Period Five of Training for Cross-Country Skiing

Welcome to period five of training for cross-country skiing.

(August – September ’19)

This month is Period 5 and along with Period 6 will be our biggest volume times of the entire year. Some will notice the week of September 2 is quite an ambitious week. This is the hard work we are putting in to be successful come winter. Hang in there, the week of September 9 should have you bouncing back well.

We want to make sure that we’re training polarized or when it says easy training, that we’re truly going easy, and then when we’re going Level 4, that we’re truly going hard. Why that’s so important right now in period five is because, in period five, it’s one of our highest volume months.

With that being said, it’s very easy both in period five and period six to train too hard on our level one type training, our easy training, and actually leave our whole season far too fatigued for the rest of the competition season.

The other concept that we want to talk through is compartmentalized training or making sure that all of our training actually flows from one to the next. It’s really complementary and it’s not just isolated so that when we’re out doing distance training, we’re just doing the distance. We’re also working on technique. Everything must complement one another. This complimentary training is really important. So making sure that for example our strength complements our intensity training – that is going to be important as we move forward.

So as we discussed – the endurance, intensity and strength type of training in this period, first and foremost, it’s high in volume. Because of that, we want to make sure our easy work is very easy and it’s also becoming more and more specific to cross-country skiing.

Again more roller skiing, a little less biking type activities. Intensity, there’s a bit of a balance between the threshold and Level 4 training. We can get a little bit creative here. If you’ve trained over the years, you can actually blend the two. Maybe what you do is you do a Level 3 workout or a threshold and add – maybe it’s five minutes on of Level 3 and then maybe one minute of Level 4 at the end. That’s a creative balance or you can have very specific ones.

Another thing to do is to make sure we have accelerations in our distance training, but a full recovery in between.


Then the strength, we shift back to (slightly) higher volumes but we keep the intensity level fairly high on all added resistance movements.

The leg-circuits shift (again); this time from the low-rep / high-intensity “mini” version to unresisted half circuits. These must be done with precision and speed. On the body-weight squats, the pace should be one rep / second and you must pay strict attention to finishing each squat in a fully upright / tall position (up on the toes, head up, chest up, hips straight). There is no rest between movements, and the rest between circuits is minimal (20 seconds), and if you can, see if you can reduce or skip the rest between the half-circuits as the phase progresses.

Once again (as in phase-1), we will do mini-band work twice—at the beginning and end. We do the initial work standing and throw a good deal of balance into the mix to set you up for good work on the movement puzzle plyometric movements. The final mini-band elements are done on the ground—no balance needed—so you can really focus on full, strong repetitions against the resistance of the band. The hip-strength you create here will make you a faster—and safer—skier once the snow falls.

A note on the “movement puzzles”: Remember these must be done with great care and precision. Worry first about landing each bound, hop or jump safely and solidly. The success you have in doing this will translate into better glide on the snow. The prescribed repetitions increase in the final two weeks of this phase, but if you are still somewhat shaky on your landings, skip the increase and stay focused on achieving success at the lower number.

The continued focus on fast, full repetitions—especially in the leg-circuits—will leave you with some DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), so—again—do a good job with your finishing set movements and a good warm-up prior to your road-work sessions and that soreness should dissipate and cease to bother you.

At this point of the training, you should feel improved strength in your movements and this should translate to stronger, faster sessions on the road.



Each period, we will end with this advice since it is so important:

As you are planning your weeks and evaluating your training, also give some thought to how you are using the training plan. It is written to be a blueprint and a guide for your training, and is not written knowing in advance what conflicts you may have with training in any given week.

Many weeks can be done as scheduled. However, if you have to swap days or weeks out on account of your non training life, with good planning that can be done with great success provided you are giving thought to the swapping. For example, let’s say you have a week at work where you are going to have heavy time demands and stress and the schedule says it is the third week of the period, which is our big week, you may be best holding off on the third week and swapping it with week 4 our easy week to recover, and then also maybe make a small adjustment in week one of the following period. You can also swap out days on account of life outside of your training plan, just remember as you do that it is ideal to follow a pattern of hard followed by easy for the pattern of days.

