Staying in Recommended HR Zones

Q: I’m 57 and have a max heart rate around 170. My heart rate zones are fairly narrow and it is a challenge to stay in a zone and I often ping-pong above and below a zone.

1.How strictly should one stay in recommended zones?

2.What tips can you offer to reach and stay within a recommended zone?


Main Staples of Fall Training

Q: I tend to do the same training all year round. I do way too much long slow distance – or short slow/medium distance. How should I change my training in the fall vs the summer?




Training becomes quite specific to the motions and intensity of ski racing. Aerobic endurance is still the primary focus, but the means to develop it have become more specific and more intense.


Training volume levels off or even decreases slightly to allow for the increase in intensity. Most of the training volume is aerobic endurance training – low intensity training of medium to long duration.


  • General: General strength takes a back seat to specific strength. Max strength is the general strength focus in this period (for only 4 weeks). Strength endurance is the primary concern of a skier, but power and max strength cannot be neglected. Example: circuit using body weight exercises and more ski specific motions. Include some fairly ski specific max-strength exercises as well.
  • Specific: Rollerski specific strength sessions are the primary forms of strength training and should be predominantly endurance based. Skiers should also incorporate plyometric, explosive jumping exercises into their strength routine during the pre-competition phase. Example: 10×200 meters single pole, 10×200 meters double pole. Distance double pole session over all terrain.


During the pre-competition phase, duration and intensity of “intensity” training should reach levels similar to competition. High intensity (VO2, above threshold) intervals are used. This type of training must be built up to, to be effective. Example: (LT) 2min, 3min, 5min with equal recovery, times 3 at LT. At the end of each interval you should feel like you could have kept going. At the end of the workout, you should feel like you could have done more. (VO2) 5x5min with half recovery at 95% of max. (target heart-rate will not be met until the second interval). Each interval should take you the same distance.


All training is technique oriented. Speed training is a great way to train the anaerobic system, but also to learn to ski relaxed and with smooth technique at a challenging pace. Example: 10-20×20 seconds incorporated into an endurance session.

by Andy at SkiPost, Cross Country Ski Source

Can you give more detail on how to calculate training load?

A popular method is a 1-10 scale corresponding to general lactate levels. Another very simplistic method, which is what we are using in CXC Academy, is an intensity scale 1-5 that corresponds with the training Levels 1-5.

In short, a consistent unit of measure for time and intensity is necessary to measure load. We use hours to measure duration and a 1-5 training intensity scale to measure intensity. Measuring load and not just duration alone is an excellent method to measure training and how much one can handle weekly, month to month, and year to year.

For example, one workout might have 15 minutes of warm-up, 20 minutes of Level 4 intervals (5X4minutes) with 4 minutes of recovery, and then a 15-minute cooldown. The total training load of that workout would have a load of:

Level 4 – 0.33 hrs X 4 = 1.33 TL.
Level 1 – 15min warm-up+4min*5 recovery time between intervals+15min cool down = 50min or 0.83hrs
0.83hrs X 1 = 0.83 TL

Total effort is 1.33TL + 0.83TL = 2.17TL

We often analyze the total training load per training level per week. For example, 10TL for the week in Level 1 is 10hrs of Level 1 training for that week.

I hope all the math makes sense,

by Bryan Fish, CXC Academy Advisor / U.S. Ski Team Continental Cup Coach


How to Maximize Training for the Part-Time Skier

By: Scott Loomis

This past season marked my last year as a full-time cross-country ski racer. After eight very worthwhile years of racing and training all over the world I have decided to move on to a new phase in my life. Whether that next phase involves working as a roadie for the next Van Halen world tour, joining the World Horseshoe Throwing circuit or attending graduate school only time will tell.

In the meantime, I am working 40 hours per week in Park City, taking two classes at the University of Utah and working a second job one day per week at a local hospital. All of this leaves me very little time for any sort of structured ski training. In fact, I am lucky if I can squeeze in three to five workouts each week.

I do not plan on completely abandoning the sport that I have spent so many years immersed in. After you spend so much time working towards something you love, it becomes hard to simply quit cold-turkey. I do hope to at least remain competitive on the American Ski Marathon Series next season. But how do I get to a competitive level on such a limited training schedule? What I have decided is that I need to figure out how to maximize my training as a part-time ski racer.

