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.

Differences in Upper Body Power Between Men and Women

Q: I was recently watching… a biathlon world cup race on TV and one of the commentators said that the distribution of power between arms and legs is about

· 60% arms / 40% legs for men and

· 35% arms / 65% legs for women

I was shocked/surprised by the 60% arms / 40% legs for men; I know that strong arms (and core!) are important but I didn’t think arms take up so much more of the work load. I am far from being a pro, but I can hold my own in races and I am pretty fit, yet I feel like I exert nowhere close the 60% arms / 40% legs level, if anything I feel like I would be in the 60% legs / 40% arms area (or maybe 50/50, although I have no way of measuring this). But then again, I may well have a bad technique.

N.B.: BTW, I am referring to skating, not classic.


A: The best response to your question comes from a 2015 study by Hegge et. al. where they took 8 elite male and female skiers to find if upper body power was augmented by increasing exercise intensity, and if there was a difference between genders.

They found that a higher lean mass in the upper body of men meant:

1) A higher power output
2) A higher 1-repetition maximal weight lifting in a strength exercise
3) A higher peak aerobic capacity

They also found that during upper body exercise, men came closer to to their whole-body VO2max than women (76% vs. 67%).

Now, for the exact gender-based distribution between the arms and legs during skating, I am not sure. But the research from the article mentioned indicates that you can certainly obtain a high percentage of overall power from the upper body alone, and that elite men consistently show higher upper body power output than elite women, so it is possible that the commentator was on the right track.

Article Source: Are Gender Differences in Upper-Body Power Generated by Elite Cross-Country Skiers Augmented by Increasing the Intensity of Exercise?

Hegge AM, Myhre K, Welde B, Holmberg HC, Sandbakk Ø (2015) Are Gender Differences in Upper-Body Power Generated by Elite Cross-Country Skiers Augmented by Increasing the Intensity of Exercise?. PLOS ONE 10(5): e0127509. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127509

Max VO2 Intervals (General vs. Specific)

General Max VO2 intervals are race pace intervals and work the cardiovascular system using a non ski specific mode (i.e. running, biking, swimming, etc).

Progressively work into the intervals until you hit your desired pace at the 30 sec mark. Make sure you are not starting them all out.


Specific Max VO2 intervals are race pace intervals and work the cardiovascular system using skiing or activities that simulate skiing very closely (i.e. classic/skate rollerskiing, bounding with poles, classic/skate on snow skiing).

Determinants of Performance

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Vo2 Max. Maximum oxygen uptake (Engine Size – how big is the engine?) This is the ability of the circulatory system to transport oxygen and of the muscular system to extract and use oxygen. Vo2 max is an excellent indicator of aerobic fitness, but a poor predictor of performance within a homogenous group of athletes.

Lactate Threshold. (RPM’s – how high can you race the engine?) Lactate threshold (LT) is the ability to continue using the aerobic system to replenish ATP at high speeds. It is expressed as power output at LT, velocity of LT or percentage of Vo2 max. LT is one of the best predictors of endurance performance.

Economy. (MPG – how many miles per gallon does your engine get?) Economy can be defined as the amount of oxygen that it takes for an individual athlete to go a given speed. More economical athletes will have a lower oxygen cost at a given pace relative to a less economical athlete. This can explain why an athlete with a lower VO2 max can still outperform an athlete with a higher VO2 max. Economy is one of the best predictors of endurance performance.

Strength. Strength is defined as the maximum force that can be produced in one all out effort. Muscular endurance is related to being able to maintain a submaximal force repeatedly.

Source: SkiPost

Related Posts:


Fall-Winter Season Intervals?

Q: Throughout the summer I’ve focused on Lactate Threshold interval training. What is the best way to continue the interval training as we transition into the fall/winter season? Should the focus go towards VO2 Max intervals? Should the overall “on” time decrease or maintain steady?

A: This is a very complex question to answer due to the confusion around the definition of lactate threshold, its purported benefits and costs of this method of training when contrasted to the potential benefits of other forms of training. In my opinion many of the often stated benefits of this type of training are not amply proven in science.

