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Sten & Jen Do It Again!

Tue, Jun  27, 2006 - By Mike Muha

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Next to Kensington Metropark, Island Lake State Park, and the Huron Valley hike-bike trail. Easy access to I-96. The perfect location for the endurance athlete!

Sten Fjeldheim and Jenny Ryan paid a second visit to southern Michigan in as many years, bringing their wisdom and excellent teaching ability to the coaching-starved masses of cross country skiers. We had skiers from Michigan, Ohio, and New York.

The two days were spent largely on skate and classic technique. We watched the technique of World Cup and Olympic skiers on DVD, simulated technique standing in place on the grass, practiced technique through ski walking and bounding, and rollerskied to emulate snow skiing as much as possible. Because we were video taped on rollerskis, Sten and Jen were able to show us exactly where we need to concentrate our technical work in the months ahead.

Skate Day

Saturday was skate day. The coaches brought a projector to show DVD's of proper V1, V2,and V2 alternate technique from recent races. Sten or Jen would slow-mo through  a section of video, describe it, than demonstrate the technique at the front of the classroom. Each technique was broken into components: the starting position, the initial crunch, what happens with the arms, how the legs, torso and hips move. We'd then view the video again for reinforcement of the lesson.

Jenny Ryan demonstrates the V1 starting position while Sten Fjeldheim points out the aspects of the position.

After a 10-minute warm up run, we practiced balance and agility drills by stepping, jumping, hopping, and ducking under various hurdles the coaches had set up. Sten said these were excellent drills to learn the balance and strength necessary to ski over uneven terrain and particular over icy and hard-pack conditions. "Do enough of these and icy or greasy trail conditions won't be a problem for you."

Mike Muha working the tall hurdles

We next did skate progression drills. Standing on the grass, we simulated pieces of skate technique, progressively adding additional movements until we were simulating the entire skate motion. We added some dynamic strength exercises, including plyometrics (my legs are still sore). The finish was an 8-minute core/abs routine that left several skiers with a sore abs the next day!

After lunch, we grabbed the rollerskis and headed across the street to a paved bike path that led up a mile long gentle climb. Instructing us to throw our poles into the grass, Sten and Jen first led us through a series a rollerski skate drills up the hill. We skated uphill without poles and no arm motion, then added V1, V2, and V2 alternate poling emulation. The coaches worked with each skier to get the timing right.

The key concepts we practiced were the basic start position, the importance of flexing the ankle forward, and maintaining pressure on the ski by keep a static knee angle (i.e., you don't want to open the knee during the skate except at the very end, when you sharply kick the foot out and forward, straightening the knee).

Julie Houle and Jen Ryan work on V1 starting position

The hardest concept to learn was to put the ski down with the ankle / knee bent so pressure can be applied to the ski immediately. Many of us had previously been taught to standup on the ski, then compress in early years.

Another difficult concept was to learn to crunch down on the skis rather then bending at the waste. In skating, you want to load the skis by pressing down hard. Sten used the visual of standing on a bathroom scale. To see how high you can make the scale go, you crunch directly down on the scale as hard you can. This is exactly what you need to do on skis.

Donning poles, we practiced each technique a couple times, then were video taped from the front and side. We divided into two groups of 10, each group having it's own video camera. This allowed each skier to get more individualized attention and made the video taping process go quickly.

We lucked out: it was mostly sunny and in the high 70's - beautiful weather for rollerskiing instruction.

Back inside, we viewed the video tapes. Because we'd used two video cameras, we also used two TVs for viewing. Participants furiously scribbled the coach's comments on their technique.

Location, Location, Location

We had the perfect location: an air conditioned club house with kitchen facilities, a big grassy area with a gentle hill just outside the door for strength and dryland drills, and miles of rollerskiing just across the road. The whole camp happened without anyone having to drive anywhere. We guaranteed maximum time with the coaches.

Food was delivered for lunch, and E-Caps / Hammer Nutrition provided HEED sport drink in twin 5-gallon coolers for the entire weekend.

Curt Peterson: Drink up!

Classic Day

Sunday was similar to Saturday: we viewed DVD's of Olympic skiers doing classic technique, then did classic dryland progression drills, and then jumped on the rollerskis to practice.

