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Sten & Jen Hot Coaches at GRNST Racing Clinic

Bend at the ankle, drive the knee...

Wed, Jun  29, 2005 - By Mike Muha

Sten & Jen Hot Coaches at GRNST Racing Clinic

Northern Michigan University Ski Coach Sten Fjeldheim and assistant coach Jennifer Ryan put on a demanding two-day race clinic in Grand Rapids on behalf of the Grand Rapids Nordic Ski Team. Strongly focusing on correct technique, the coaches broke skating down into components and had drilled participants on each component. A combination of drills, direct feedback while rollerskiing, bounding and ski walking, and extensive video analysis was invaluable. Many skiers came away from the two days with an extensive list of drills to try and techniques to practice. For many - including myself, it will change the way we ski.

Sten breaking down V2 into specific drills

The first day ran long, and we started the second day early. Still we ran out of time to do classic rollerskiing and classic video analysis. I think that people were so saturated with new information that no one had an issue with this!

Jenny was fairly quiet, but Sten more than made up for it with his strong personality and occasionally outrageous stories. Sten's approach was direct: do it his way. There was no beating around the bush, no long academic explanations. To get the most out of this clinic was to shut up, do what he said, and ask questions later. Some may have been put off by this, but most found it refreshing.

And Sten has the credentials: both Domestic and Development Coach of the Year, and coach to most of the top 10 women in the US this year.

I shut up and did what he said.

Sten reinforces what he taught during the dryalnd drills

What I liked best about the two days was how Sten and Jen broke technique down into parts and demonstrated how making a mistake in one place led to a chain of events that kept you from going faster. Frequently, we'd be spread out in a large circle around Sten and Jen while we did drills, only to be brought in closer to the center when something important was to be said. This kept as focused.

Rather then give a day by day blow of what was covered in the clinic, I thought I'd briefly discuss a few themes the coaches covered, and give you a flavor of how they taught the class.

It's all about the pressure

Sten driving the knee forward and down to keep pressure on the skating ski.

In skating, says Sten, it's all about maintaining pressure on the skating (pushing) ski. In the old days, racers would try to power their way through the skate, jumping from skate ski to skate ski. In the new skate, an efficient skier maintains pressure on the skate ski.

I'm not going to do this justice, nor am I going to cover everything Sten said. For people who took the clinic, this will help you remember what Sten showed. For everyone else, its much easier to learn from example and have someone watch you than it is to read about it.

  • The glide leg lands with a pronounced ankle bend, the thigh relatively upright rather than in a squatting position. Hips are forward and high.
  • The skate in initiated by driving the knee forward by bending more at the ankle, then rotating the knee to the inside. The ski automatically accelerates before the leg even pushes on it.
  • Pressure is maintained on the ski by sustaining the ankle and knee bend. The push goes to the side, not behind. Straightening the knee releases pressure from the ski and robs the ski of momentum.
  • At the end of the skate, snap the foot forward. Don't toe off. Toe-off results in the ski pushing back instead of to the side, which causes the to body twist, which results in slower rather than faster velocity.

Mantra of the clinic, repeated over and over: Drive the knee forward and down. Bend at the ankle, not the waist. Maintain the bend during the push. Squeeze down through to your skis through the entire push.

Sunday morning discussion on training

How did Sten and Jen get us to internalize this lesson? First, we did a series of progressive dryland drills that introduced the concept, starting with bending up and down at the ankle, adding a step from one foot to the other, adding a knee roll, adding arms, then putting in a crunch.

Next, we put on our rollerski and practiced V2 and skating without poles. The coaches watched each skier, giving advice as need, demonstrating concepts, skiing behind to watch a skier, or in front of a skier to provide a model. Everyone was video taped from the front and the side.

We took a substantial chunk of time analyzing the video. Sten and Jen specifically pointed out where a skier lost pressure on the ski and why, where the skier pushed back or toed off instead of pushing out and forward, and where the skier need to apply more ankle bend, or need to move their hips over their ski more.

We repeated the same dryland practice, rollerski, video taping, and analysis with V1 again focusing on keeping the pressure on the ski.

Steve Smiegel Sr. hopping to it

Ankle bend again became a prominent focus the next day when we did classic bounding and ski walking up the slopes of the Pando Ski Area. It was bend the ankle to drive the knee forward and down all over again.

If we just didn't have to use poles...

A second theme was pole positioning. Many of us began our pole plant in the wrong position - particularly in V1. Starting in the wrong position caused a chain of events that robbed power, including body twist, body rock, and pushing in the wrong direction. A reminder to everyone practicing V1:

  • Hang side: upper arm up and out, hand beside head.
  • Weak side: hand in front of shoulder.
  • Both: Elbow at a 90 degree bend.
  • Both: the pole tips land in a line perpendicular to the trail. As the terrain gets steeper, the tips land further back. In easy terrain, they land near the balls of the feet.
  • Both: poles land near the foot/ski, not way out to the side.

Many if not most of the skiers in the clinic walked away with an extensive list of things to work on.

Change takes conscious effort

The video analysis proved that all of us required technique work. Many skiers had ingrained bad habits that felt natural. Sten said these habits were difficult for many people to change. Change required a conscious effort until the neuromuscular adaptation takes place. He suggested standing in front of a mirror and practicing until the movement felt natural, or having a friend remind you to focus on the correct technique while rollerskiing.

V1 hand position

Clearly, Sten and Jen felt is was absolutely critical to focus on quality not quantity. Better to rollerski one hour focusing on technique than to ski two hours without that focus. Skiing with good technique more than makes up for a lower level of conditioning. You can still ski fast with poor technique, but it requires many extra hours of training.

The rest...

We covered many other issues: The F-Factor explaining how skating works (look for an academic paper coming out of NMU), an explanation of the three training systems (neuromuscular adaptation, periperal or muscular adaptation, and central or heart adaptation), planning a training schedule with limited training time, core strength, plyometrics, balance, stretching, general vs. specific strength - the list goes on and on.

Saturday night was cookout night at the Brumbaugh's. Ernie and Carole had the pontoon boat out for a cruise to escape the heat, then the grill was fired up. It was BYO meat/chicken/fish and lots of beer. We got to hear more stories from Sten and Jen plus a few waxing secrets. It was a little hard getting up early Sunday morning to continue training.

Overall, an excellent camp.

Additional articles, photos, and video from the camp forthcoming...