In my experience and in the majority of current research what we once thought of as the benefits of this type of training are in question. I believe there is some value in this sort of training in early periods of the training year, and for long distance races where the primary benefit of this type of training is on efficiency or economy. While there is no doubt that virtually all training can have some positive effects for endurance sports we should consider a cost benefit analysis. In other words minimizing the cost and maximizing the benefits. In the case of threshold training due to the required duration of training and with less than optimal benefits the cost is quite high.


Jim Galanes of Galanes Sports Systems

So the time to start with VO2Max Intervals is now. I recommend that you start conservatively, one session per week to ten days depending on fitness level and not more than 5-10 minutes of hard work time. Then over time you can first increase the volume of intervals in each session, followed by increasing the number of sessions. We have also found that for those not used  to doing these type of intervals it can be a bit easier to learn how to do them effectively by starting short, 30 seconds on/30 seconds off and gradually building the duration over several weeks. It is important that for these intervals to be optimally effective that they have to be done very hard, 90-95% of maximum heart rate. You heart rate will not get to that level as it takes the heart rate and oxygen deliver systems some time to ramp up to meet the energy demands. A good pacing strategy for these it is think of doing these at a pace you could sustain for 4-6 minutes and after a couple of minutes of intervals you will be right in the desired range.

Jim Galanes   


Skier Self Analysis

Place a check in the box on the right that best agrees with the statement on the left.

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Checks moving from upper left to lower right indicate strength in Endurance and a weakness in speed. Checks moving from upper right to lower left indicate strength in speed and a weakness in endurance. Checks pushed right in the middle of the graph indicate a high-end fitness weakness, such as low VO2, lactate threshold and/or poor economy. Only testing at a qualified lab can determine where your physiological weakness in this zone lies.

You can gain some beneficial information from analyzing your performances in your five best and five worst races. See if you can find trends that might help indicate your strengths, weaknesses (area’s of greatest opportunity) with regard to fitness, strategy, diet and your race and pre-race habits. Things to consider are the race distance, technique, individual or mass start, snow and weather conditions (cold/warm, soft/hard tracks), course type (hilly, flat, steep, gradual), strategy (start hard/easy, attack the hills or ski an even tempo), nutrition (general, morning of, day before), other (travel, sleep, emotional state, race size.)

– SkiPost.com


Will Max Heart Rate Go Up When Doing Level 4 Week After Week?

The answer to this is generally yes but not always. Ultimately, the most important aspect is that your pace is improving at the same heart rate. Also, you should find that you can maintain that intensity longer as time goes by. One’s max HR changes with time and fitness, so the lactate / VO2 testing and approximation to race paces for intensity approximation is more valuable than simply HR.

None the less, yes, you should find yourself maintaining high HRs for longer periods of time. The goal is to increase your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. This means that you can sustain higher percentages of your max heart rate – whatever number your personal max HR is.

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Substituting Cycling for Skiing During Training and Competition

I used to compete in a few mountain biking, triathlon and trail running race events in the summer months when I was a ski competitor. Each competitor will find balance between competition and training. Competition is an opportunity to test how well training is progressing as well as provide opportunities to test our tactical strategies in a real race setting. I found through experience that there is a balance that one must find between competition and training. Maintaining peak race fitness unfortunately can not be done all year long, so preparation, pre-competition and competition phases are necessary to develop, identify and plan out in your training.

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Bryan Fish, U.S. Cross Country Ski Team Development Coach

My primary sport was always skiing and hence the summer events (namely mountain races and trail running races) were means of breaking up the standard mode of ski training to keep things fresh both mentally and physically.

First, it’s critical to set priorities. Is cyclo-cross going to become your primary sport in that period or is cyclo-cross a means of training for cross country skiing? The difference here will be the number of work outs that will be substituted from ski training to cycling. There are not right or wrong priorities here, but it is important to set what your priorities are for the upcoming year.

Secondly, timeline is also important. What are the dates cyclo-cross competitions will take place? Cyclo-cross is September through mid-December here in the US and Cyclo-Cross World Cup is Sept-early February.

It is important to understand what systems of the body are trained similar and different when evaluating cycling and skiing. There are a few key ideas to keep in mind as you substitute cycling for skiing during some of your training and competition.

The cardio-respiratory system is the mechanism that transports blood, oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. This system is a pump and is increased and decreased with effort. This system is not sport specific and hence going hard on the bike and hard on skis is not recognized by the cardio-respiratory system. Hard is hard regardless of the sport. This is important as it relates to substitution of training modality.

