January 2016 - TRIATHLON • RUNNING • CYCLING • HIKING • PADDLING
By Bob Underwood
Switch It Up and Try Nordic Skiing!
A Great Crossover Workout
It is winter in New York and if you are like most triathletes, runners or cyclists, you are dreading the coming months of monotonous time on the treadmill and/or trainer. Many of us in the endurance world believe that this time of year is a rite of passage that must be done in order to be successful in the coming year of racing. Many of us will say we don’t mind the hours of training indoors, but deep down I know I can’t wait to get outside and off the trainer and treadmill.
Some of us even bundle up and try to ride our bikes all winter. Or lace up the shoes and head out to run on the icy and dangerous roads or trails, all the time freezing and dreading every step or pedal stroke. Triathletes will cry out, what about the pool? That is sport-specific and we can do it all winter in the nice warm gym. For many of us even the hours in the pool become a cage that we need to escape.
Why do we do these crazy sports? We all have a great love of the outdoors and there is nothing better than being out on a beautiful day for a long ride, run or swim. Unfortunately we live in the Northeast and we are forced inside to bike, run and swim. So day after day we head to the gym to do another workout. We tell ourselves this will pay off and we can do it all winter, but as the winter wears on, often times we end up skipping workouts or just going through the motions.
What if there was a sport that would be the perfect crossover for all three disciplines of triathlon? What if we could do it outside all winter? What if it was really fun? What if I didn’t have to worry about counting laps? What if it is really warm out there while you were working out, providing you have the proper clothing?
I have great news for you, there is just such a sport and it is called Nordic skiing. It consists of two techniques: skating and classic. You will not find a sport that taxes your entire body more than Nordic skiing. Many of the highest values for VO2 max have been produced by Nordic skiers. These athletes have crossed over to triathlon and cycling and running, and have reached a very high level in these sports. Nordic burns a huge number of calories and engages the entire body on each stride. While skiing you will increase your core strength and work on muscle groups you do not use during the summer season. All of this gives an added benefit of injury prevention through greater core strength.
As soon as the snow flies, I put my bike and running shoes away and get on the skis. I have done this for my entire life and had very few injuries. I attribute this to the break I take from running, biking, and swimming in the winter. Many of my friends have managed to continue to run and cycle all winter, only to end up with another overuse injury as they get to racing season. Athletes that I coached in running at Queensbury High School almost always were members of the ski team. They would not run a step all winter and many went on to win sectional or state championship titles in the spring. Not only were they fresher as runners, but they were mentally fresh and ready to go when the snow melted. Never underestimate the mental aspect of wanting to get back to the sport of triathlon or cycling or running after a little mental break.
Skate skiing translates very well to cycling since you propel yourself ahead by pushing off to the side with your skis in a V shape. This is the newer and less traditional method of Nordic skiing but is fast and fun. Both cycling and Nordic skate skiing are extensor chain exercises, meaning your propel yourself by extending at the knee and hip. There is also a great deal of lower leg involvement and the primary motion of the push off in the skate is much the same as the push on the pedal. Find me a great Nordic skate skier and I guarantee you can put them on a bike and they will make it fly. Add in the fact that you are engaging your core each time you pole and you have a great exercise that is very specific to cycling. Skating is a little more difficult to get started at first but there is a pretty quick learning curve. Very quickly you will get proficient enough to move along for the entire workout.
Classic skiing is a lot like running on your skis. The only difference is that you get to glide a little more on each step, which makes it a lot more fun. Classic skiing is weight bearing like running so it great for keeping up your bone density. The best part of Nordic skiing is there is no pounding as there is in running. You will have the entire winter to heal up from all those little nagging running aches and pains. Classic skiing is the older more traditional style of skiing with your skis in two tracks in the snow. You glide along in a linear fashion and push off your kick wax to propel you forward.
I am always amazed that at the end of the ski season I can run for just one week, then jump into a local road race, and run nearly my fastest time of the year. My cardiovascular system never seems tired when I start running and the only real transition is getting used to pounding on the pavement again.
Don’t worry swimmers, there is something in skiing for you too. In both skating and classic technique, you use your poles to propel you down the trail as well. Double poling is a great exercise for swimming because you use your shoulders, latissimus dorsi, and triceps to help propel you forward. In poling for skiing you start with your hands high up by your head and pull down and back to your hip while engaging your core as well. This sounds a lot like the pull in your swim stroke. I guarantee that you will feel stronger in the pool after a winter of Nordic skiing.
How do you learn to Nordic ski? We have some great local Nordic ski areas that offer rentals and lessons, and can get you started off on the right foot. Check out Lapland Lake in Northville, Garnet Hill Lodge in North River, Mt. Van Hoevenberg or Cascade in Lake Placid, Dewey (rentals only) in Saranac Lake, Pineridge in East Poestenkill, or Osceola Tug Hill in Camden (rentals only).
Over the last few years the Adirondack Triathlon Club has a ski night each week on Monday nights. We ski at Crandall Park in Glens Falls and meet just behind Inside Edge Ski and Bike shop at 6pm. The trails are free and have lights on until 9pm every night. In addition the Friends of Cole’s Woods, our local group who grooms the trails, is offering free ski lessons every Monday at 6pm in the month of January to people who want to learn how to skate or classic ski. You can rent skis from Inside Edge during the day and return them the next day. Take a lesson or two and you will be on your way.
There are also some great videos out there to help you learn. There is a YouTube video from XC Zone that’s a super introduction to both techniques (youtube.com/watch?v=Cqo3yu-j890). The classic technique is the easier to learn as you can just start by walking along on your skis. Once you get this down, progress to skating. Skating is a little more difficult to get started at first, but there is a pretty quick learning curve, and soon you will be gliding along. It won’t be effortless, but that is the objective, to get a great workout.
For equipment, let’s face it, we are athletes and therefore gear junkies. Start with a good pair of “combi” boots that you can use for both skating and classic. These boots have a higher boot cuff than normal touring boots, and give you some extra added support, so you can push off in the skate. You will need poles and skis so go to a ski shop that specializes in Nordic. Make sure you tell them you want to skate and classic. Thankfully we can wear a lot of our same cold weather biking gear to ski in so we don’t need an entire new wardrobe. Avoid cotton or anything that soaks up water, because you are going to fall every once in a while. My best advice is to get a good warm pair of Nordic ski gloves or mittens. Nothing is worse than cold hands when you are out there trying to get in a workout.
You will need skis and poles, so go to a ski shop that specializes in Nordic: Inside Edge and Sports Page in Glens Falls, High Peaks Cyclery and Cascade in Lake Placid, Garnet Hill in North River, and Lapland Lake in Northville. Plus, these alpine shops carry Nordic skis: Alpine Sport Shop in Saratoga Springs, High Adventure and Play It Again in Latham, Plaine in Schenectady, Collamer House in Malta, and Steiner’s in Glenmont, Valatie and Hudson.
Can you still swim, bike, and run during the winter? Of course, but pick your days and most of the time get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Find a friend to ski with and challenge each other to work hard out there on the trails. You will be happier and your brain will be rested and ready to go when the snow finally melts. Imagine a year without those mind numbing sessions staring at the video screen and halfheartedly working out… Have fun this winter by getting outside to ski!
Bob Underwood (email@example.com) has coached cross country running, Nordic and alpine skiing, and track and field for 30 years. He still races in triathlon, Nordic skiing, running, kayaking and canoeing – and has done so for more than 40 years. Bob and his wife Heidi, who also does all of these things, live in Kattskill Bay.