Skate Technique: new vs old?

Q: Having learned the original skate techniques back in the day, then re-learned the “new” skate (hips and shoulders square to the direction of travel), I still struggle with proper skate form. From my own experience, it seems like the new skate only works at high tempos or going uphill (when the glide phase is short). Otherwise, the old skate (toe-knee-nose) provides the flattest ski with the longest glide. I can’t see how you can ride a flat ski for very long if your torso isn’t aligned with the direction of ski travel. Can you shed any light on this?

A: If it makes you feel better, I think there has been confusion in how skating is taught over the years. It’s tempting to try paint with broad strokes when we discuss technique, but as your questions and experience show, we usually miss some important distinctions when we do that.

One principle of skating is that the faster a skier’s velocity, the more acute the V of the skis can be. Meanwhile, the slower the velocity, the larger the angle will be. We can see that for ourselves: when we V2 fast, the angle of the skis may be around 30˚; and when we’re casually skiing uphill, the V expands to 90˚ or more. There are some laws of physics at play here, but in general, we figure this concept out ourselves – it’s really hard to skate up a steep hill with a tight V.

Another concept is not exclusive to skiing: The quicker you try to do something repeatedly, the less time you have between efforts. That is, if you’re skiing 40 strokes per minute, you have 1.5 seconds to move from ski to ski, and if you’re skiing at 90 strokes per minute, you only have 0.66 seconds to shift your weight.

As you mention, “it seems like the new skate only works at high tempos or going uphill,” and I basically agree with that. When the tempo is high, you may not have enough time to shift completely over to each ski (into the “old” toe-knee-nose) – especially if you’re going uphill using V1/offset, with a wider V. It’s also a safe bet (hope?) that your high tempo is also making your ski speed faster, so the V in V2/one-skate is more narrow; you may actually be getting completely over each ski, but it’s a less obvious weight shift.

I’m not sure why there are “new” and “old” skates being taught, as both are valid. There’s a continuum of how much weight shift and torso alignment you can effectively achieve in different conditions, and you need to figure out what works best for you. Ski speed and the terrain contribute to making this decision, but so does your strength and balance. If you look at this video, we can see that Sundby (leading, red bib) is able to stay squared up to his skis more effectively than Sveen (bib 17), who is using more of a toe-knee-nose approach – but they’re skiing at the same velocity:

To summarize: You’re fine, you’re right, just keep doing what you’re doing.

Jason Cork
US XC Ski Team Coach

(originally posted in SkiPost)

Ski Picking – what does that really mean?

by Matt Liebsch

I cannot believe it is almost time for our first ski picking trip of the year.  We are planning to visit 7 different race rooms/factories/warehouses/distribution centers between now and the end of September.  This will be our most ambitious travel schedule to date. We don’t really like to travel this much but it is necessary to obtain the best skis the industry has produced. If we could snap our fingers and have amazing skis show up on our door step, we would vote for that. The unfortunate truth is the industry as a whole lacks complete control of their process. Before I owned part of a ski shop, I worked as an electrical engineer and a quality/test engineer. This gave me a unique background in production and process improvement. At a former employer, we would strive for Six Sigma… look it up, but basically it means a measure of quality that strives for near perfection, or roughly less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. That is critically important when building electronics for the aviation industry but maybe slight overkill for the snow sports industry. Just because the ski industry lacks anywhere near total control over their process/quality doesn’t mean they are not striving to get better. They are investing as much as they can in their process but they still don’t have complete control.  They are using methods and materials that inherently introduce variability into the end product.

What does this mean for you, the consumer? It means not all skis are created equal. That is important to understand and cannot be understated. Ski companies are charging the same price for the same ski but it is not the same product. Skis are a handmade product, made from things like wood, carbon fiber, foam, and fiberglass and injected with resin and pressed/heated into shape. There is a lot of variability in both the materials and the process. When you sign up for a ski request from Pioneer Midwest, you are not only signing up for a ski that fits you, but a ski that is of the highest quality.

