The Evolution of Champion Cross-Country-Skier Training: From Lumberjacks to Professional Athletes

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Øyvind Sandbakk
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Competitive cross-country (XC) skiing has traditions extending back to the mid-19th century and was included as a men’s event in the first Winter Games in 1924. Since then, tremendous improvements in equipment, track preparation, and knowledge about training have prompted greater increases in XC-skiing speeds than in any other Olympic sport. In response, this commentary focuses on how the training of successful XC skiers has evolved, with interviews and training data from surviving Norwegian world and Olympic XC champions as primary sources. Before 1970, most male champion XC skiers were lumberjacks who ran or skied long distances to and from felling areas while working long days in the woods. In addition, they trained as much as possible, with increased intensity during the autumn, while less work but more ski-specific training and competitions were done during the winter. Until the 1970s, few XC skiers were women, whom coaches believed tolerated less training than men did. Today’s XC skiers are less physically active, but the influence of both science and the systematic approaches of former athletes and coaches have gradually taught XC skiers to adopt smarter, more goal-oriented training practices. Although the very high VO2max of world-class XC skiers has remained the same since the 1960s, new events in modern XC skiing have additionally required superior upper-body power, high-speed techniques, and tactical flexibility. These elements also emerge in the training of today’s best skiers; women’s physiological capacities and training routines especially seem to have improved dramatically.

The author is with the Center for Elite Sports Research, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

Address author correspondence to Oyvind.sandbakk@ntnu.no.
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