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  • #6058

    As a two sport athlete (mountain trail running and cross country skiing) I have been attempting to strike a balance in weight for competitive racing in spring/summer/fall (mountain trail running) and winter (cross country skiing).

    Realizing the increasing predominance of upper body and core strength in competitive cross country skiing, I embarked on a 5 year strength training regimen after reading TftNA in 2014. Utilizing many of the programs outlined in the book, I am currently starting year 4 of the program which includes 3 weekly max strength/core/plyo sessions and 4 shorter “daily strength”/plyo sessions (lunges, 1 leg squats, etc.) on non-max strength days. This, combined with increased caloric intake, has resulted in an increase in my body weight in the past few years from about 125-128 lbs to about 130-133 lbs. on my 5’7” frame. Body fat has reduced in the same period from about 8% to about 6%. At age 62 I find that putting on muscle mass has become a very slow process due to decreased levels of testosterone and HGH and therefore I have emphasized the strength training in my 16-20 h per week program.

    Last year, in preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Ski Championships, I conducted an analysis of the height/weight distribution among elite cross country skiers and elite distance runners. What I found is that there is an approximately 17-20 lb difference in weight between the elite populations (skiers being heavier)- a difference that is quite large. Additionally, I found that at my height in the elite skier population, my weight at the time (128 lbs) was very low, i.e. there were no elite skiers with such low weights at this height. Further analysis shows that the weight of those 5’7” elite skiers who are successful on the World Cup circuit (as determined by their WC ranking) have weights around 145 lbs. (with one exception- Matti Heikkenen (a World top-5 ranked skier) who is about 135 lbs).

    I attempted to increase my weight last fall/winter by increasing the strength portion of the training program and eating more. I managed to get to the 130-133 lbs noted above but cannot seem to get much beyond that weight. Based on performance, I think that my power-to-weight ratio is quite high given that I can double pole, stride, V2, and climb with the best in the world in the 50+ age group (current max strength pull-up is done at 160% of body weight and I am working toward 170%).

    My question is:

    Should I focus additional effort on increasing weight to get “into range” of that observed with elite skiers (assuming that this additional weight comes only with additions of muscle mass and not fat)?

    I ask this because I suspect (based on direct in-race observations) that current deficiencies with staying in contact on downhills with leaders in races is impacted by my “fly weight” and results in lower tuck speeds and being slowed down by being pushed around by the snow. I would additionally expect that power-to-weight ratio would increase as well giving further advantages in double pole, striding, V2, and climbing. However there may be other aspects to the increased weight (increased muscle mass) that lead to disadvantages that I am not aware of.

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    Anonymous on #6068

    This is going to be long so sit back and put your feet up. There are so many factors at work in determining performance in skiing that to focus exclusively, or even predominately, on one is a mistake.

    What you appear to be asking is: Will increasing my body mass improve my results? You might consider instead, asking where can gain the most in my skiing performance?

    XC skiers at the World Cup level demonstrate one of the widest variations in body types of any endurance sport. One can examine the relationship between results and any number of physical or physiological metrics. Over the years many such correlation have been done to try to find meaningful relationships that might help coaches produce more successful athletes. I can tell you that absolute body mass has little to no relationship to performance. In approximate order or importance here are things that appear to correlate best with performance: #1 with a correlation upwards of 90% is the Speed you can sustain at lactate Lactate (or anaerobic threshold) , #2 with correlation also north of 85% is Economy (distance covered/energy cost) which is integral with #1, Trailing these by some distance and only explaining about 70% of the results difference is #3 Aerobic Power (measured in oxygen consumed/body mass/minute).

    Body weight does not correlate well with race results. Likewise, absolute strength does not correlate well with skiing performance. If either of these did, then weight lifters would dominate the WC.

    Instead, power to weight ratio plays a roll in sports like XC skiing and mountain running. But not in the way you might be thinking. Maximum power (such as max power on a C2 ski ergometer) or by extension, maximum strength (such as dead lift) do not correlate well with ski results. Thats because XC skiing is an endurance sport where the ability to sustain high power outputs rules the day. A 2km (around 6-8 minutes) uphill double pole test correlates very strongly with performance because this tests the percentage of that maximum power you can sustain.

    So adding muscle mass MAY improve your performance if you have been especially weak but at some point packing on extra pounds will start to harm your performance. You have to carry that added weight up the hills. In a race you spend roughly three times as long going up hills than you do going down them. In a race this means that being even 2% slower on the uphills due to the added mass will translate in to many more seconds than being 2% slower on the downhills.

    You demonstrate more than adequate basic strength if you can do pull ups with 160% of body weight! That’s super impressive for your age. That is already in the range of US male World Cup skiers like Simi Hamilton, Andy Newell, Torin Koos with whom I have some personal experience. At issue though is how well do you transfer that basic and non ski-specific strength to your double poling or V2. The reason is that the rate of force application in a weighted pull up is far, far away from the rate of force application in similar ski motions like double pole or V2. Raw or dumb strength must be coordinated by the brain to produce powerful and economical sport movements. So getting strong for strength’s sake is a mistake. Just as is adding weight for weight’s sake.

    In my 40 years of ski racing and ski coaching from young juniors, to master age class, right up to Olympic level I can say that most skiers (and especially masters) will be best served by improving economy in their skiing. At your age you can not improve your maxVO2. As you’ve seen, the gains you make improving basic strength will be good at first but they will plateau and may even slow you. However I have repeatedly seen double digit percentage gains in actual ski performance such as speed at anaerobic threshold (even with several WC skiers I have coached) when economy is improved. This is some low hanging fruit for most skiers but often overlooked in training programs because it is not so easy to coach and the satisfaction of doing more L4 intervals or lifting heavier weights is very seductive compared to often frustrating and slow gains made with technique work.

