Skip navigation

Running vs Skiing Technique?

Mon, May  14, 2012 - By Jim Galanes for

With permission from


I recently attended a presentation on good running form (for runners, not skiers) at a local REI. While there seem to be some parallels between good running form and classic skiing (hips forward, general forward lean, etc.), the major difference seems to be in stride length. In classic skiing, we're taught to "kick the soccer ball" (and by the way, I wish you guys would come up with a different analogy, for those of us who've never kicked a soccer ball), which I interpret as reaching out with the foot, for maximum stride length. Good running form, on the other hand, places more emphasis on having the foot land underneath you, and not reaching out with the heel. After incorporating what I learned from that presentation into my own running, I've noticed a marked improvement over my old (Nordic influenced) style (as evidenced by better per-mile pace, with no perceived increase in energy expenditure). Long question short: Have there been any discussions of the similarities and/or differences between running form (for people who are competing as runners, not just training for skiing) and classic ski form?

J in Colorado

This will be an interesting question to answer.

There are a couple of parallels between good running form and classic skiing technique. From a relative perspective, the body position is similar in that high forward hips and the "falling forward" feeling are similar for both running and skiing. However, in skiing the body position is lower and the upper body more rounded, projecting forward, to allow for optimal poling power. The notion you present that we are taught to "kick the soccer ball" is completely flawed. The use of that analogy or image should be taken out of all coaches vocabularies and coaching methodologies! The most important concept to grasp is that power developed in the kick phases in both running and skiing determines speed, not stride length. Stride length increases with speed but for all practical purposes does not efficiently increase speed itself.

Through the kicking phase, the running kick and the skiing kick are very similar. The kick is quick and relaxed; the goal with a quick kick is to decrease ground contact time. It is only at the completion of the kick phase in skiing, when we drive the leg forward that causes acceleration into the glide phase.

I think it is great that you have worked hard on your running form. I believe that there benefits to your skiing if you utilize similar concepts in the kicking movements. In my personal experience, there was a direct correlation between running speed and my potential skiing speed. As I coach, I utilized extensive running drills to improve running form and efficiency. There are many carry-over benefits to running faster at the same relative intensity that will lead to physiological improvements, improved economy and muscular function.

In particular, when coaching classic skiing I ask my clients to simply and quickly run up the hill for a few repetitions on their skis. And, do so with a focus on landing on the ball of their foot and quickly moving off of it (like running). But then a departure from the running analogy begins because of the need to accelerate the glide to carry momentum over distance. Once they achieve the concept and feeling of a quick, relaxed kick, we begin to focus on acceleration onto the gliding ski.

At the elite level there are many examples of skiers who are very fast runners, but for obvious reasons the opposite, fast runners will be fast skiers, is not true. To answer your question, yes I have had much discussion over the years with other coaches, in particular Dick Taylor, Jim Stray-Gundersen, and John Caldwell, relating to the similarities in movement patterns between running and skiing. While there are closely related similarities between classic ski technique and running technique as we have discussed there are many differences. Those critical differences are:

  • the need in XC for substantial upper body power production,
  • acceleration on to a gliding ski,
  • the need for balance,
  • coordination of movements,
  • agility

All point out the demand for a more than a running model to explain classic ski technique. My advice, enjoy your running, work on technique, but don't forget the strength training and roller skiing to allow for more complete skiing development. And, leave the soccer ball at home!

Jim Galanes
Galanes Sport Lab Institute