How do I train between my key races?

ENDURANCE: Training volume drops. Training frequency (number of training outings) can remain unchanged to avoid feeling stale.


  • Frequency: lower the duration of endurance training but keep the number of sessions the same.
  • Duration: lower the number of sessions but keep the duration the same.

INTENSITY: sharpening intervals; fitness has been gained; intervals now are for feeling sharp and fresh, not improving fitness level.


  • Peaking intervals: 3×3 minutes just below LT w/ equal recovery, followed by 3×2 minute above LT w/ equal recovery, followed by 4x30seconds all out with full recovery.

SPEED: same idea as with intervals.

STRENGTH: minimal maintenance strength if any at all.

RACE: achieving your racing goals is the focus.

PLEASE NOTE: it can be good to bump up to a high(er) volume of training between important races so long as the intensity is kept very low. Sometimes using alternative methods of training, running, cycling, etc is a good way to do this. This helps keep the skier fresh, keep the muscles “clean” and “clear.” You have to know yourself to monitor this.


Building Double Pole Capacity with Erik Bjornsen

by Jason Albert,

The 26-year-old Washington native was named to the U.S. Ski Team six years ago, and since then he’s made his way from the development or “D” team ranks to the big leagues — spending the bulk of each winter racing overseas in Europe on the World Cup.

Bjornsen shared the following double-pole-centric workout:

  • Solo, high-focus, double-pole distance session

Find suitable terrain and timing: “I choose the terrain based on how hard I want the workout to be. I try to fit this workout in mid-week between intervals sessions,” he wrote in an email. “The point is to get the biggest benefit without fatiguing the body too much.

“Most often I head up Campbell airstrip road. It’s a five-mile-long road, with a majority of the terrain measuring out at a gentle 5% incline,” Bjornsen continued. “There’s one steeper climb in the middle that’s about 500 meters long. For this workout, I go out and back twice.”

Warmup: 15-minute easy Level 1 (roller)ski to the start.

Go-time: Typically takes him 1 hour and 20 minutes to do the 5-mile section twice.

“The steep 500-meter section is VERY hard to double pole — that portion of the road is something you would for sure stride in a race. During this workout, I try to spend an hour at L2 [Level 2] and end up bumping up to L3 [Level 3] only when double poling up that steep segment (2 X 5min in L3). I like having the two short but demanding double pole sections in this workout.”

The important part of this training session is not the 2 x 5-minute L3 sections, it’s the time before and after that L3 effort. You have to figure out how to get the muscles to recover from the hill while still double poling and determine what gear/tempo to use while still applying power efficiently — and recover at the same time.

Cool down: 15-minute easy ski home.



  • The idea is to work specifically on double pole and upper body strength. You get an opportunity to work on all gears, from long double pole to very quick choppy double pole up the steep section.


  • You can gain a lot from just focusing on two intensity sessions a week. This is a way I find I’m able to gain quite a bit from specific double pole training. But ideally, you don’t fatigue the body so much that it takes energy away from the true intensity sessions.


Teammates Eric Packer (l) and Erik Bjornsen enjoy a clear day for training on Eagle Glacier near Girdwood, Alaska (Photo: Reese Hanneman)




SkiErg Intervals with Sadie Bjornsen

by FasterSkier

If you have a lower-body injury, be it acute or chronic, training for cross-country skiing can be frustrating: there are so many activities which must be cut back if you are trying to protect a knee, ankle, or foot.

Luckily, there are good training options available, especially if you have access to a double-pole machine like an Ercolina or a Concept2 SkiErg.


Sadie Bjornsen, of APU and the U.S. Ski Team, during a SkiErg interval workout at her home in Anchorage, Alaska. (Courtesy photo)


“I use the SkiErg a lot because I fight with feet injuries, and it is a safe escape from ski boots or shoes,” U.S. Ski Team and APU skier Sadie Bjornsen wrote in an email.