The peripheral skeletal system does recognize differences in modality of training. The movements and muscles (motor units) recruited for cycling versus skiing are different. It is also important to understand how motor units are recruited. The body recruits slow twitch (aerobic) at low intensity and an additional contribution of fast twitch (anaerobic) motor units are added as intensity increases. The percentage of fast twitch to slow twitch motor unit recruitment continuously increases as intensity increases. Therefore we need to train both low intensity and high intensity for both sports. The priority will go to the sport you are presently participating in.

Following the lines of point number 2, cycling is generally non-weight bearing while skiing is a weight-bearing activity. This means that a majority of the time is spent in the bike saddle. The core and particularly lower abdominals and hips are worked differently in the saddle versus activities that are weight-bearing (standing up) like running and skiing. Cyclo-cross has more weight-bearing activities due to the dismounting, running and pedaling out of the saddle. In short, the movements and muscles (motor units) recruited are somewhat different.

Competition duration. Race time is a critical aspect to look at as well. 5km running races are like max VO2 efforts while most cycling races are over an hour (and often 1.5 to 3 hours) long. Bike racing requires a strong emphasis on threshold while a 5 km running race places the emphasis on max VO2. Substituting threshold training with cycling efforts is important.

Two efforts that are critical to substitute skiing for cycling is the threshold training and over distance training. Cycling events require a high demand on the aerobic system and threshold. It is important to get in continuous hours both at low and high intensity on the bike.

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Bryan Fish, U.S. Cross Country Ski Team Development Coach


Summer Training – The Build Up

Cross-country skiing is a primarily aerobic sport. The best way to develop your aerobic system, and even your higher end fitness (V02 max and lactate threshold) is with easy to moderate (60 to 80% of max heart-rate) intensity distance (45min to 2hr) sessions. This type of training comprise about 80% of the training load, even for elite ski racers.

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This being true, it is also the case that the training week should be built around one to three harder training sessions. A harder training session is either a short hard session or a long easy session.

For instance many programs are built around two interval sessions and one long (3hr) easy (heart rate around 70% of max) session. Your body adapts to a certain stress after 4 to 6 weeks and so if you don’t change that stress, doing what you have already been doing will only serve to maintain what you have built.

It can be helpful to look toward your racing season and plan backward. You should end up with a plan that builds toward the racing season. The basic idea is to build your aerobic base over the summer, work on more race like aerobic and anaerobic fitness in the fall and early winter, and race fast in the winter.

In the summer then you would consider doing mostly easy to moderate intensity workouts with one session a week of harder training, and some strength training. As the summer/fall/early winter goes on you extend the duration of the workouts gradually, making sure you get lots of rest so that you are getting stronger and feeling better rather then getting more and more tired as the summer goes on.

There is a lot of training material out there, but this is the basic idea: training breaks the body down, rest builds it back to a level higher than before training. Remember REST builds the body up.

by SkiPost.com


Correlate Training Intensity to Consistent Race Intensities

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 2.04.55 PMTo preface, it is important to note that everyone is different and any “correlation” have deviation. Some athletes have a narrow heart rate range (130-170bpm) while others have a very broad range (100-200bpm). Using a percentage scale on these two extreme situations makes it challenging for both the coach and the athlete. This is why we test blood lactate and/or VO2/CO2 kinematics. We are ample to achieve thresholds and estimated break points to set training zones. We encourage you to do the following in the mean time to set your training zones:

  • VO2 max training is approximately equivalent to a steady state max effort for a race lasting 12 minutes.
  • Determine your heart rate/ effort for a steady state for a 30minute event. This is a good level 4 pace for this time of the year and the really hard VO2 max efforts can be added in October or November to dial things up a notch.
  • Determine your heart rate/effort for a steady state 45-90min time trial. This effort is approximately equivalent to your lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold. This is your level 3 pace.
  • Finding MAX Heart Rate – This is painful, but do a couple L4 intervals to work up and then find a steep hill of about 60-90 seconds long and sprint up it as hard as you can. This will get your max HR. Personally, I don’t think finding one’s max HR is that important if you have a good understanding of HR at the 3 previous paces above.

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