QUALITY: When people talk about their favorite pair of skis, the thing that makes that happen is the quality, not the fit. The fit is likely in the ballpark, but high quality skis make the ski their favorite. I have a seen a lot of skis that “fit” but are absolute garbage. What makes a quality ski… in our experience, is low and even contact pressure within the glide zones and elastic response under varying loads.  The ski industry does not want to talk about the inherent variability in quality for a given ski model. The goal of marketing departments at all ski companies is to portray that one high end ski is just as good as another of the same branded high end ski, implying that just the fit (see below) or snow conditions for said ski are different.

FIT: Most reputable ski shops should be able to find a ski that “fits” i.e. the stiffness of the ski is appropriate to your body weight. The stiffness of the ski needs to be within a range, and actually, those fit ranges are quite large and even larger when the ski is of the highest absolute quality. The difference between a 94kg ski and a 98kg ski is negligible on a “fit” scale, but the quality makes the difference.

How we test and pick skis:

Ski Analysis:

Cool article on trees to skis:

Sign up for ski picking: HERE

Cores… wood and paper dipped in resin.

Pre-press, materials get assembled here before pressing.

Press… heat and pressure to form into shape.

Post pressing, before finish work.

Adam is in the zone after 12hr+ day of picking.

We are serious ski-nerds, lots of testing and multiple methods of testing.

Our latest ski tester.

We travel to look at a lot of skis, we bring our flex testers with us to quantify the pre-work with our hands and eyes.

Period Four of Training for Cross-Country Skiing


Welcome to period four of training for cross-country skiing.

This training period is somewhere in between the middle of July to middle of August.

At this time of the year we’re doing more intensity work that’s becoming more and more ski-specific. Still keeping it into the threshold, primarily threshold with a little bit of Level 4 introduction.

For most, it is a time to put in the hard work for the winter. However, if you have a family vacation or other conflicts that may make it difficult to follow the plan as written, some week or work out swapping is OK as long as the big picture is kept in mind. Long story short, if you have some non training conflicts, do your best to work around your schedule and if need be, shift a work out from one week to next week to keep life in balance.

We should continue with our ramp up of both the intensity and the volume, but don’t over do it. If time is tight, but you are fresh prioritize the intensity days, strength and over distance. If you are feeling run down from vacation or other conflicts, prioritize simple maintenance training. If the period is without conflict, super!

As it relates to the distance type of training, continue on the same path that you’re on with a little bit more introduction of ski-specific modality of training. That means more roller skiing, both classic and skate, as well as a good amount of footwork running, hiking, that sort of thing.

Simple hikes, you do not have to just purely run. But you can also walk or do long hikes with poles in very hilly terrain. Start to use terrain to your advantage to also introduce a little bit more strength training in an endurance side of things.

Intensity remains the same. Still doing primarily threshold-based with a continued introduction of level four type of intervals.

New this month is ski walking the week of July 22 and August 5. Ski walking is an awesome workout that is a staple of our training from now until we are skiing on snow. However, we have to use it sparingly. Too much and we are not able to absorb it and recover. If you have not ski walked before, check out this link:



We should still make sure the easy days are easy. Avoid junk training of medium hard, not easy enough to be tolerated well, promoting recovery, and not hard enough to have the benefits of properly stressing the body with true hard training.

As always, as you are evaluating your training and planning your workouts, give some thought to how you are using your training plan. It should be written to be a blueprint and a guide for your training, and looking yearly it is not written knowing in advance what conflicts you may have with training on any given day.



The fourth phase of off-season training raises the intensity level (resistance used and speed-of-movement) significantly. The warm-up is a combination of mini-band movements, weighted rotations and rope-skipping. The movement puzzle agility features one new movement and one we have already done. The strength and power circuit is where you will really see difference from the previous three phases.

The inclusion of the “MINI-LEG-CIRCUITS” (low-rep versions of the leg-circuits you have been doing for the past three months) is the primary change. You will add resistance—in the form of a med-ball, a weight plate, a sand-tube, a single dumbbell or pair of dumbbells—and be quick, sharp and precise in each movement without compromising quality.

