Cross-country (XC) skiing is one of the most demanding of endurance sports, involving protracted competitions on varying terrain employing a variety of skiing techniques that require upper- and/or lower-body work to different extents. Through more effective training and extensive improvements in equipment and track preparation, the speed of cross-country ski races has increased more than that of any other winter Olympic sport, and, in addition, new types of racing events have been introduced. To a certain extent this has altered the optimal physiological capacity required to win, and the training routines of successful skiers have evolved accordingly. The long-standing tradition of researchers working closely with XC-ski coaches and athletes to monitor progress, improve training, and refine skiing techniques has provided unique physiological insights revealing how these athletes are approaching the upper limits of human endurance. This review summarizes current scientific knowledge concerning the demands involved in elite XC skiing, as well as the physiological capacity and training routines of the best athletes.
Øyvind Sandbakk and Hans-Christer Holmberg
Øyvind Sandbakk and Hans-Christer Holmberg
Cross-country (XC) skiing has been an Olympic event since the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Due to more effective training and tremendous improvements in equipment and track preparation, the speed of Olympic XC-ski races has increased more than that of any other Olympic endurance sport. Moreover, pursuit, mass-start, and sprint races have been introduced. Indeed, 10 of the 12 current Olympic competitions in XC skiing involve mass starts, in which tactics play a major role and the outcome is often decided in the final sprint. Accordingly, reappraisal of the success factors for performance in this context is required. The very high aerobic capacity (VO2max) of many of today’s world-class skiers is similar that of their predecessors. At the same time, the new events provide more opportunities to profit from anaerobic capacity, upper-body power, high-speed techniques, and “tactical flexibility.” The wide range of speeds and slopes involved in XC skiing requires skiers to continuously alternate between and adapt different subtechniques during a race. This technical complexity places a premium on efficiency. The relative amounts of endurance training performed at different levels of intensity have remained essentially constant during the past 4 decades. However, in preparation for the Sochi Olympics in 2014, XC skiers are performing more endurance training on roller skis on competition-specific terrain, placing greater focus on upper-body power and more systematically performing strength training and skiing at high speeds than previously.
Kerry McGawley and Hans-Christer Holmberg
Cross-country-ski races place complex demands on athletes, with events lasting between approximately 3 min and 2 h. The aim of the current study was to compare the aerobic and anaerobic measures derived from a short time trial (TT) between male and female skiers using diagonal cross-country skiing.
Twenty-four highly trained cross-country skiers (12 male and 12 female, age 17.4 ± 1.4 y, body mass 68.2 ± 8.9 kg, height 174 ± 8 cm) participated. The submaximal VO2–speed relationship and VO2max were derived from an incremental ramp test to exhaustion (RAMP), while the accumulated oxygen deficit (AOD), peak VO2, and performance time were measured during a 600-m TT.
The female skiers took longer to complete the TT than the males (209 ± 9 s vs 166 ± 7 s, P < .001) and exhibited a lower relative anaerobic contribution (20% ± 4% vs 24% ± 3%, P = .015) and a higher fractional utilization of VO2max (84% ± 4% vs 79% ± 5%, P = .007) than males. Although there was no significant difference in AOD between the sexes (40.9 ± 9.5 and 47.3 ± 7.4 mL/kg for females and males, respectively; P = .079), the mean difference ± 90% confidence intervals of 6.4 ± 6.0 mL/kg reflected a likely practical difference (ES = 0.72). The peak VO2 during the TT was significantly higher than VO2max during the RAMP for all participants combined (62.3 ± 6.8 vs 60.5 ± 7.2 mL · kg−1 · min−1, P = .011), and the mean difference ± 90% confidence intervals of 1.8 ± 1.1 mL · kg−1 · min−1 reflected a possible practical difference (ES = 0.25).
These results show that performance and physiological responses to a self-paced TT lasting approximately 3 min differ between sexes. In addition, a TT may provide a valid measure of VO2max.
Matej Supej, Kim Hébert-Losier and Hans-Christer Holmberg
Numerous environmental factors can affect alpine-ski-racing performance, including the steepness of the slope. However, little research has focused on this factor. Accordingly, the authors’ aim was to determine the impact of the steepness of the slope on the biomechanics of World Cup slalom ski racers.
The authors collected 3-dimensional kinematic data during a World Cup race from 10 male slalom skiers throughout turns performed on a relatively flat (19.8°) and steep (25.2°) slope under otherwise similar course conditions.
