and recovery before the events. You're not trying to build fitness here, you're just trying to maximize what you have, make it last, and stay fine-tuned for racing. This should be late January through the end of the season.

A big issue is what workouts to do on what days. Because you're not usually skiing back to back races like you are on the bike, and I mean specifically you're not doing stage races, being able to train three days on in a row isn't as important. However, the pattern of highest intensity workouts earlier in the week with descending intensity absolutely applies, and back-to-back days will elicit the strongest adaptation and improvement. At the same time, I've found that trying to train Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday like you might on the bike will leave you much more fatigued. It's very difficult to recover from a block like that because the intensity and density of the workouts is so high. My experience was that when I scaled it back to Tuesday and Wednesday, or Tuesday and Thursday, my workouts were much better and I wasn't as fatigued.

So, the way I've theorized as the ideal way to structure the week:

Monday: recovery. Day off, or easy classical skiing.

Tuesday: Sprints and tempo in the base phase, sprints and AWC in the intensity phase. Also, can be a recovery day from a hard weekend, or just an opening up day for a Wednesday race.

Wednesday: recovery day, or Thursday's workout can be moved to Wednesday in anticipation of a weekend event that might require more recovery.

Thursday: Tempo and threshold in the base phase, with threshold as the primary focus. VO2max work in the intensity phase.

Friday : recovery

Saturday: Same as Tuesday

Sunday: Similar to Thursday, except the emphasis should be on a longer session, with priority to the lower intensity tempo work. More an endurance day, similar to a traditional Thursday ride on the bike. Sunday is the best day for this since you'll normally have more time to train than you would during the week and can make a day out of it. This is the day to get in a 3+ hour ski.

There's a lot of info here in these two articles, and certainly room for fine tuning and development of this program. But hopefully if you've been skiing in the dark up to this point, you'll find these suggestions an effective way to light up a long and dreary winter.