The guidelines for choosing the correct amount of weight (in the MINI LEG-CIRCUITS and all other movement elements) are simple and logical. Start conservatively and add resistance as your strength increases and you can manage the added weight without losing form. For the leg-circuits, start with approximately 10 – 15 % of your total body-weight and progress from there, working towards 15 – 30%.

Adding resistance while keeping the pace of the movements relatively high adds significant eccentric loading. This will create many positive muscular adaptations and is therefore a great idea, but it also entails more DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) so be prepared to feel stiff and sore the day (or days) following your strength session. Using the functional movement warm-up ideas (from the past two months) prior to running, biking or roller-skiing on your other training days will attenuate the negative effects of DOMS.

Phase four is a key transition month from building the basic strength foundation for speed to the high-speed and higher volume training to follow.


Each period, we will end with this advice since it is so important:

As you are planning your weeks and evaluating your training, also give some thought to how you are using the training plan. It is written to be a blueprint and a guide for your training, and is not written knowing in advance what conflicts you may have with training in any given week.

Many weeks can be done as scheduled. However, if you have to swap days or weeks out on account of your non training life, with good planning that can be done with great success provided you are giving thought to the swapping. For example, let’s say you have a week at work where you are going to have heavy time demands and stress and the schedule says it is the third week of the period, which is our big week, you may be best holding off on the third week and swapping it with week 4 our easy week to recover, and then also maybe make a small adjustment in week one of the following period. You can also swap out days on account of life outside of your training plan, just remember as you do that it is ideal to follow a pattern of hard followed by easy for the pattern of days.

Buying a GPS/HRM Sport Watch – The Basics

by FasterSkier

The functions are many on our wrist-worn data collecting training tools. And in some ways, the putative cause for that post-training bliss might be the very data stored on that GPS/HRM device when uploaded to your training analysis app. Maybe you notched a PR, or simply logged 10,000 feet of vertical gain during that offseason ski tour. Or … you simply like pinpointing precisely where your heart rate spiked during that pre-Birkie time trial.

Whatever your fancy, these watches marketed towards backcountry adventurers, endurance athletes, and training log devotees provide data for real-time feedback and week to week, month to month, and annual progression trends when it comes to training.

Like many commodities in the outdoor sport industry, brand loyalty can be divisive. The bottom line is that many companies make high functioning and reliable wrist-worn devices to track distance and speed with GPS and collect heart rate data. These devices come in many flavors; some geared more towards runners, and others towards those who demand an altitude reading and GPS waypoints for mountain navigation.

Andy Newell, founder of Nordic Team Solutions and longtime World Cup skier, had this to say about using a GPS/HRM watch for cross-country ski training.

“I use a HR monitor but almost never use any GPS function,” Newell wrote about how he uses his sport watch. “All I need is a watch that can time and let me know how many minutes I am in each zone. I turn off the GPS because then I don’t need to charge the watch as often. If I’m in the backcountry I just use an app like Gaia. I think for the most part elite xc skiers do not use GPS too often with their ski training because resistance is such a huge variable on snow and can even be variable on the roads depending on the conditions. It’s the same reason why skiers log our training in hours and minutes rather than miles or kilometers like a cyclist or runner.”

We asked Newell to query his collegiate group of skiers training in Bozeman, MT. this summer about what type of device they use and the basics about their functionality. Before we expand the discussion, here are the results.

What Type of heart rate monitor do you use? Please indicate brand and model.

  • Suunto Spartan sport
  • Garmin Premium HR Monitor-Soft Strap
  • Garmin Fenix 5s plus watch with latest Triathlon strap
  • Garmin Forerunner 735xt
  • Polar strap with Apple watch
  • Suunto Ambit 3 peak and sport
  • Garmin HRM-Run (HRM4)

In your opinion what is the best function of the watch? i.e. heart rate, GPS, multi sport, heart rate zone guidelines.

  • Heart rate and GPS
  • Heart Rate
  • The watch features many different types of sports and activities, it can track HRV, and it has the ability to be fully customized to fit the needs of most any athlete.
  • Very easy display to look at interval time and heart rate.
  • Multi sport
  • The best function of my watch (Suunto Spartan) is that it monitors my sleep. I am able to see my average resting heart rate, the amount of hours I have slept and how many of those hours were ‘deep sleep.’ This is a tool that helps me monitor my recovery from training load.
  • Heart rate and GPS

Do you download and look at your heart rate data? Yes or No. If yes, please indicate how you use that data. i.e. Keep track of interval data, race data, keep a training log.