I recently read a short article on the internet about how Thomas Alsgaard is currently training three times per week in his preparation for next year’s World Cup circuit. It would be nice if we all had the time (and insane physical capacity) to do this, but for those of us that are part-time racers and weekend warriors that work full-time and/or have families, we simply do not have enough hours in the day to do this. So the question is: What can we do to maximize the training we do have time for? What aspects of a training plan are most important? What can be left out or skipped?

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No matter how little time you are able to devote to training, you should always fit in one intensity workout every week to ten days starting in the summer. Maintaining that ability and feel of going hard throughout the year is important since it can be very difficult to regain once you have lost it. This is especially true the older you get.

Remember that an intensity workout can come in almost any shape or form. It doesn’t have to be something done on rollerskis or involve skiwalking or bounding for a specific amount of time with a specific amount of rest. It can be as simple as going hard for twenty minutes in the middle of an hour long run or bike ride or even trying to mow your lawn in world-record time. I personally like doing track workouts because I feel that I am able to get a lot of out of them. I am able to fit a bunch of short intervals into a relatively small amount of time and by the end of the workout I feel pretty tired. It is also a matter of convenience since there is a track right down the street from my house.

The point here is to periodically get your heart and lungs into hammer-mode……how you go about doing this really doesn’t matter all that much, especially during the summer. It’s not like your cardiovascular system knows what type of training method you are doing, all it knows is that it is working hard.

One good over-distance day is second on my list. It is amazing how well an occasional OD can maintain your endurance. If you average 45 minutes per workout, try to fit in an easy 2 hour over-distance day. If you average 1 to 1.5 hours, try to fit in a nice 3-hour outing. Again, don’t forget about the variety of training methods out there. A long kayak can be just as effective as a long mountain run. Also, try combination workouts, where you bike and run or rollerski and run, etc.

Unless you feel that your upperbody is your weakest link or you need to bulk up those beach muscles for that week on the houseboat in Lake Havasu, skip the trips to weight room during the summer. Some of you may disagree about this, but remember, I am talking about maximizing training on a limited schedule. Of course, if you have a lot of time to devote to ski training, consistent weight workouts can be a valuable supplement to your plan. If you like to rollerski during the off-season, throw in some double-pole only workouts and make those your strength workouts.

Weight training is really only beneficial if you are able to keep up with it on a weekly basis. So, I feel that it is best to start doing some in the fall and try to be consistent with it until you get on snow. I personally hate hanging out in the weight room. I would much rather go for a run than do sets on the bench press any day.

For those of you that really need to improve your upperbody strength I suggest that you make a small investment in turning your garage into a Rocky Balboa old-school training gym. A padded mat, a couple of 25 lbs barbells and wooden box for dips and step-ups is all you need for a basic strength workout that is right there at home. You could even add a punching bag since it just looks cool hanging there and it makes you feel tough.

For some of you, doing intervals may be unappealing and you really don’t have time for OD workouts either, so training only consists of “everyday” workouts. These are simple workouts where you just head out and run or bike or whatever at a comfortable pace for the time available to you. If you are only able to train for 30 minutes three times per week, make sure that you are getting something out of them. Going at a level 1 pace for 30 minutes really doesn’t do a whole lot for you, unless you are out of shape and just getting back into training or using it as a recovery workout. If you make some of these short workouts more like semi-pace workouts where you are training in your level 2 to 3 zone then you will get much more out of these days.

The main point I want to get across here is the importance of maintaining a good fitness level throughout the year and it that doesn’t necessarily matter how you get it done. If you are able to throw occasional intensity and over-distance workouts into your training throughout the summer and fall, then you are going to be much better off come ski season. Have a great year see you at the race.


