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Strong like Bull: Specific Strength Training

Mon, Jun  7, 2010 - By Andrew Gerlach

Thanks to for letting us republish this article.

Elite, recreational and novice skiers alike can increase their enjoyment and performance this winter by working on ski specific upper-body strength and strength endurance.

Whether you are racing, touring or backcountry skiing, arm, back and stomach (core) strength are essential to making the most of your outing, avoiding bogging down on steep sections or with slick wax, and gaining considerable time on your opponents (who aren't as well prepared as you). At the same time, while there is a place for beach muscles, that place is not at km 40 of the Birkie. Here are a few methods to gain strength that is specific to cross-country skiing.

Novice and Recreational skiers

Folks just getting into cross-country skiing and those who ski recreationally - even those blessed with bulging biceps, can struggle on skis simply because they haven't built up the proper muscle groups in the proper way. The key is doing many repetitions using ski specific muscle groups. This doesn't require a trip to the weight room, or any equipment, or for that mater much an investment in time. Some favorite skier exercises are dips, crunches and sit-ups, pushups and, (gulp) pull-ups.

Dips can be performed with a chair or, if you're strong, two chairs. Simply sit on the chair normally and grip the chair's seat on either side of your rear with your hands (so the heels of your hands sit flush on the chair). Stretch your legs out before you or prop them up in front of you on another chair (makes dips harder). Slide your butt off the chair so that your arms support the bulk of your weight. Bend your arms at the elbows as if you were lowering yourself timidly into a hot tub. Rapidly straighten your arms, as if the tub is too hot - and repeat. To make dips easier pull your legs in so that they support more of your weight.

With pushups, keep your hands and elbows narrow to focus on the back and triceps rather than the chest. With both exercises, go from a near straight arm to a 90 degree bend. To make pushups easier support your weight on your knees rather than your toes, or do pushups against a wall instead of the floor.

Pull-ups can be done in any playground, on a laundry pole, a stout tree limb, etc... to make pull-ups easier, put your feet on a chair to support some of your weight. In general you want to be quick on the up motion and slower on the lowering motion. Do one to three sets of 20 to 40 repetitions of each exercise.

Stomach work is quite important and doing a variety of crunches and sit-ups in a virtually non-stop and varied routine of 5 to 10 minutes will yield big results in only a few weeks (Barb Jones, 4th on the current Olympic selection list, does an 8 minute routine of 8 exercises of a minute each, almost every morning. The routine includes a variety of stomach crunches and leg lifts). The whole workout can take as little as 10 to 20 minutes - and, done 2 to 5 times a week will really make skiing easier and more enjoyable.

Recreational skiers (as well as racers) will also benefit by using ski poles for hiking and running in the weeks before skiing. Kayaking and other upper-body intensive work is also recommended, but don't forget to try to combine upper and lower-body work in a ski specific fashion for maximum crossover effect.


Racers can incorporate all of the above into a circuit routine and will benefit by visiting a weight room 2 to 3 times a week and working on a more balanced selection of muscle groups as well as including a few power and maximum strength exercises into the routine - in addition to doing ski specific, endurance oriented lifts and exercises.