Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Above: Julia Kern, 3 time National Champ at JN's displays some powerful skating form

Above: Leah Brams will be a J2 to watch this year

“Train your weaknesses, and race your strengths”

We ski coaches spout this timeless bit of wisdom.  How do we put this catchy phrase into practice?

As part of our club testing program, we have a 100 meter rollerski course marked off on a gradual uphill.  In the past we have done a simple speed test where we time the athletes for a moving start, all-out, solo run on the course. I prefer a moving start since I’m interested in moving speed, not starting quickness.

 For our last test I changed things up by having them do one pass using skate technique with no poles, one pass using full skate technique, and one pass double-pole (in their skate gear).  The results revealed some very interesting weaknesses.  And weaknesses are the low-hanging fruit that we pick to reap the harvest of improvement.

Our best male skier was 12.8 seconds for full technique, but 17.0 for no pole, and 14.4 for double-pole.  Do you hear alarm bells ringing?  His no pole time should be similar to his double-pole time meaning he is about 15% off where he could be.  He has the power in his legs as demonstrated by his running under 10 minutes for the 3,000 meter run.  He will work on technique changes to apply more of his leg power and to lower his full technique time even more.

One of our best female skiers had times of 16.6 for full, 16.6 for no pole, and 18.6 for double-pole. The warning siren blasts the message, “weak arms!”  If she skis no pole as fast she can go full technique then the arms are just along for the ride like a T-Rex chasing its prey.  The solution  is a combination of more specific strength work and technique changes so that she applies power with her arms and core as she kicks.

The final skier I’ll describe is a solid collegiate skier home for the summer and back with our program.  His times were 13.9 for full, 17.5 for no pole, and 17.7 for double-pole.  What I see here is a skier using excellent technique to generate good speed from average fitness in both legs and upper body.  The opportunity for improvement is open if he can do a little more of everything: more specific strength, more intensity, and more distance.

The other skiers in the test were less extreme variations on the three themes described above.  Most skiers seem to appreciate having just one area to focus on for a while.  If I can tell them, “you need more upper body power, focus on that for the next six weeks”, then they will do that, see an improvement, and be inspired to work on what is now their new relative weakness.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Double Poling

Here's a video of some great double poling:

The skier here is Hannah Smith, who just finished her freshman year at Williams after spending 4 years with our CSU program.  The video is from our Double Pole Test.  The test consists of 4 repeats of double poling as fast as possible up a hill.  Times for each repeat range from 2:20 to 5 minutes depending on the age, strength, and ability of each skier.  We sum up the 4 repeats to get a total time.  In this video Hannah is in the process of setting a new course record for females of 11:26 with her fastest rep being 2:41.

What are the elements that make her go so fast?  First of all she has an excellent fitness base and great strength.  At 14 she looked like a stick figure drawing, but with five years of very hard work she is now a very strong 19 year old.  Cross-country ski racing requires a very high level of fitness.  Now that she has the fitness she is doing some really good things technically.  Starting from the lowest position her arms swing up quickly and pull her body up and forward.  Too many skiers stand up first and then swing their arms and lose the chance for momentum in their upward swing.  Her strong upward swing gets her forward and her weight up on the balls of her feet.  She maintains what coach Frank Feist calls the "banana spine" with a good rounding of the shoulders.  Using her whole body she drives down on the poles with arms, core, and legs to get a powerful crunch and drive herself up the hill as her weight goes back on her heels.  Notice the dynamic action of her legs.  Most skiers are double poling with just their arms and maybe their cores.  But, DP is a whole body technique.

Hannah is a great example of the rewards that come from years of hard work and deliberate practice.

And here is some video of the Master of Double Pole, Frank Feist:

Hi Ski World,

I've started this blog so that I can share my coaching ideas, insights, questions, and stories.  I know that I don't have all the answers, but when I figure something out I want to share it.  And, I hope others will share with me what they have learned about coaching.  Eventually, I will put these blog posts together into a book on coaching.  Let the dialog begin!