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Last Updated: Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 10:44:13 AM

Ski Walking and Walking Imitation of Cross Country Skiing
Dryland Exercises to get the Season Started Right

Posted November 1, 2004

Before I got serious about skiing I would anticipate the ski season but not actually prepare for it. When the snow came there was a "recovery" period until I reached the level of skiing I was capable of the previous season. I often suffered minor injuries and had really sore muscles. The more I got into skiing and teaching others I found it important to begin a ski season in good shape and with good technique. This is helpful to all of us but is doubly important for those of you who want to race.

I used roller skis to simulate skiing both classical and skating techniques. In late fall of 1994, however, I suffered a severely broken leg in a roller skiing accident that put a real damper on that ski season. I had surgery to repair the leg and didn't get the cast off until January 7th. I asked the Doc what activities I should avoid. "Don't do any running for a few weeks," he replied. I took that to mean I could get on skis right away. I spent the rest of the week relearning how to walk and the next weekend did some easy classic skiing. By Birkie time I was able to complete the race, although my leg was weak and still hurt some. I roller skied again in subsequent years but found myself afraid of another crash. I began looking for alternatives.

At a dryland clinic Nikolai Anikan, Olympic Gold and Bronze Medalist and World Cup Silver Medalist, taught me a great alternative to roller skiing. The bounding imitation of diagonal stride with poles is the culmination of a series of specific exercises that include ski walking, walking imitation of skiing, bounding imitation of skiing and bounding imitation of skiing with poles. All of these are done in the classical technique but there is much similarity to the basics of skating.

The main thing is to get into a regime of exercises that include body movements specifically related to Nordic skiing. The more specific the exercise the easier will be the transition into actual ski technique when you get on snow. Anyone who loves Nordic skiing, especially skiing on groomed trails will benefit from these exercises. It's definitely not too late to get started this season. If you ski only on weekends these exercises can be done during the week to help build more strength and improve timing and relaxation. Keep in mind these are not exercises just for racers. They will help anyone ski better and avoid fatigue and early season injuries.

WaWalglking Walkialking
Left: Jennie has good forward lean seen here as her feet and hands pass each other. Her near leg is flexed and the foot is flat just as push-off begins. Her far leg is swinging forward in a relaxed, natural, pendulum motion. Center and Right provide straight on views of her relaxed shoulders on the side where her arm is behind. Push as if poling then relax the arm and should letting it follow through naturally.

Ski walking begins to approximate the body positions of the diagonal stride. Start by walking with a good forward lean. Include a longer step and an arm extension like the diagonal stride. Hold your head in a relaxed neutral position with a point of vision approximately four or five feet in front of you. Lifting your head high will results in tension and a reduction in muscle efficiency. Go ski walking on your favorite trail. Remember to completely relax each arm at the end of the swing and let it come forward in a fully relaxed pendulum motion. Your upper body should rise and fall with each arm swing. Since this motion comes from a good diagonal stride technique you can visualize it by watching some of the videos from Soldier Hollow during the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics. Transfer the motions observed in the video into your dryland technique. Remember, though, relaxation of the arms while swinging forward is the key.

As you begin to feel better and more relaxed in your early efforts of ski walking you can include more aspects of the diagonal stride. Add a complete push with your leg. Keeping your foot flat until the push-off has begun is important. So is a completely relaxed forward swing of the leg following push-off. The stronger push off will result in a longer step, greater than three feet for most people. Your legs should feel the stretch with each forward reach and push-off. The forward foot is planted with an almost straight leg.

During the entire ski walking phase it is essential to maintain good forward lean. Standing up straight is great for ballet but terrible for skiing. If you view yourself on video, or use your shadow for a poor persons video, you should see your upper body lean forward forming a more or less straight line from your head, through your back and down your rear extended leg. This lean can be approximated by falling forward from the feet.