The Pros and Cons of Time Trials

In all sports, there is periodization. No matter the definition, there is no arguing that sports in general all have their own respective phases. For many endurance athletes, it’s common to train more and more specifically as the season nears. As for us nordies, we are starting to get closer to the competition phase, so the focus generally narrows a bit. For me this translates to a slight decrease in overall training volume, and an increase in intensity. Without getting into the specifics too much, a good (or bad) way to do that is by implementing time trials into training…


Time trials can be a great addition to spice training up a bit! Until now, a lot of training time has been spent logging in distance hours and a large portion of Level 3 intervals(roughly 85ish% max), so it’s been a while since you really got to rev the engine. This is one reason why time trials can be highly effective. They remind the body what it’s like to go as hard as you can, to race, go absolutely full gas, open up the throttle, throw down the gauntlet, & lower the BOOM! You get the picture. Often without race like efforts before important races your body may feel sluggish and won’t be able to optimally perform because it’s not used to such intense efforts. Doing time trials in the Fall is also a great way to measure improvements from time trials done in the Spring, and they can certainly improve your high end efficiency (among other things). They also allow for opportunities to test things like pre race meals, warm-up routines, day before training, etc, so that when you get to the starting line you are dialed in and ready to go. Furthermore, adding time trials now can highlight areas of weaknesses where more time should be spent in training to make further improvements with the time left before the season opener.


While there are numerous advantages to implementing time trials into training, there are other things that you might want to take into consideration. One of the biggest things that can have a negative effect on a potentially golden opportunity, is having the wrong mindset. Personally I have been there. It’s easy to get distracted in comparing & analyzing variables such as rollerski speeds, weather conditions, training loads, one’s strengths and weaknesses, etc…I like to recognize such variables, but also keep it all in perspective and judge my performance accordingly.  Off season TTs can play mind games, so it’s always best to look for areas for improvement and if applicable, appreciate gains made from previous tests. For most of us, there are 8+ weeks left  before our first ski races, so regardless of any TT performance, there’s lots of time to continue improving!

Garrott Kuzzy
Lumi Experiences

Grateful To Train

By Gus Schumacher

Can you talk about the fall training blocks you have done in the past and whether or not you’ve modified it to see more success in your fitness/preparations for ski season? If so, why do you think you needed to make those adjustments? Are you doing anything different this year?

This year I’m following a very similar plan to what I always do. My modifications come generally in the form of pushing the amount and intensity of training that I can handle. Every year as I’ve developed I’ve been able to do a little bit more and that is a good feeling. I know that won’t last forever but I really appreciate consistency in my training so I generally don’t change things too much.

What is your favorite interval (level4or5) workout that you are doing this next month? How do you execute it in case readers want to try it for themselves?

My favorite interval workout this time of year is a basic 6×4-5min L4 set. It’s one we do all year but I like it because it really feels like a great fitness-building workout. The goal is to pace it like a race, so by the end I’m going about as hard as I can. With the breaks it ends up being the pace for about a 30-40 minute race so it’s really good practice for interval start pacing. I do it with bounding and classic and skate roller skiing, usually on a rolling uphill section or loop.

The fall intervals that are my least favorite are 12×1′ maximum bounding because you produce so much lactate it gets very uncomfortable. With longer intervals it’s hard to flood with lactate as much so it’s not quite as painful.

Does nutrition change for you as you transition from one training block to the next? If yes, how so?

No, my training blocks are similar enough that I tend to eat the same type and amount of food. It’ll change week to week based on intensity and training hours (more carbs for intervals, more calories for volume), but overall there isn’t that much fluctuation.

Using Karvonen Formula to Estimate Max Heart Rate and Training Zones

The Karvonen method is an estimate of your max heart rate and training zones.  However, it is an estimate that can still be quite aways off, especially compared to the gold standard of physiological testing in a lab or the field.  CXC does have a lab in the Madison area, and the ability to perform a VO2 max test and extrapolate much more exact estimated Heart Rate training zones based upon various measures of ventilation during a test.  The reason I say estimated Heart Rate training zones is that each day you are likely to have slight variations in your training zones based upon a number of factors, including hydration level, overall stress, work out temperature, recovery from previous workouts, etc.  But, physiological testing is able to give a much better estimate of your zones than the formulas used by Karvonen or those adopted by most multi-sport training watches.

