Cross-country skiing is associated with aerobic endurance. Although various energy systems come into play while skiing, we tend to think of it as a slow and not particularly demanding exercise. Can strength training really be useful to cross-country skiers? For high-performance athletes and casual skiers alike, I assure you that this type of training does come in handy. About 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to advise cross-country skiers of various backgrounds and levels, and every one of them experienced the benefits of strength training.
Obviously, strength training cannot make up for poor technique. However, greater strength, combined with a very limited increase in muscular volume, is beneficial. But how to approach this type of training? In the past, people thought you needed to develop muscle endurance by doing endless sets with very little rest time in between. Wrong. Although it is smart to progress gradually from smaller weights to larger ones, you should use your maximum strength and do eight repetitions or fewer. Certainly, this type of training may fall outside a skier’s comfort zone, but when the time comes to climb or accelerate, they realize how useful it is.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to observe high-performance cross-country skiers during their strength training workout. The trend is really to develop peak strength. The advantage of this approach is to be able, among other things, to increase strength without increasing body mass. In a sport like skiing, in which the athlete relies on their own locomotion, this balance is key.
Should sports enthusiasts who are not high-performance athletes do the same? “Regular” people rarely have the same needs as athletes, and any type of strength training can prove useful. As long as you don’t gain weight—or else gain very little—go for it. Some people, based on their body type or genetic background, aren’t prone to gaining weight. These people can do as many repetitions as they want. Very muscular people are best to limit the number of repetitions to between six and twelve (those that normally lead to the greatest increase in muscle mass) or, better still, limit each series to a maximum of 20 seconds of effort in total. This approach results in a massive effort, which is far from suitable for the physical shape of most beginners. Beginners should be sure to learn how to do each exercise properly before thinking about getting them done quicker.
To sum up, increasing your strength will prove useful when practising your sport. However, if simply being outdoors makes you happy, cut loose and go play outside!
Link to the article (french only)