Cross country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, is a physically challenging sport that requires strength and endurance.
Cross country ski athletes are known to have the strongest lung and heart capacity, even surpassing marathoners and Tour de France cyclists.
For you to get the most of this sport, it is important that you come prepared with a foundation in physical fitness.
The off-season cross country ski workouts you can add to your routine are essential for building endurance, balance, explosive upper and lower body strength, especially for legs, arms, and core.
The benefits of training during the off-season are not just physical but mental as well. You’ll feel more prepared when it comes time to ski because you’ve been working on your weaknesses all summer long!
Endurance dryland outdoor training for cross country skiing
If you are already active with other sports like swimming, cycling, and running, then when it comes to cross-country skiing in the winter, your natural techniques will help you stay in good shape.
As part of your summer training for cross-country skiing, I would recommend two to three workouts per week intended to improve endurance and balance. At least one session should be high intensity.
You can do a number of dryland outdoor sports and workouts to prepare for the cross-country ski season.
Roller skiing is one of the best forms of dryland training that cross-country skiers can perform off-season. It is the closest form of practice that you will get to actual skiing which will allow you to practice both classic and skate style cross-country skiing. This is a great way to practice your technique and overall endurance.
Roller skiing does take some practice, it is quite difficult to brake so I would recommend sticking to quiet, relatively flat and wide roads for your roller ski practice sessions, especially if you are new to this sport.
Roller skis come in different models based on the style you choose to practice. If you plan to practice both styles, you can go for the ratcheted model.
To get the most benefit from roller ski training, it’s important for you to focus on techniques and specific muscle groups that will improve your skiing performance.
Recommended gear for roller skiing
- Roller skis ratcheted or non ratcheted (for skating style only)
- Boots and poles, most skiers will use the same boots and poles for roller skiing as they do for cross country skiing. The more experienced will generally buy another pair to avoid their equipment to wear and tear too soon.
- Safety equipment, the most important is a helmet to protect your head – a bike helmet will work fine. Thin gloves are also important to protect your hands from scrapes and blisters.
Some of my recommended roller ski workouts:
Upper body workout
Roller ski band workout:
If you are not ready for roller skiing, Nordic blading is also a good alternative, which is essentially inline skating with poles. Using this form of practice, you will also be able to to train your balance, rhythm and key muscles required for cross country skiing.
Some of the limitations of using Nordic blading instead of roller skiing are:
You will only be able to practice the skating style as the rollerblades will not allow you to perform the parallel glide motion of the classic style skiing.
The force for balance in the side-to-side motion of the skating technique will be generated by your toes instead of your heels.
It is also important to note that with Nordic blading, you are likely to pick up speed much faster than with roller skis, which will hamper your arm and leg coordination and make it difficult to make proper use of your poles.
Recommended gear for nordic blading
- A pair of rollerblades – naturally, no additional boots needed!
- A pair of poles, the same you use for cross country skiing will be fine
- Similar to roller skating, a helmet and gloves are essential, you can also wear knee and elbow pads for extra protection if you are quite new to this sport
Running with poles
Running with poles is most commonly performed on uphill trail terrain, which makes it perfect for classic ski-style training. Using the right technique and focusing on endurance, explosive upper and lower body strength, as well as good coordination in your arms, are essential if you want to get the most benefit from this specific exercise.
There are three key techniques to practice when running with poles:
A form of exercise that should be used to train for cross country skiing and snowshoeing since it strengthens your feet, ankles, knees, and hips. It also improves coordination as well as upper arms and lower backs because you are pushing against the poles while walking along an uneven terrain.
Elghufs (mouse trot)
This is a good training strategy for classic cross-country skiing. This type of stride can also be used to build endurance in many different ways, and it’s good for interval and threshold training as well.
Sprätt (uphill bounding)
Hill bounding is one of the best cross-country ski training for intense workouts such as lactate threshold and VO2 max sessions. The combination of body motions and power development creates an extremely good workout for cross-country skiing in the offseason.
See an example here:
You can combine these different techniques all in one workout session. Start by 30 to 40 minutes of Nordic walking at a comfortable pace, then progress to higher intensity interval training with bounding uphill for approximately 5 reps of 5 minutes hilly intervals with 3 minute easy stride recovery after each session.
