Nordic: Why does it feel so hard?

Nordic SkiingIn early season, anyone who straps on their cross-country equipment and heads out to the trails will wonder why it feels like such hard work. If you haven’t done much to stay fit in the off-season, the reason is obvious. But even if you’ve done lots of endurance training over the summer, Nordic skiing can still send you into oxygen debt, and you might be wondering why.

Here are three possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: Tom is a good runner, dedicated to training hard throughout the year. He competed in a couple of 10 kilometre races and a marathon over the summer, and thought switching to Nordic for the winter would be easy.

Tom’s endurance for running is excellent, but unlike running, cross-country skiing is a whole body sport. It uses all the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body, as well as the core and back. So instead of just the legs crying out for oxygen, all of these muscle groups are demanding it at the same time. It takes at least three weeks of training, three times a week, at an aerobic pace (easy) to get the energy systems supplying enough oxygen to all of these working muscles. Patience is the key.

Scenario 2: Clare is a cyclist and kayaker from Vancouver who comes to Sun Peaks in the winter to maintain her training. She worked on her upper and lower body throughout the summer, and yet her first few skis were tougher than expected.

Clare is experiencing the difference between working out at sea level, where the air is denser, and at altitude, where there’s less oxygen available to the athlete. Effects are a higher heartbeat and less volume pumped with every beat (stroke volume). The good news is that our bodies adapt to a higher altitude, but it takes a couple of weeks.

Scenario 3: Tyler is a good classic cross-country skier who wants to try skating and figures he’ll be well-prepared for it. His first few times out, he feels like a beginner.

In all sport, the specificity principle states that training should be relevant to the sport which the athlete wants to perform. To be a good cyclist, you must cycle. A runner should train by running and a swimmer should train by swimming. You get the point: just because classic and skate both use skis does not make them interchangeable. There are some similarities in the poling action, but the legs move in an entirely different plane, and push with different muscle groups. The other principle to keep in mind is the 10,000 hour rule — the more we perform certain movements, the better the muscle memory, efficiency, and results.

The common denominators in all of these scenarios are patience and repetition. While there are no quick fixes, we can enjoy the trails on our way to gaining fitness and efficiency.