Spenst Training

by Justin Freeman for SkiPost

Skiing is generally regarded as an aerobic sport, and rightly so. But it is also an explosive power sport. Unlike running, cycling, or swimming, where power is applied nearly continuously, each individual stride in a cross country ski race is an explosive event-certainly more explosive than in any other endurance sport. It is in order to train this explosive power that we do spenst workouts. This article gives an overview of spenst training theory and practice.

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Justin Freeman

Spenst comes from a Norwegian word meaning vertical jump. A spenst workout is one with the goal of increasing the height of your vertical jump. In America the word has taken on a slightly different meaning; a spenst workout is one where you work on your ski-specific explosive power.

There are two equally important components to training ski-specific explosive power. The more obvious component is simply the muscle power. But it is just as important to train the body position and technique that allow you to apply this power effectively.

One of the best ways to incorporate body position training into your spenst routine is to extend your warm-up. Even if this means a shorter time spent doing jumps and such it is well worth it. To get anything out of your spenst routine you must be thoroughly warm, and you also must see and feel
the connection between ski racing and the exercises you are doing.

(Note: the workout I am about to describe contains more exercises than you should do in a single session. You might want to do a session with just the classic exercises, or just the skate, or your favorite combination. But don’t do all the of these.)

Your initial warm-up should be 20-30 minutes, ending at the base of a hill with good footing and a moderate and consistent grade. Stop here and stretch for a while. Next, do the following classic technique drills:

Classic arm swing: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, flex at the ankles and knees to bring your hips forward, and then roll your shoulders forward so that your spine has a good C-curve to it. Now, swing your arms as if you were classic skiing. Your arms should move loosely at the shoulders, but avoid hyperextention of the shoulders or rotation of the upper spine. You should drive your arms forward with sufficient force that your knees bend forward with each arm swing.

Next, add one leg to the exercise. While balancing on your left leg, swing your right leg forward in sync with your left arm. Focus on driving both your arms and your leg forward. Make sure that your back stays rounded. If you do this rightyou will almost have to hop forward each time your leg swings forward.

Finally, do some easy ski walking. You can do this with or without poles (if you use poles they should be about 10 cm shorter than your classic poles). The idea right now is to stay well inside level one, and to really feel like you are on snow. Keep in mind the same things as in the last two drills: keep your back rounded, your hips forward, and drive your arms and legs forward with a crisp, sharp motion. Remember, this is still a technique exercise, so don’t try to race, try to feel like you are skiing in level one.

Your first spenst exercise is single leg classic technique hops. This exercise is very similar to the arm and leg swing exercise from the warm-up. Balance on your left leg. Put your right arm forward, and your left arm and right leg behind, as if you were gliding on your left ski. Now, drive your right leg and left arm forward and jump forward off your left leg. The jump should feel like the kick in classic technique–sharp and powerful, rather than long and drawn out. Land on your left leg, and repeat six to ten times. Do two to three sets on each leg.

The next exercise is a variant of ski walking. It can be done without poles, but with poles is preferable. The idea is to ski walk with the fastest possible turnover, almost shuffling up hops. This exercise is very similar to the arm and leg swing exercise from the warm-up. Balance on your left leg. Put your right arm forward, and your left arm and right leg behind, as if you were gliding on your left ski. Now, drive your right leg and left arm forward and jump forward off your left leg. The jump should feel like the kick in classic technique–sharp and powerful, rather than long and drawn out. Land on your left leg, and repeat six to ten times. Do two to three sets on each leg.

The next exercise is a variant of ski walking. It can be done without poles, but with poles is preferable. The idea is to ski walk with the fastest possible turnover, almost shuffling up the hill. But don’t start racewalking. Keep your hips forward and basically square to the direction of travel. Keep your legs and arms driving straight forward. Focus on feeling as if you were skiing with huge tempo. Keep these and all spenst workout sprints to under ten seconds. Do three to eight of these sprints.

The finally classic exercise is bounding. Again, it works without poles but it is better to bring poles. Bounding is in some ways the opposite of the last exercise–here you are trying to minimize your tempo by maximizing your stride length. As always, focus on keeping good body position, forward hips, C-curve in the spine. Also focus on minimizing the time your foot spends on the ground. As soon as you land you should be pushing off, starting the next stride. (This may mean a little less distance with each jump, but it also trains you to set you wax more effectively). Do three to eight total bounds, 6 to 10 seconds each.

To train good skating position we start with a static drill. Turn your left leg out at the hip. Place your weight on this foot, which should point about 40 degrees away from where you are facing and bend deeply at the ankle and knee to bring the hips forward. Roll your shoulders forward to properly align your spine. Gently bounce up and down an inch or two, and get used to the feeling of balancing like this on one ski. Do this for about 30 seconds on each side, and repeat at least once on each side.Next, start from this position on your left leg and then step to the same position on your right. Try to feel the weight transfer as if you were on snow.

Once you are comfortable with this, we can move the the explosive version: Set up in good skate position, hips and shoulders forward, hip turned out, ankles bent. Then jump explosively off of this leg and land in good skate position on the other. You may want to swing your arms in a V-2 skate motion. You may want to take a small hop between jumps to help you set up. Whatever helps you focus on an explosive lateral jump, and allows you to start and finish in a good, technically sound position. Do three sets of a total of about 20 jumps (ten from each leg).

For the other skate exercise, line up so that the hill rises to your left. Then, keeping your hips forward, bring your right foot across and plant it in front of and above your left foot. Jump explosively off your right foot so that you land left (up the hill) from where you started. You should swing your arms as if poling as you jump. Land on your left foot, take a second to stabilize, then cross your right foot over and jump again. Do three sets of 10 jumps on each leg.

As long as you keep the total number of jumps and sprints low, you can add some less specific exercises. Two-legged jumps, running sprints, backwards running sprints, high-knees sprints, etc. I usually add one of these to my spenst routine. But only one. The aim is for quality and for specificity.

Hopefully these exercises will help your spenst routine. Remember, for these to be truly effective you need to be warmed up but fresh, and you need to feel the connection to skiing with each and every jump or sprint. If the connection is unclear, go back to the warm-up technique drills. If you start feeling too tired to execute the workout properly, cool down and go home.

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