Kinematic data revealed differences between the 2 slopes regarding the turn radii of the skis and center of gravity, velocity, acceleration, and differential specific mechanical energy (all P < .001). Ground-reaction forces (GRFs) also tended toward differences (P = .06). Examining the time-course behaviors of variables during turn cycles indicated that steeper slopes were associated with slower velocities but greater accelerations during turn initiation, narrower turns with peak GRFs concentrated at the midpoint of steering, more pronounced lateral angulations of the knees and hips at the start of steering that later became less pronounced, and overall slower turns that involved deceleration at completion. Consequently, distinct energy-dissipation-patterns were apparent on the 2 slope inclines, with greater pregate and lesser postgate dissipation on the steeper slope. The steepness of the slope also affected the relationships between mechanical skiing variables.
The findings suggest that specific considerations during training and preparation would benefit the race performance of slalom skiers on courses involving sections of varying steepness.
Kim Hébert-Losier, Kurt Jensen and Hans-Christer Holmberg
Jumping and hopping are used to measure lower-body muscle power, stiffness, and stretch-shortening-cycle utilization in sports, with several studies reporting correlations between such measures and sprinting and/or running abilities in athletes. Neither jumping and hopping nor correlations with sprinting and/or running have been examined in orienteering athletes.
The authors investigated squat jump (SJ), countermovement jump (CMJ), standing long jump (SLJ), and hopping performed by 8 elite and 8 amateur male foot-orienteering athletes (29 ± 7 y, 183 ± 5 cm, 73 ± 7 kg) and possible correlations to road, path, and forest running and sprinting performance, as well as running economy, velocity at anaerobic threshold, and peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) from treadmill assessments.
During SJs and CMJs, elites demonstrated superior relative peak forces, times to peak force, and prestretch augmentation, albeit lower SJ heights and peak powers. Between-groups differences were unclear for CMJ heights, hopping stiffness, and most SLJ parameters. Large pairwise correlations were observed between relative peak and time to peak forces and sprinting velocities; time to peak forces and running velocities; and prestretch augmentation and forest-running velocities. Prestretch augmentation and time to peak forces were moderately correlated to VO2peak. Correlations between running economy and jumping or hopping were small or trivial.
Overall, the elites exhibited superior stretch-shortening-cycle utilization and rapid generation of high relative maximal forces, especially vertically. These functional measures were more closely related to sprinting and/or running abilities, indicating benefits of lower-body training in orienteering.
Billy Sperlich, Christoph Zinner, David Trenk and Hans-Christer Holmberg
To examine whether a 3-min all-out test can be used to obtain accurate values for the maximal lactate steady state (vMLSS) and/or peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) of well-trained runners.
The 15 male volunteers (25 ± 5 y, 181 ± 6 cm, 76 ± 7 kg, VO2peak 69.3 ± 9.5 mL · kg−1 · min−1) performed a ramp test, a 3-min all-out test, and several submaximal 30-min runs at constant paces of vEND (mean velocity during the last 30 s of the 3-min all-out test) itself and vEND +0.2, +0.1, –0.1, –0.2, –0.3, or –0.4 m/s.
vMLSS and vEND were correlated (r = .69, P = .004), although vMLSS was lower (mean difference: 0.26 ± 0.32 m/s, 95% CI –.44 to –.08 m/s, P = .007, effect size = 0.65). The VO2peak values derived from the ramp and 3-min all-out tests were not correlated (r = .41, P = .12), with a mean difference of 523 ± 1002 mL (95% CI –31 to 1077 mL).
A 3-min all-out test does not provide a suitable measure of vMLSS or VO2peak for well-trained runners.
Øyvind Sandbakk, Silvana Bucher Sandbakk, Matej Supej and Hans-Christer Holmberg
This study examined the influence of turn radius on velocity and energy profiles when skidding and step turning during more and less effective downhill turns while cross-country skiing. Thirteen elite female cross-country skiers performed single turns with a 9- or 12-m radius using the skidding technique and a 12- or 15-m radius with step turning. Mechanical parameters were monitored using a real-time kinematic Global Navigation Satellite System and video analysis. Step turning was more effective during all phases of a turn, leading to higher velocities than skidding (P < .05). With both techniques, a greater radius was associated with higher velocity (P < .05), but the quality of turning, as assessed on the basis of energy characteristics, was the same. More effective skidding turns involved more pronounced deceleration early in the turn and maintenance of higher velocity thereafter, while more effective step turning involved lower energy dissipation during the latter half of the turn. In conclusion, the single-turn analysis employed here reveals differences in the various techniques chosen by elite cross-country skiers when executing downhill turns of varying radii and can be used to assess the quality of such turns.