Recommended gear for running with poles:
- A good pair of trail running shoes
- Poles, consider using 5 or 10 cm shorter poles if training on steeper hills, your arms should be at 90-degree angles when holding them
- Thin gloves
If you prefer to do your workouts indoors, there are a number of options. One you could try is using a treadmill, rower, or ski erg if available in your gym or at home. The ski erg is the closest indoor workout you’ll get for practicing diagonal strides, a cheaper alternative for your home would be to use a resistance band as seen here.
The dryland season is also a good opportunity to work on building strength. Cross-country skiing will require strength from all major muscle groups, from upper to lower body and most importantly the core. I would recommend that one or two of your weekdays should be dedicated to strength building.
Here are some recommended strength exercises that you can get started with at home with minimum equipment:
Upper body strength
Stronger arms and chest muscles are key to improve your poling performance.
- Pull-ups: great workout to strengthen your latissimus dorsi muscles
- Dips: an upper body exercise that not only primarily works on building your triceps, but also the chest, shoulders, and back.
- Push ups: offer a solid upper body workout primarily focused on your triceps, chest, and shoulder muscles. If you do them properly, they can also improve your lower back and core — pulling in the abs does the trick.
A pull-up bar will be needed for the pull-up exercises, I would recommend something like this works fine as it is totally independent of doorways fixtures or wall mounts, and you can also use this for dips and elevated push-ups.
Core strength is crucial for cross country ski performance, these workouts will help you to strengthen your core muscles.
- Plank: The plank is a great core exercise. It works not only the front of your abs, but also the back and sides as well as all those muscles running from your pelvis to your shoulders and further up along your spine.
- Bicycle crunches: The bicycle crunch consists of three movements- flexing the abs, rotating the spine, and pedaling legs. The movement works multiple muscles simultaneously to target different portions of your body.
- Side planks: Side planks is an easy way to work out the muscles along your sides, known as obliques. These muscles help you rotate and bend your trunk, taking pressure off of your spine.
Lower body strength
The key to good skiing is explosive movement from your legs, so training for that is important. These workouts will increase the use of fast-twitch muscle fibers and build up the ability to push off your skis more dynamically.
- Single leg squats: The single-leg squat is will help to improve your stability and balance. It’s an intermediate to advanced movement for someone new to squats. If you are new to this, you can help yourself using a chair or the wall.
- Side squats: Side squats are an exercise that strengthens the legs, glutes, and outer thighs for strong, sculpted legs and a fit, toned lower body. Side squats are a good way to add lateral movement to your workout. They also have the benefits of activating your inner and outer thighs.
- Russian leg curl: Performing the Russian leg curl is a great way to focus on some of your largest muscles—your glutes, hamstrings, and core.
Nordic skiing is especially demanding, in terms of mobility, coordination, strength, flexibility, and stability. All these attributes must be considered during the whole season. Practicing good stretching techniques is key to preventing injury and increasing performance, especially for those who train year-round.
Here are a few stretches that focus on alleviating stiffness and sore muscles, key muscles used during cross country skiing. I would recommend holding each stretch between 20 and 30 seconds and repeating for 3 times.
These stretches should be done within your comfort zone, if you feel pain ease back on the stretch.
- Child’s Pose: The Child’s Pose is a popular posture in Yoga that helps to stretch your muscles used during cross country skiing, such as the lower back and latissimus dorsi.
- Chest and middle back stretch: These muscle groups will get a good workout from the poling motions of cross-country skiing.
- Hip Flexor stretch: The hip flexors are a crucial muscle for cross country skiing since they determine how much power your leg can generate each stride.
- Deep squat: This stretch will help to relieve your lower body muscles, specifically your glutes, inner thighs, and calves.
While there is no one single exercise that will magically make you an expert skier – you need a good amount of training and preparation during the off-season. Failure to properly train for your ski season can lead to frustration or even injury when trying to enjoy activities on the trails.
If you’re struggling to follow such an extensive off-season training regimen, try starting with a single workout or exercise session before building up to a more grueling or intense routine.
By alternating between different exercises and workouts, you’ll have better endurance during your cross-country season.