Last season, Bjornsen won World Championships bronze in the team sprint with Jessie Diggins. This season, she is back to battling heel spurs. That’s why she has been putting in time on the SkiErg she has at her house, but she sees other benefits to these types of workouts as well.

“The SkiErg can also be really helpful on rainy days, super cold days in the winter, or just days that you want to rock out to some tunes indoors and avoid traffic on the roads,” Bjornsen explained. “It is an easy workout to get the most ‘bang for your buck’ if you have a short amount of time, which I also really like. There is no wasted time tucking on downhills, or coasting across the flats. Instead, you are on power mode from the start to the finish.”

And as numerous research studies have recently shown, double-poling ability and upper-body strength are more and more becoming great predictors of overall ski performance, even in freestyle races.

“I like to do a little intensity in my SkiErg workouts because it helps keep it fun and fresh, and I also think it really helps to build my upper body strength,” Bjornsen wrote. “Our sport has become really upper-body driven, so I feel like I can never get too much upper-body workouts!”

With that in mind, she shared a recent interval workout she did on the SkiErg — it’s bread and butter for Bjornsen. “I like to try to do this workout at least once a week all through the summer, and sometimes more if I am going through a period of struggle with my heel spurs,” she wrote.

It aims for an hour of total workout time.


THE START: “I start my workout with a fifteen-minute warm up. During this time, I often shut my eyes, and visualize skiing. This helps bring in true ski form, and feel my movements, rather than just fall into a ‘SkiErg-specific technique.’”


GETTING SPEEDY: “During this time, I will do some little ten-second increases in power to warm up my back and arms, and get ready to go hard.”


THE WORKOUT: “After fifteen minutes, I begin the workout known as 30-30’s. This means 30 seconds of intervals followed by 30 seconds of recovery, then repeat for 30 minutes. What may feel easy at first, quickly catches up after 10 minutes, so I always start this workout more conservative than feels appropriate.”


KEEPING IT GOING: “After about five minutes of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, I start to see a common number of watts I am exerting during the 30 seconds. This is where I set a goal. Maybe it’s 190 watts I am hitting, I want to continue to reach that level or more for the next 25 minutes of this workout. This becomes increasingly hard around 20 minutes, and requires a certain amount of mental power. The 30 seconds of rest begins to pass too quickly, and I find myself becoming really focused in my own little world… forgetting where I am (maybe a garage, maybe a gym).”


FINISHING UP: “By the end of 30 minutes of 30-30’s, I am pretty worked, and feel like I have just done a race out on the snow. This is when I bring myself back to my surroundings, and finish with a fifteen minute easy warm down to help flush my arms out.”


FINAL THOUGHTS: “Not only does this one hour pass really fast, but it is a really focused workout that feels like it truly helps build specific power. I always make sure I finish this workout with a little five minute walk. This helps flush all my muscles, but also helps make sure my back goes back to moving naturally after a pretty intense workout.”

Hill Bounding With Colin Rogers

Hill bounding, particularly with poles, is one of the most effective whole-body exercises a competitive cross country ski racer can do to prepare for the season. The combination of the body motions that are very similar to that of skiing on snow and the power development required for moving efficiently uphill is hard to beat for off-season ski training.

Although hill bounding can be used for many types of workouts, it is best utilized for higher intensity work such as lactate threshold and VO2 max sessions. By concentrating on bounding form you will ensure that you get the most out of this type of workout.

In the video, Colin demonstrates on the same hill that we use extensively for our training. In addition to using the grassy hillsides shown in the video, we also include longer (20-minute) aerobic and shorter VO2 max workouts up the steep cat tracks to the top of the mountain. We are fortunate to now have this hill (and mountain) right in our back yard. By contrast, when I was on US Cross Country Ski Team, I lived in Cleveland Ohio — not the most noted places for cross country skiing. However, even in Ohio there were some local alpine ski hills that were perfect for these types of workouts. I remember fondly going up and down the hills at “Alpine Valley” in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. So even if you are not in the mountains, look for a local hill, preferably mowed, and have at it!