Dennis-Peter Born, Billy Sperlich and Hans-Christer Holmberg
To assess original research addressing the effect of the application of compression clothing on sport performance and recovery after exercise, a computer-based literature research was performed in July 2011 using the electronic databases PubMed, MEDLINE, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science. Studies examining the effect of compression clothing on endurance, strength and power, motor control, and physiological, psychological, and biomechanical parameters during or after exercise were included, and means and measures of variability of the outcome measures were recorded to estimate the effect size (Hedges g) and associated 95% confidence intervals for comparisons of experimental (compression) and control trials (noncompression). The characteristics of the compression clothing, participants, and study design were also extracted. The original research from peer-reviewed journals was examined using the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) Scale. Results indicated small effect sizes for the application of compression clothing during exercise for shortduration sprints (10–60 m), vertical-jump height, extending time to exhaustion (such as running at VO2max or during incremental tests), and time-trial performance (3–60 min). When compression clothing was applied for recovery purposes after exercise, small to moderate effect sizes were observed in recovery of maximal strength and power, especially vertical-jump exercise; reductions in muscle swelling and perceived muscle pain; blood lactate removal; and increases in body temperature. These results suggest that the application of compression clothing may assist athletic performance and recovery in given situations with consideration of the effects magnitude and practical relevance.
Øyvind Sandbakk, Guro Strøm Solli and Hans-Christer Holmberg
The current review summarizes scientific knowledge concerning sex differences in world-record performance and the influence of sport discipline and competition duration. In addition, the way that physiological factors relate to sex dimorphism is discussed. While cultural factors played a major role in the rapid improvement of performance of women relative to men up until the 1990s, sex differences between the world’s best athletes in most events have remained relatively stable at approximately 8–12%. The exceptions are events in which upper-body power is a major contributor, where this difference is more than 12%, and ultraendurance swimming, where the gap is now less than 5%. The physiological advantages in men include a larger body size with more skeletal-muscle mass, a lower percentage of body fat, and greater maximal delivery of anaerobic and aerobic energy. The greater strength and anaerobic capacity in men normally disappear when normalized for fat-free body mass, whereas the higher hemoglobin concentrations lead to 5–10% greater maximal oxygen uptake in men with such normalization. The higher percentage of muscle mass in the upper body of men results in a particularly large sex difference in power production during upper-body exercise. While the exercise efficiency of men and women is usually similar, women have a better capacity to metabolize fat and demonstrate better hydrodynamics and more even pacing, which may be advantageous, in particular during long-lasting swimming competitions.
Laurent Mourot, Nicolas Fabre, Erik Andersson, Sarah Willis, Martin Buchheit and Hans-Christer Holmberg
Postexercise heart-rate (HR) recovery (HRR) indices have been associated with running and cycling endurance-exercise performance. The current study was designed (1) to test whether such a relationship also exists in the case of cross-country skiing (XCS) and (2) to determine whether the magnitude of any such relationship is related to the intensity of exercise before obtaining HRR indices. Ten elite male cross-country skiers (mean ± SD; 28.2 ± 5.4 y, 181 ± 8 cm, 77.9 ± 9.4 kg, 69.5 ± 4.3 mL · min−1 · kg−1 maximal oxygen uptake [VO2max]) performed 2 sessions of roller-skiing on a treadmill: a 2 × 3-km time trial and the same 6-km at an imposed submaximal speed followed by a final 800-m time trial. VO2 and HR were monitored continuously, while HRR and blood lactate (BLa) were assessed during 2 min immediately after each 6-km and the 800-m time trial. The 6-km time-trial time was largely negatively correlated with VO2max and BLa. On the contrary, there was no clear correlation between the 800-m time-trial time and VO2, HR, or BLa. In addition, in no case was any clear correlation between any of the HRR indices and performance time or VO2max observed. These findings confirm that XCS performance is largely correlated with VO2max and the ability to tolerate high levels of BLa; however, postexercise HRR showed no clear association with performance. The homogeneity of the group of athletes involved and the contribution of the arms and upper body to the exercise preceding determination of HRR may explain this absence of a relationship.