  • Yes, to see time at each level and how quickly I recover.
  • I will look at my max and average HRs for interval sessions/races and put them in my training log. I also record a morning HR in my log, but take it by hand. I typically do not download and look at the graphs, though.
  • Yes I look to see what my max heart rate is and my average heart rate at the end of the workout.
  • Yes I look at what levels I was skiing at during the session
  • Yes. I use that data to determine if I was in the proper zone for specific workouts. I also record my Max HR during races and time trials in my training log, out of curiosity, taking the conditions into consideration, but to see how hard I push myself.
  • No, I haven’t in the past but I’ve started to now. I usually just look after the workout to see how hard I was working and if that correlates with how I was feeling. I’m still trying to understand it all 🙂

If your watch could do something super rad that it currently does not do… what would that be?

  • Have music downloaded on it.
  • Dispense peanut M&Ms.
  • Be somehow able to measure lactate.
  • My watch does everything I need it to do so I would have to go with voice commands.
  • I would want it to show my current speed which it does not.
  • Play music/connect to Bluetooth headphones.
  • My watch is super sick already!! Not sure if I have any ideas.

As Newell stated, if a watch has HRM capabilities and the ability to time duration in each specific heart rate training zone, you should be good to go. The GPS features come in handy if you want data on distance traveled, total ascent or descent, and speed. Or if you tend to be the type of athlete that mixes adventuring with traditional “training”, the GPS can be a precision navigation device. As a basic yet functional training tool, GPS is not a necessary condition. However, if you don’t mind charging your watch more often, the added bonus of GPS data is a nice feature: it allows for proper analysis of pacing strategy during training or racing.

“Both are nice info to have, but the main focus today is duration,” Øyvind B. Sandbakk explained about having athletes collect data on kilometers skied or duration of the training session. Sandbakk is the managing director at the Centre for Elite Sports Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim and the head of research and development at the Norwegian Olympic Sports Centre (Olympiatoppen).

Like Newell’s athletes, we also asked Sandbakk what feature he would like to see incorporated into sport watches.

“From normal sport watches they use GPS for speed in a given terrain, and heart rate for indications of metabolic intensity,” wrote Sandbakk. “Ideally, we should also have integrated Inertial movement units (IMUs) in the future, that can detect what sub-technique they use and temporal patterns (cycle rate and length). This would also allow us to indicate the external power they are using (watts).”

Style options are many for GPS/HRM watches. The mainstays of the industry are Polar, Garmin, and Sunnto. You can add Apple, Coros, and Fitbit among others to the list. It’s worth taking time to determine your budget and desired features. For backcountry skiers/mountaineers, the added bonus of a barometer is nice for more accurate altitude readings. That comes at a cost. Which reminds us that these watches can be expensive.

A basic HRM can be found in the $50-$60 range. Adding in a GPS and more functionality can push the wrist-bling into the $250-$300 range. Add in features like a thermometer, safety and tracking, and music storage to name a few and it’s easy to launch into the $400-$600 stratosphere.

For runners, having built in GPS is handy for speed and pacing data. For trail running specifically, here is how Carbondale based FasterSkier writer Rachel Perkins uses her sports watch.

“I pay a lot more attention to mileage and vertical gain than I do during the ski season, but I rely mostly on HR for pacing since mile splits are pretty irrelevant,” Perkins said. “On roads, I rarely pay attention to HR just because pace and effort are so much more directly correlated.”

When considering a watch, the standard is to shy away from relying on an optical sensor HRM. The optical sensor sits on the underside of the watch and makes direct contact with the wrist. Even with technological advances, optical sensors still do not rival the accuracy of using a traditional chest strap to measure heart rate. (Trail Runner Magazine ran a solid story on why optical HRMs still struggle with accuracy.)