The whole-body, cross country skiing-like motions are central to getting the most out of hill bounding. Cardio, strength, and technique come together in these sessions and they should be a regular part of your training plan.

– Betsy Youngman

Betsy Youngman is a two-time US Cross Country Ski Olympian (1988, 1992), US National Champion, 1989 Birkie champion, and US Ski Team member from 1987 – 1992. She is now, a devoted master’s skier, coach, Betsy is a 7-time Birkie competitor. Four of her races were top-10 finishes, including one at age 55 in 2015. Outside of the ski season she pursues her other passion- whitewater kayaking throughout the Western US.

Components of Endurance Training for Skiers

Endurance training can be divided into four areas: Basic, Speed, Anaerobic and Endurance-Strength.

Basic endurance training is for improving aerobic capacity and impact tolerance. Such sessions occur at 60-75% maximal heart rate (or, Level 1), depending on the skier’s experience and level. At least one long basic endurance session should be included in your weekly schedule. Basic endurance training should increase gradually throughout the basic endurance period.

Speed sessions are slightly faster than basic endurance training (Level 3/4), and are accomplished in interval format. Heart-rate levels during speed training should be around 75-85% maximum heart rate. Interval sessions can total 21-60 minutes. Each interval can be between 7-12 minutes. During speed training, breathing is accelerated, but only during anaerobic endurance training does breathing rhythm peak. Developing speed is important when training for a marathon, since part of the marathon is actually skiing at speed training pace. Include 1 or 2 speed sessions in your weekly schedule, depending on the time of year.

Interval training is a good choice when you first start working on speed, since it’s easier to keep up a good pace during short repeats and exertion levels are not too high. As you progress, you can add even-paced sessions to your schedule. Cut back on speed training during transition and tapering, when you replace some of the hard sessions with actual racing.

Anaerobic endurance training is generally very hard interval work, aimed at maximizing racing performance and oxygen uptake capacity. To make sure lactic acid levels remain at a manageable level, ski at just below full speed, in other words at 90-95% maximum heart rate, or, Level 4. Each of these intervals typically last 4-6 minutes. Anaerobic endurance training increases as the calendar approaches ski-race season.

For a goal-oriented active skier, including anaerobic endurance training 2-3 times a month is advisable. When tapering, training includes anaerobic endurance and speed work, as well as basic endurance and recovery.

For an active skier, sprint training is fast-paced interval training at 90-100% maximum heart rate. Repeats last 30-90 seconds. Recover for around 5 minutes. Do sprint work during transition and tapering periods. Training frequency is at about 4 times/month.

Endurance-strength is considered another category of endurance training. This type of training is typically done on roller skis during a “specific-strength” workout. These workouts incorporate repetitions between 150-250 meters each along a gradual uphill. There are three main specific strength exercises; double-pole, core-only and single-stick. Double pole is regular double poling, core-only is when the body is propelled by the initial crunch of the arms and torso without a follow-through of the arms and the single-stick is when a skier executes diagonal-stride arms while keeping the legs stationary so that all of the work comes from the upper body. For each exercise there are between 5-12 repetitions, depending on the time of year.

Pacing for Interval Training

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.

The Benefit of Bringing Heart Rate Down Between Interval Sets

The recovery period between intervals is an extremely important part of the workout. It allows us to focus on pushing that race pace without overstressing the body. By breaking up that workload we are able to spend more time in that Level 4 zone without the lingering effects of a full length race effort.

The 120 bpm mark is set to be solidly in Level 1 territory for athletes of all abilities and is used as a mark to show that full recovery is attained between interval sets. One sign of potential overtraining is an inability to recover between sets (an elevated heart rate for many minutes longer than expected). That being said, the 120 bpm mark is arbitrary and not specific to you. We would expect that you take at least 2 min to recover between each interval or until your heart rate is back to Level 1.