After your rear leg pushes off your back relaxes and becomes a little rounded, your shoulders relax and become rounded, your rear leg relaxes and begins to swing forward and your opposite arm continues to follow through. Your hip also relaxes immediately after the push-off. The forward arm swings pendulum-like to a position ahead. As the forward arm swings down the arm straightens at your side and continues to swing with little bend to the rear. Practice this motion frequently. It aids transfer to the motions of the diagonal stride on-snow.

Once you feel relaxed in ski walking, progress to a walking imitation of the diagonal stride. Continue to practice ski walking but add more extension to the arm swing. The arm swing now approximates the arm swing of almost all cross country skiing motions. Different techniques require modifications from this basic position but all ski techniques begin with this relaxed natural motion.

Add a stronger push-off with the rear leg and more reach with the forward leg. Keep your rear foot flat even longer, well into the push-off. The heel of the rear foot should stay on the ground until almost full extension. This allows the opposite hip to be pushed up and over the forward leg by the push-off. A common error here, as well as on-snow, is to bend the rear foot and leg too soon or too much. The rear leg should be straight right after the push-off and only flex slightly when it relaxes. It should swing forward pendulum-like from the hip with only a relaxed bend at the knee. Remember this is not a running motion, it is a walking imitation of skiing. Bending the rear leg too much after push-off will prevent your hip from going forward resulting in a sitting back position. You'll waste too much energy staying upright and at the same time your push-off will be weaker. Longer steps are possible when the hip moves forward with the leg.

These movements aren't easy at first. If you're really serious about skiing be sure to have a coach or ski instructor "check you out." The basic diagonal stride is easy to learn but more advanced motions require practice, practice, practice and more practice. These exercises have become annual part of my transition from fall into winter. Poles can be used for an even better approximation of the diagonal stride. I'll cover the next steps in this sequence of exercises leading to the final Bounding Imitation of the Diagonal Stride with poles next time. If you have any questions on ski walking send me an email.

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Bounding Imitation of Cross Country Skiing
Posted November 8, 2004

If this is your first visit to Ralph's Nordic Web read my discussion of ski walking and walking imitation of cross country skiing in my post of November 1, 2004. Practice the walking imitation for a while then have a coach or ski instructor who is familiar with these training techniques check you out to make sure you have it right. Some of the most important aspects to consider are timing, relaxation, rhythm and body position. To add more realism to dry-land training techniques move up to the bounding imitation of skiing.

Left: Ski walking; Center: Bounding Imitation; Right: Bounding Imitation with poles.

Bounding imitation requires the ability to accomplish good walking imitation of skiing but adds an even stronger push-off. You'll now experience flight as you have both feet off the ground for brief periods. Good skiers doing this technique will be off the ground for four to six video frames or 1/5 of a second. Bounding imitation is best practiced on long gradual uphills. Be sure to rest between runs and let your heart rate recover.

Finally use your classic length poles and practice bounding imitation with poles. You'll cover more distance. Be sure to maintain the relaxed extended arm swing practiced earlier. The pole is planted just behind the forward foot. The arm is flexed at pole plant, flexes a little more during the first part of the pole push, then begins to straighten. The arm is straight when it is next to the body and continues to push on the pole in a follow through that lasts until well after the push-off of the rear leg. This exercise is very ski specific and can be done in almost any park or ski area. Each push-off (either foot or arms) is a quick strong push that is immediately followed by relaxation and follow thorugh. Recovery of either the arm or leg is with a natural relaxed pendulum like motion. Learn to relax. Don't waste energy by keeping tension in your foot when it is not needed. You might need that energy at the 45 km mark of the next marathon you ski! Remember, relaxation is the key to great fast skiing. Learning to relax your muscles during recovery phases of the various techniques, both skating and classic, will definitely move your skiing up to another level. Don't use a running motion. Running involves bending and lifting the rear leg instead of the natural relaxed pendulum motion. What we are trying to accomplish here is a movement that is as close as possible to the diagonal stride. The running motion cannot be done when you have 4-6 foot long boards attached to your feet!