The progression drills started by practicing diagonal stride arm swing. We then added compressing at the ankle as our arms passed each other. Leg swing was added next. We eventually graduated to kicking one step forward.

Sten clearly emphasized  that the "kick" in diagonal stride was straight down onto the ski - it is not a kick back or forward. You "kick" down with all your weight (think trying a maximize the reading on a bathroom scale) then step forward.

Sten demonstrating kick doublepole

After that, we walked to the bottom on the hill and ski walked several laps without poles. The coaches worked closely on correcting each skier's technique as they ski walked.

We then did several laps of bounding before adding ski poles to the mix. Ski poles definitely made bounding feel more powerful. Sten and Jen looked closely to verify that our poles started in the correct position.

Rollerskis in hand, we again hit the bike path, practicing doublepole and kick doublepole - an interesting experience for several skiers who had never been on classic rollerskis before!

Doublepole has evolved from the old days when we used to fall on our poles and push through using our triceps. Sten taught that we should keep our elbows in a static 90 degree position as we crunch down to a 45 degree angle, then use the shoulders to pivot the arms back. We snap our elbows open using the triceps only at the end of the doublepole, when the upper arms have already move back. Core, shoulders, then triceps - in that order!

Steve Kuhl, Randy Kessler, Jeff Moore, Ken Roth, and Ryan Robinson working on kick doublepole.

Quite a bit of time was spent with kick doublepole. Many skiers had trouble getting the timing right. When we later looked at videos, some people had made startling improvements between the first time they were video taped and a second taping a few minutes later. The difference? One of the coaches worked with individual between tapings.

Before we went back inside, we did several sets of single-stick strength exercise on rollerskis. Essentially, we diagonal-strided up the gentle hill without using our legs. We initiated the poling motion with a little abs crunch as the poles crossed by each side, planted the front pole, and pushed it all the way back. The goal was to get free glide with every pole. Stronger skiers could get free glide on steeper sections of hill; others need flat sections. Sten clearly implied that doing this exercise throughout the summer would make for huge gains in both our skating and classic skiing this winter.

After lunch, we went over some basic training physiology using prepared slides. This led to setting up a treadmill and determining the lactate threshold of one volunteer. Steve Kuhl from Team NordicSkiRacer won the drawing to do the test. Steve ran on the treadmill. Every four minutes, Sten and Jen would take a blood sample using a Lactate Pro device to get a lactate level, record Steve's heart rate from a monitor he was wearing, then increase the speed and slope of the treadmill. The test ran for several iterations until the lactate levels curved sharply up. Using the results, Sten showed how to determine Steve's training zones for over-distance (Level 1), distance (level 2), and threshold (Level 3) training.

Jenny increasing the incline on the treadmill while Sten takes a blood sample from Steve Kuhl

The end of the clinic was spent reviewing everyone's rollerski technique from the video camera. Everyone walked away with an understanding of what flaws needed to be corrected, whether it be major timing issues or minor tweaks to optimize performance.

Fortunately, this clinic was early enough in the year that we have time to work on technique all summer. We have time to break old habits and ingrain new neuro-muscular adaptations. I've already heard from one skier who went out rollerskiing immediately after work on Monday to reinforce the weekend's info before he forgot it. He added: "You should all be VERY worried!"

Congratulations to Ken Roth for winning a pair of Ski Skett Shark skate rollerskis from the Cross Country Ski Shop in Grayling!

Special thanks t

  • Randy Kessler for packing his treadmill into his Subaru for the lactate threshold demonstration on Sunday.
  • Ryan Robinson for buying coffee both mornings and for use of his TV for video playback.
  • Jeff Moore for bagels and cream cheese on Sunday morning.
  • Jill Muha for preparing and delivering lunch on Sunday (Thanks Honey!).
  • Everyone who stayed around to help clean up afterwards!

Thanks to our sponsors:

  • E-Caps / Hammer Nutrition for supplying sport drink for the clinic and for providing multiple samples to every skier, and for door prizes.
  • The Cross Country Ski Shop, your source for Jenex and Ski-Skett rollerskis and supplies, for the pair of rollerskis won by Ken Roth.
  • The Cross Country Ski Headquarters for door prizes for the clinic.
  • Kensington Park Apartments for letting us use their facilities beyond their normal hours.