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Vasa Ergometer: Increase Poling Power in Less Time?

Thu, Jun  7, 2007 - By Rob Sleamaker

Rob Sleamaker is not only the owner of Vasa, Inc., but the highly respected author of SERIOUS Training for Endurance Athletes (Recommended!)

Specific ski poling strength and the ability to sustain high poling power output is essential for success in nordic ski racing. Biomechanical studies of uphill ski-skating have determined that up to 60 percent of the effective uphill force impulse is derived from poling! Yet many skiers lack both attributes and do not train adequately to improve their weaknesses. Training upper body strength and power becomes critical if a skier wants to improve their performance.

What are the best ways to accomplish this? When weighing all pros and cons, it can be useful to consider the cost to benefit ratio when comparing training methods. Safety, convenience, time savings, productivity or ability to perform meaningful sports-specific work, motivation, useful feedback, etc. need to have some "value" attached when comparing methods and the out of pocket costs of each. Of course, everyone has different needs so the weight of each variable will differ somewhat to consider those needs.

Rollerski Safety

Consider safety as a training variable. Roller skiers are faced with many safety issues (cars, uneven terrain, chasing dogs, cows in the road). Roller skiing does not provide feedback on power output and often there can be a lot of wasted or unproductive time while roller ski poling (travel to good roads for roller skiing, terrain is not consistent for double poling long enough to develop sustainable power, etc).

Most master skiers and especially elite skiers, don't want and can't afford a serious injury as a result of a roller skiing crash. I recall Bill Koch once remarking at a clinic, and I paraphrase, "Cross country skiing on snow is one of the best and safest overall sports, yet dry land training for Nordic ski racing can be one of the most dangerous and unsafe sports."

As Mike Muha has written on the website, many skiers are also faced with "Juggling work, family, training & racing", so time is always a premium for most masters skiers. In this society, time is money and money can buy precious time.

Ergometer Better than Traditional Training?

An interesting question for me is this: Is it possible for masters and elite skiers to achieve more productive, safer and more meaningful workouts using an upper body ergometer for single & double poling than other traditional training methods, including roller skiing? If yes, will this more productive training translate into increased sustainable power and therefore, faster skiing? Is it race distance specific or will these benefits apply to Sprinters as well as marathoners?

Here's a thought to consider - Triathlon and swim coaches have found the Vasa Ergometer to be a highly effective training tool for a wide variety of reasons - some of which parallel skiers' needs. Using the Vasa Ergometer to train triathletes for the swim has become a complete paradigm shift compared to the conventional methods many follow now.

Triathlon coach Al Lyman ( reports that at least 10 triathletes he coaches use the Vasa Ergometer nearly exclusively for their allotted swim training. They get wet only a handful of times in a season (excluding the races). Each athlete now trains less than half what they previously spent training for the swim and they are doing it at home, on their own schedule. Every athlete reportedly swims much faster and with more sustainable power. Every one of them has set PR's for their swims since beginning on the Vasa Erg.

Coach Lyman recently presented these findings at a USAT coaches education clinic and referred to the Vasa Ergometer as "cutting edge training equipment" and stirred up a lot of interest from his no nonsense, time saving approach to cutting out the fat and excess of typical triathlon swim training methods while focusing on what really matters - improving sustainable power while maintaining efficient technique.

As a former skier, coach, exercise physiologist, inventor of the Vasa Ergometer and asker of many questions, I cannot help but wonder if Coach Lyman's paradigm shift would, in principle, work for Nordic skiers? I'd like to see those still coaching and racing put it to the test.

Comparison of Training Tools

If one listed a full compliment of training tools that people could use to increase ski-specific poling endurance, sustainable power, strength and arm speed, the list would include rubber tubing, home made roller board, a Total Gym, a Vasa Trainer, a Concept 2 indoor rower on end against a wall using Dick Taylor's U-shaped handle for double poling only, the Italian Ercolina poling machine, the Ski Pull Trainer from Finland, or finally, a Vasa Ergometer front end mounted on a wall. The training tools on this list fall into the "fair, good, better, best" scenario and the training effectiveness value may match the dollar value. You get what you pay for.

Northern Michigan University's Assistant Cross Country Ski Coach Jenny Ryan single poles on the team's wall-mounted Vasa Ergometer


To my knowledge, only the Concept 2 and the Vasa Ergometer have electronic displays which provide reliable and repeatable performance variables, like power in watts, stroke rate, pace, time, distance, etc. Only the Vasa Erg allows single poling with Force measurement for right and left.

An Erg with a reliable performance monitor provides a distinct advantage: the repeatable measurements from one workout to the next and from one Ergometer to another. Athletes and coaches can accurately compare times for set distances, which prove very useful for motivation, indoor racing, challenges, and periodic testing.

Although a skier will derive great benefit from the Vasa Ergometer configured with rear stanchion, seat and monorail, nordic skiers will achieve best poling range of motion when the Erg front end is mounted higher on a wall, hence allowing the skier to use a body position similar that experienced while poling on snow. This requires more precise use of the strong core muscles in concert with correct timing and stroke rate. I would assert that advanced skiers would benefit from Erg poling while wearing ski boots and skis or roller skis to destabilize the stance, thereby forcing a recruitment of more ski-specific muscles used to maintain balance.

(Note: Vasa will offer a wall mount bracket soon)

Some top nordic ski programs have been using the Vasa Ergometer for double and single poling training with positive results. They mounted the front end up higher on a wall bracket or a Smith machine frame to achieve an ideal poling range of motion.

My guess is that nordic skiers will dramatically increase sustainable ski poling specific power in LESS training time if they followed a systematic program using an effective upper body Ergometer.

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