Bounding Imitation with Poles
Beginning with the left frame, the far leg is completing the push-off. A straight line could be drawn from the foot through the upper body. In the second frame the leg has flexed slightly as it relaxes and begins to swing forward in a natural pendulum motion. The far pole has been planted at a point behind the near foot. In the third frame the legs and hands pass. There is good forward lean from the ankles up and the angle of the lower leg matches the angle of the upper body. In the last frame on the right the near leg has just completed push-off.

There are other concepts that transfer to on-snow skiing. You can achieve more speed by lengthening the stride. This does not mean you are pushing harder, it means that you are stretching further, letting your hip relax and move forward with the forward leg thus using your energy to cover more ground in the same time period. When on snow, lengthening your stride will result in longer glide phases. You'll cover more ground with each push off and become more efficient with your use of energy.

Another subtlety is a pre-load of the leg just prior to the push-off. This is the last and most difficult thing to achieve both in the bounding imitation with poles and when actually classical skiing on snow. The pre-load depends on the timing and completion of all of the other motions. It is accomplished by a slight flexing of the forward leg following completion of the push-off of the rear leg. This pre-load can be compared to the bend of the knees just before the jump in a basketball jump shot. It is also an extremely important part of all skating strides. This pre-load and push-off provides a much greater push in the direction of travel (down the track) instead of upward. I consider the pre-load the culmination of good ski technique. When I teach skiers I focus on all that comes before. There is usually plenty of important items to work on there. When students achieve good timing, relaxation, rhythm and body position then it is time to really focus on pre-load and speed.

Other skiing motions can be approximated on dry-land with varying amounts of success. The double pole motion can be practiced but actually pushing with poles is impossible. The skating techniques of V-1, V-2 and V-2 alternate can be accomplished as dry-land techniques much like bounding imitation with poles but since skating is so glide dependent I don't feel that these really make the best use of training time. The keys to these skating movements are the pre-load and push-off with a straightening leg followed by a relaxed pendulum swing of the leg; the push-off and relaxed pendulum-like forward swing of the arms; and the forward compression of the upper body to add strength and power to poling.

Pole length: It's apparent in the bounding imitation with poles that when the poles are too long they interfere with many of the classical skiing skills. In general poles should be of a length to easily fit in the armpit when standing off of your skis. The armpit rule is fine for all but the most dedicated ski racers. At the elite level many racers use poles 5 cm longer for very flat courses and 5 cm shorter for hillier courses. I continue to see far too many skiers with poles that are of shoulder length or longer for classical technique. This decreases efficiency of the diagonal stride and makes learning more difficult.

There is a similar comparison for skating length poles. I suggest a pole up to the chin for beginners and recreational skiers to facilitate learning. Use poles that come up to the mouth or the upper lip as your technique and speed improves. Again the more hilly the course the shorter the pole.

Dryland Classical Technique Review
1. Ski Walking
Ski walking is an exaggerated form of walking that begins to approximate the body positions of the diagonal stride. There is a longer step, good forward lean from the ankles and an arm extension like the diagonal stride. The head is held in a relaxed neutral position.
2. Walking Imitation of the Diagonal Stride
The Walking Imitation of the Diagonal Stride is a closer approximation of skiing than ski walking. There is a stronger push-off, a longer stride, more forward incline and a greater extension of the arms. The rear foot remains flatter longer during the push-off.
3. Bounding Imitation of the Diagonal Stride
Bounding imitation of the diagonal stride includes a very strong push-off where the rear foot remains flat until almost the full extension of the leg, a long stride, good forward lean, full extension of the arms to simulate poling and relaxed forward swing of the arms and legs in a natural motion.
4. Bounding Imitation of the Diagonal Stride with Poles
Adding poles to the bounding imitation of the diagonal stride produces a very close approximation to actual skiing. The pole is planted just behind the foot due to the lack of glide but in actual skiing the pole would be planted even with the foot.
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