Bounding into Cross Country Ski Season
By Rebecca Davis
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Editor’s Note: Our Silent Sports Magazine marathon canoe champion also excels at cross-country skiing, taking tenth, for example, in the 2020 Birkie Women’s Classic. She offers a favorite no-snow training exercise, useful for all of us regardless of our current skiing abilities.
MY TRAINING for nine months of the year revolves solely around canoe racing.
I canoe, run, lift, and bike all with the aim of improving my times on the water. However, from December to February, I become a weekend warrior of the Michigan Cup Cross Country Ski Circuit. For those three months, my second sport becomes my obsession—trying to figure out each day how to increase my speed, improve lactic threshold, and fine-tune technique. It’s often too little, too late, but I enjoy the mental break from my primary sport, and the freedom that comes from failing. Sometimes I find the right combination, and come away with a surprisingly good result.
Most cross-country skiers at the citizen level fall in a similar camp. They don’t specialize in one sport, and their primary sport probably occurs over warmer months. While paddling, biking, and running all provide some crossover skill, a few ski-specific workouts the rest of the year will help bridge the gap between seasons, reduce risk of injury, and lead to improvements. Roller skiing is the optimal choice, but some don’t enjoy it, or are wary a crash could diminish their racing season.
If you empathize with these sentiments, hill-bounding is a perfect workout to incorporate into your training regime. It’s quick, effective, and can be added to any other cross-training day. A set of ski poles and a grassy hill, challenging but not overwhelming, are all you need. I recommend using a sledding or ski hill for this purpose. The drills outlined below can be done in one to three sets, depending on time and other training plans. This will usually be a day in which you combine some light to moderate cardio of choice. If not, then warm up by jogging with your shortest set of ski poles until you are loose, repeating for the cool down. After each exercise, walk or jog lightly back to the bottom of the hill.
Hill-Bounding with Poles
This first drill is classic hill-bounding, the most common exercise. Start at the base of the hill and advance up using classic ski technique. Keep your hips forward as you would on classic skis, instead of collapsing your upper body forward onto your poles. To assist with this, raise your chest a little and look 6-10 feet ahead, which helps bring your hips into alignment.
For the following exercises, put your poles down because you won’t be needing them.
Starting at the bottom of the hill, begin to skip up with your right arm rising while you lift your left leg, and vice-versa. Focus on getting height during the jump, as opposed to a long stride.
Go only as high up your hill as you can while maintaining good form. This is true for the rest of the exercises listed below.
This exercise correlates more to the V2 skating technique. Start in a standing position with arms at your sides. Bring both arms up as if you were going to pole at the start of a skate, while also lifting your right leg. Then hop forward up the hill at a 45-degree angle onto the right leg. Repeat for the left leg; then back to the right side. Try visualizing the same motion you would perform while skiing V2, but instead of gliding forward, you are hopping or taking a large step if it better suits your body and training.
This isn’t a speed drill. It’s more about full side-to-side weight transfer and core stability that should help with skiing in the center while on snow.
Start in an athletic stance, feet under hips or slightly wider. Lower into a quarter squat with arms extended behind you. Leap forward with both feet, arms coming overhead and hips coming forward as you naturally try to extend your momentum for a long jump. Land back in a quarter squat, arms in front of chest.
Don’t rush. Focus on form and distance over speed.
Stand with your left shoulder facing up the hill. Squat slightly with your arms behind you. Transfer your weight onto the right foot, then hop sideways, landing on your left foot with arms now bent in front of your chest. Arm movement isn’t as important; use your arms for stability and to carry your momentum.
Complete five left-side jumps, then five right-side jumps, repeating until you lose form or reach the top of the hill.
Clasp your hands behind your back. Lower into a quarter squat with your head and chest up to keep a neutral spine. Begin walking forward up the hill, keeping your legs hip-distance apart or wider, and your knees bent.
You should feel a leg-burn similar to what you would feel when skiing up a hill in a long, gradual V1 by the time you get to the top.
With each exercise, remember to move in a pain-free range of motion. If jumping no longer suits your knees, most of these exercises can be adapted to a walk. Focus on good weight transfer from leg to leg, keeping your upper body connected with your lower body movements to encourage use of your core and smaller stabilizing muscles. It is okay to pause while going up the hill, then continuing with the exercise. Also, some, like Side Jumps, can be done in a 5, 6, 7, 8, 8, 7, 6, 5 repeat, or whatever level of repeats you can reasonably handle.
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