Contributing Editor for The Master Skier
Lee Borowski is a master skier and sports writer from Brookfield, Wisconsin. He is a coach, author and sports video producer. He was Nordic Coach of the Year 1989. He is the author of Ski Faster, Easier and The Simple Secrets of Skating- video and booklet.
This article is the first of four excerpts from Lee Borowski’s new book Optimal Cross Country Ski Training - Update your skiing for the 21st century.
Its focus is to update ski training in the light of modern scientific principles.
While this material had been available to the elite, it had not reached the general public.
This book takes a rather complex area and boils it down into a useful and readable form for the skier who does not have access to the high-tech crowd with their lactate testing and power measurements.
The following article was designed for the Master Skier and includes excerpts from Lee’s book.
For information on ordering, see ad, in this issue, page 39.
Nicolai Zimyatov did math tables in his mind at Lake Placid as he turned in one of the most dominating performances in Nordic skiing at the Olympics.
Do you feel as detached and comfortable when you race, or even when you ski hilly terrain with your friends?
Or are you sucking gas, legs and arms turning to concrete when the going gets tough?
You may not be able to ski as fast as “The Zim,” but proper modern training will allow you to feel as comfortable at speed.
Most skiers never learn to race in “The Pleasure Zone,” hurting most of the time.
Yet correct training, and it doesn’t have to be of Olympic proportions, can easily condition you to love skiing fast.
While skiing slow and easy is certainly enjoyable, flying over the snow, is the ultimate XC pleasure.
And the good news is that enjoyment at speed doesn’t require huge hours. You can probably train/ski the same amount you presently do. It is a matter of just changing your training zones.
This is not the standard prescription of LSD plus intervals. Owning a heart rate monitor and using it correctly are two different things.
Most skiers use their monitors as a governor that virtually guarantees that they will never race to their potential.
SPEED AT THE LACTATE THRESHOLD
There is one overwhelming principle, above all, that determines how fast we race and that is SPEED AT THE LACTATE THRESHOLD (LT).
This is the general premise of my book and all training guidelines are geared with that goal in mind.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a painful way to train and done properly in a graduated fashion allows a skier to remain in the “pleasure zone”.
While definitions may vary, most define the LT as the average pulse for a evenly run 60 minute race or time trial. This is also called the “Lactate Curve Deflection Point.”
At a pulse above this point the lactate curve takes a sudden rise.
Usually this upward deflection occurs at about 4 milliMols/l but varies from skier to skier.
This “arbitrary” lactate threshold (LT) is specific to a time of one hour and is generally chosen since it is the upward limit for an aerobic workout.
At higher pulse rates, lactate buildup forces the body to prematurely slow down.
The first step is to determine YOUR LT, so YOUR training zones can be determined.
If you know your average racing heart rate, great. If not, you can use data from a time trial. Sixty minutes is a grim time trial for most, and many are not in shape to even achieve a steady hour at race pace. Instead, a 20 minute time trial may be substituted.
This pulse will probably be slightly high, so you can subtract about 5 beats from the 20 minute time trial average to get your reference.
LT. TRAINING IN THE SUB LT ZONE.
Many never train in the zone just under the LT, the very zone needed to race fast.
For some reason the Sub LT area has become the forbidden zone for skiers - keeping all their distance work at a very low pulse rate.
Then, in Fall and Winter intense short intervals are added (at a pulse considerably greater than the LT), dousing the body in a lactic acid bath.
The problem with the LSD system is two fold.
First, extreme excess lactic acid destroys the very endurance enzymes needed to go fast for long distances.
Note: Hard intervals will often create lactate levels 2 to 3 times that acquired in an hour race. Much of the benefit from the LSD workouts may be negated by extremely intense intervals.
Second, these intervals are very stressful so they require more rest.
Rest plus high intensity is certainly the formula for peaking, but high intensity with high volume is definitely the prescription for illness.
Note: There are some remarkable individuals who may thrive in that environment but they are few and far between.
However, the most fundamental weakness of the LSD/interval method is that almost no time is spent in the very zone needed for racing, at and around the lactate threshold (LT).
YOUR SPRING AND SUMMER PROGRAM
So your first training goal in the Spring through Fall Is to gradually increase the time spent in that zone just under, but not over, the LT.
This is done 1-3 times a week and much of my book, Optimal Cross Country
Ski Training, shows how to increase speed and power in that zone. Since the blood lactate level never gets very high in the sub LT zones, the pitfalls of high intensity “acid bath” intervals are avoided.
By September, you should be able to comfortably train in this zone for at least 20-30 minutes of your entire session.
Your workout schedule will have two or three stressful days, then rest recovery. Your MAXIMUM pulse on easy (recovery) days should be 20 to 30 beats below the LT.
One Sub LT session a week should be in the LT to (LT - 10) pulse rate zone. The other one or two should accumulate time in the (LT-10) to LT-20 range.
If you have access to a hilly course, let the climbs naturally bring your pulse into the desired range.
In these workouts it is wise to let your pulse drop well down on the flats and gradual hills.
A workout with 30 minutes at about five beats below the LT can be comfortable or BRUTAL. Comfortable, if you just cruise the rest of the course. BRUTAL, if you push the flats and gradual hills.
At first you may have to walk up the steeper hills.
In the spring, before my best racing season, I had to stop on most hills on our steepest roller ski course. By fall, I was flying over all of these same climbs and at a much lower pulse rate.
So be patient and let the workouts come to you. Don't force it. Try to stay in the “pleasure zone.”
Just remember that on your two to three harder days, it is the time spent within the sub LT zone that determines the length of the workout.
The time needed will vary with type of terrain and your skiing speed on the easier sections.
All other workouts will be capped AT LEAST 20 beats below the LT. In the next issue of The Master Skier (Early Fall) we will look at how to increase your speed at the LT to prepare for racing. See you then.
For more articles like this one, subscribe today to The Master Skier.