“But here’s the big problem—the errors are not consistent,” David Roche wrote in Trail Runner about the inconsistent readings from wrist positioned optical HRM sensors. “If it was always 5% low or 5% high, we could use that information (you’re probably having flashbacks to the accuracy v. precision distinction from high-school science class). Instead, it’s all over the place, and since 5% is an average, sometimes it might read 190 or something that makes an athlete write a panicked entry in their training log.

“It’s kind of like Michael Cohen testimony. First it says one thing, then it says another, so even if it’s right one time, how can you trust it? In this analogy, I’m not sure if I’m CSPAN or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

Political preferences aside, not wearing a chest strap is handy, but for accuracy, the chest strap is the way to go.

If you are looking for a new sports watch and in need a deep dive review, D.C. Rainmaker is the best place to start.

The imagination can run wild when considering the possibilities of collecting data from our sport watches and becoming a more efficient and stronger skier. The type of IMU datasets Sandbakk hopes for may appear sooner than we think in the exploding marketplace for wearable fitness technology. But for now, if you are just entering the market and want specific heart rate data with no GPS functionality, a basic HRM may be all you need to track your training and improve. For parents shelling out cash for that motivated high school athlete, that might leave more money for new ski boots if that teen is hitting their growth spurt.

Ways To Improve LT, VO2 Max, Economy and Strength


* also called the “anaerobic threshold (AT)”

  • Large volume of training at endurance intensity (adaptation occurs over months and years)
  • Train around the LT: 1 – 3 workouts per week over 4 to 8 weeks (adaptation occurs over days and weeks)



  • Max V02 is built through a large volume of endurance intensity training!
  • High intensity intervals (at 95% of max); 1 – 3 workouts per week over a 4 to 8 week period (adaptation occurs over days and weeks)



  • Improve Technique
  • Strength Training
  • Intervals and Speed
  • Equipment (less friction on the snow for instance)



  • General
    General and maximum strength enables the athlete to build specific strength safely and to maximum effect. General strength covers all major muscle groups, targeting the body’s core and important joints.
  • Specific
    Specific and endurance strength is of primary importance to cross-country skiers. It uses ski specific motions, intensities and duration.

CXC Academy Q&A with Alayna – Training Zones


With CXC Academy training plans it is very important to stay within the prescribed training zone for each workout. These training zones each have a very specific role in your training. The length and frequency of these workouts fluctuates throughout the year depending on the emphasis of each training period, all leading to peak performance during your race season.

Let’s talk specifically about Levels 1, 3 and 4, some of the most frequently used speeds.

LEVEL 1 training is mainly used as a warm-up/cool-down speed or as an easy, recovery day speed. You should always keep your heart rate within your easy Level 1 zone. This is generally under 130 bpm. Individual heart rate zones can be determined through physiological testing.

LEVEL 3 training can also be referred to as anaerobic threshold training. These intervals are longer and should be conducted at a lower heart rate and speed than level four intervals. Think of these as your ski marathon pace; an effort that is sustainable over 2 hours. When skiing level three intervals, we look for a nice consistent heart rate with no spikes in effort or intensity.

LEVEL 4 training consists of shorter, more intense intervals than level three training. This is your 5-15km race pace. You should ski all terrain just as you would in a race, powering over the tops of hills and transitioning smoothly and powerfully through different techniques.

Make sure that you stay true to each training zone while conducting a workout. It is easy to ski out of your training level to keep up with friends or get in a hard workout. Each level has a role and it is important to stick to the plan.


Alayna Sonnesyn, a CXC native who now skis for the Stratton Mountain School T2 Elite Team, will be advising through a series of videos covering general training advisory, ski technique and user Q&As. Sonnesyn grew up in Minnesota and was cross country skiing by age three. She grew up racing in the Minnesota High School League and in CXC programs, winning a national junior title and skiing on scholarship for the University of Vermont. Her breakthrough race came at this year’s Slumberland American Birkebeiner where she took her first major win.

Throughout her ski career she has been a leader, including team captain for UVM. She has also dedicated herself to giving back to her sport, volunteering an guest coaching for Special Olympics, Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont and the Minnesota Youth Ski League. She received multiple honors from UVM in her senior year of 2018.