If you want to dial in your training zones as precisely as possible, a physiological test in a lab is the way to go.  If you want to get in the ballpark, we can suggest using some of Karvonen’s work combined with simple field tests for your max heart rate and then taking your resting heart rate for a few mornings after you wake when it is at a relatively low level.


Use the highest number recorded on a heart rate monitor during a VO2 Max Test, intensity workout, race or time trials.


Do a simple field test.  Run or bike up a moderately steep hill for 2-4 minutes all out.  Do this twice.  Use a heart rate monitor and record your efforts.  Your highest heart rate should be very close to the max you will achieve in training, races, max tests, etc.


Take your waking heart rate for a week or two and use your lowest number.


Subtract your resting heart rate from your max to get your Reserve Heart Rate (RHR).

Then for your heart rate zones, add your resting heart rate and percents of your RHR.

Level 1 is ~<72.5%

Level 2 is ~72.5-82.5%

Level 3 is ~82.5-87.5%

Level 4 is ~87.5-92.5%

Level 5 is ~92.5% and up

This should get you in the ballpark, until you have an opportunity to get in a lab.

Understanding the Elements of Endurance Training

The Cardiovascular System – Of Pipes and Pumps

By Betsy and Bob Youngman

Note: A more extensive treatment of this subject is presented at our website Brave Enough. The essential points are reviewed here.


In the simplest terms, when we speak about training for an endurance sport like cross country skiing, there are two primary systems that will be the focus of training – the “pump” and the “pipes.” The pump is the heart, which delivers oxygen-containing blood to operating muscles via a system of pipes (aka the vascular system). Different types of training are utilized to stimulate the development of these primary systems and these “types” of training will form the basis for a training program.

Obviously, our lungs play a central role in making sure that the “pump” has the oxygen-containing blood available to pump. Generally speaking, for a healthy individual the supply of sufficient quantities of oxygen is not a limiting factor for endurance activities.

The cardiovascular system is best developed by repeated bouts of long-duration, low-intensity activity. Such training involves continuous, low-level stress that requires significant blood flow to operating muscles. The heart is quite pleomorphic and will respond fairly quickly to training stimuli that require increased blood flow. While this blood flow and muscular activity will grow muscle, our bodies also respond to the training stress by increasing the output of the heart and maximizing blood delivery to the muscles.

Increased blood delivery is facilitated by increases in capillary density in the tissue in and around these muscles. Additionally, under this same training stress, cell organelles, known as  mitochondria , grow and become more numerous in muscles. Mitochondira, using primarily fat and carbohydrate as fuel, produce a chemical called adenosine triphosphate ( ATP ). ATP is what enables muscle contraction via a complex set of biochemical reactions. The more numerous and bigger the mitochondria, the more fuel that can be processed and the more energy available for muscular activity.

Because of these very positive adaptations, such long-duration, low-intensity training is the focus for that part of our endurance training devoted to developing both our “pump” and our “pipes.” This type of training is the “base” aerobic development that we have reviewed earlier and is fundamental to all training for endurance sport.

Lactate Metabolic Processes

At the other end of the intensity spectrum, relatively short (1-15 minutes), high-intensity activity will have additional and substantial impact on the development of the heart and it’s ability to pump oxygenated blood out through our “pipes.” Increased cardiac output can be particularly large for those who do not have a history of endurance training or for those who are just returning to training from an extended period away. For those with a consistent long-term training history (think years), increases in cardiac output with such high-intensity training are significantly less dramatic since the upper limit to the potential output (aka VO2max) is considered to be significantly controlled by genetics – i.e. there is a “genetic ceiling” for VO2max that can be approached but not exceeded. As discussed previously, declining VO2max represents one of the “Big Three” limiters to performance for masters athletes. Therefore for the aging athlete, where a progression away from high-intensity training is common, high-intensity training is critical to full development of one’s potential.

Importantly, high-intensity training will also provide the necessary stimulus for improved metabolism of a product of cellular energy production called  lactate. You likely have heard of accumulating lactate as a “bad” thing for endurance performance. It isn’t; in fact lactate plays an essential role in the energy production cycle in humans. We will not go into the details of this here but it is covered in the extended post on this subject at our website Brave Enough.

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.