    It is hard to improve the things you already do best and easiest to improve the things you are worst at. Focus on where you stand a chance to make the biggest gains.


    Robert on #6073

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks so much for your quick and thorough response. I greatly appreciate your perspective and deep experience and feel privileged to tap into that significant base through your excellent programs at Uphill Athlete.

    You have confirmed my own thoughts (and the more pointed (less generous) ones of my spouse who is a two-time Olympian in CC Skiing) about the weight question. As a scientist I tend to trust available data and the data on elite (i.e. Olympic and WC) male skiers is hard to ignore given that there literally is not a single athlete less than about 135 lbs. Given the oft-quoted 5% body fat average in elite CC skiers, that means that the skiers must have substantial muscle mass for their respective heights/weights. However, I expect that I am, from a pure strength perspective, at or near to that plateau that you mention as it concerns power to weight ratio. Adding skiing technique/efficiency to the equation (i.e. power delivered to the ground and the associated pace) is clearly important. Heikkinen is also a good example of the weight not being important, and, as has been also pointed out by my spouse, the weights of the top 5’5″ to 5’8″ World-level elite women are centered right at my current weight of about 130-133 lbs. If I could hold a pace like these women, I would not be asking any questions about weight!

    Based on performance in races that include national-level elites (and World-level elite masters), I know that my DP is very efficient, and my climbing is similarly efficient. Where I see gaps open up with these elites is on very gradual downs and flats in V2 (V2 alt), very gradual ups in striding, and on downhills. I only see gaps open up on the downhills with the World-level elite masters skiers. So, as both you and my spouse have pointed out, I need to work intensively on increasing efficiency in V2 (V2 alt), striding flats, and pushing downhill speed all of which will come with a focus on the finer points of V2 and striding techniques and downhill body position along with related balance, single-leg strength, and core strength. Thankfully I have a good technique coach that skis with me every day! And thanks for offering your support for directing energies toward a concentration on technique and efficiency and not worrying about weight.

    Sidenote: I want to express appreciation for your and Steve’s book (TftNA) as it is well written with some of the most exceptional graphics out there. I recommend the book (and the website) and particularly the strength training and cardiovascular sections to all CC Skiers and Mountain runners (young and old) that I interact with. Many of these athletes have subsequently experienced very positive results and many have, like me, fully integrated much of the strength training programs in the book into our individual training plans.



    Anonymous on #6076


    Listen to your wife! For more reasons that simply skiing faster, if you catch my drift. You can only improve economy at race pace by training at race pace. This is taxing and hence problematic. The time spent skiing at race pace on the flats while perfecting technique, which is where you notice a difference in speed, will be what determines how much you can improve. That’s probably your low hanging fruit.
    First you need to learn to ski fast and relaxed. Start this in the spring on a flat, quite section of pavement that you can come back to. Do this over 50m (pure speed) on RSs all summer 2x/week gradually increasing distance to 80 and then even 100m (speed endurance). Use very long rest (>3 min) for complete recovery to keep lactate accumulation low. Doing 8-10 reps of this will begin to ingrain better technique. With many of my skiers I have used Freelap electronic timing wands as used by Track sprint coaches. They can measure down to .02 sec so even tiny changes in speed due to technique or relaxation will show up and can be used for feedback. The goal is to ski fast and relaxed not to push at 100%. Go as fast as you can while staying relaxed in these. You have to creep up on the speed and not force it. Start at 80% effort to develop comfort at speed but over months you’ll will improve to where your best speed will come at 95% effort. Once you establish this speed base, which will take months/years of consistent work you can begin to extend that speed and develop event specific speed endurance. Do this by doing repeat 200m on the flats at 90% of the max pace you end up consistently hitting on the 100s when you arrive there at the end of the speed progression.
    I used this system to develop several top US Skiers over the years. As my coach told me 40 years ago: “If you can’t ski one 3 minute kilometer how do you expect to ski 50 of them. “Speed has to come before endurance because endurance is just an extension of speed” Jack Daniels.

    Here’s an example of one WC Sprint Skier’s speed progression on a tartan track on RSs starting in late April. We did this speed work 2x/week in the track for 3 months then we began to extend the repeats to 200m and later building endurance sets of 4-8x 200m with decreasing rests between reps. All these done at his sprint race pace determined by a 1600m time trial on the track. The final track workout before getting on the plane for Norway and early season races in late October was 3 sets of 15×200 at 27 sec/200 with 45 sec rest between. That is forty five 200s at race pace or 9km of skiing at sprint race pace in a single workout. His race results reflected this improvement in economy at speed.

    This was all done as part of an integrated high volume training program that trained all the basic qualities needed for XC ski racing; Meaning these workout made up only 5% of the total yearly hours. They are merely the frosting on a really well made cake and not the cake itself.

    Using a systematic approach where each piece sits atop the layer below is the way to develop the best program.


    Robert on #6078

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks again for the sage advice… drift taken.

    I like the concept of speed before endurance- it makes sense. I expect it may be why I am so fast and relaxed in DP since I developed that technique over the last 3 years using very much the process you outlined. So I’ll being doing the same for V2 and striding starting now… and listening more to my wife!


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