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Øyvind Sandbakk

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.

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Øyvind Sandbakk and Hans-Christer Holmberg

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.

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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.

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Julia Kathrin Baumgart and Øyvind Sandbakk

Purpose:

To investigate on-ice repeated-sprint and sports-specific-technique abilities and the relationships to aerobic and anaerobic off-ice capacities in world-class ice sledge hockey players.

Methods:

Twelve Norwegian national team players performed 8 repeated maximal 30-m sprints and a sports-specific-technique test while upper-body poling on ice, followed by 4 maximal upper-body strength tests and 8-s peak power and 3-min peak aerobic-capacity (VO2peak) tests while ergometer poling.

Results:

The fastest 30-m sprint time was 6.5 ± 0.4 s, the fastest initial 10-m split-time 2.9 ± 0.2 s, and the corresponding power output 212 ± 37 W. Average 30-m time during the 8 repeated sprints was 6.7 ± 0.4 s, and the sprint-time decrement was 4.3% ± 1.8%. Time to execute the sport-specific-technique test was 25.6 ± 2.7 s. Averaged 1-repetition-maximum strength of the 4 exercises correlated with the fastest 30-m sprint time (r = –.77), the fastest initial 10-m split time (r = –.72), the corresponding power output (r = .67), and the average 30-m sprint time (r = –.84) (all P < .05). Peak power of the 8-s ergometer sprint test correlated with the highest initial 10-m power (r = .83, P < .01) and the average 30-m sprint time (r = –.68, P < .05). Average 3-min ergometer power (r = –.86, P < .01) and VO2peak (r = –.67, P < .05) correlated with the sprint-time decrement. All off-ice variables except VO2peak correlated with technique-test time (r = –.58 to .73, all P < .05).

Conclusion:

Maximal strength and power are associated with the ability to sprint fast and rapid execution of a technically complex test, whereas mode-specific endurance capacity is particularly important for maintenance of sprint ability in ice sledge hockey.

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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.

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Øyvind Sandbakk, Thomas Haugen, and Gertjan Ettema

Purpose: To provide novel insight regarding the influence of exercise modality on training load management by (1) providing a theoretical framework for the impact of physiological and biomechanical mechanisms associated with different exercise modalities on training load management in endurance exercise and (2) comparing effort-matched low-intensity training sessions performed by top-level athletes in endurance sports with similar energy demands. Practical Applications and Conclusions: The ability to perform endurance training with manageable muscular loads and low injury risks in different exercise modalities is influenced both by mechanical factors and by muscular state and coordination, which interrelate in optimizing power production while reducing friction and/or drag. Consequently, the choice of exercise modality in endurance training influences effort beyond commonly used external and internal load measurements and should be considered alongside duration, frequency, and intensity when managing training load. By comparing effort-matched low- to moderate-intensity sessions performed by top-level athletes in endurance sports, this study exemplifies how endurance exercise with varying modalities leads to different tolerable volumes. For example, the weight-bearing exercise and high-impact forces in long-distance running put high loads on muscles and tendons, leading to relatively low training volume tolerance. In speed skating, the flexed knee and hip position required for effective speed skating leads to occlusion of thighs and low volume tolerance. In contrast, the non-weight-bearing, low-contraction exercises in cycling or swimming allow for large volumes in the specific exercise modalities. Overall, these differences have major implications on training load management in sports.

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Guro Strøm Solli, Espen Tønnessen, and Øyvind Sandbakk

Purpose: To investigate the factors associated with underperformance and the subsequent changes in training characteristics and supportive actions when returning to the world’s best cross-country skier. Methods: The participant is the most decorated winter Olympian, with 8 Olympic gold medals, 18 World Championship titles, and 114 World Cup victories. Training data were categorized by training form (endurance, strength, and speed); intensity (low, moderate, and high); and mode (running, cycling, and skiing/roller skiing). In addition, test data were retrospectively analyzed, and interviews were performed with the participant and her support team. Results: After the competitive season, the participant had 8 weeks without systematic training and an evaluation process aiming to detect the factors contributing to underperformance. Here physiological, technical, and psychological challenges were detected. As a consequence, the participant included less high-intensity training (1.2 vs 2.1 sessions/wk, P = .011); more moderate-intensity training (0.9 vs 0.4 sessions/wk, P = .016); and more low-intensity training (6.9 vs 5.9 sessions/wk, P = .036) during the general preparation phase but with similar total endurance training load as previous season. In addition, more strength training (1.6 vs 1.1 h/wk, P = .036) and new ski-specific strength exercises were included. Finally, the athlete’s autonomy when planning and adjusting training was increased, nontraining stressors were reduced, more frequent testing was included, systematic mental training was initiated, her nutritional strategy was adjusted, and her asthma treatment was optimized. Conclusions: Overall, the current case study could be used as a framework for the holistic approach to treating an overtraining condition and for generation of new hypothesis in this exiting area.

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Thomas Haugen, Gøran Paulsen, Stephen Seiler, and Øyvind Sandbakk

Maximal aerobic and anaerobic power are crucial performance determinants in most sport disciplines. Numerous studies have published power data from elite athletes over the years, particularly in runners, cyclists, rowers, and cross-country (XC) skiers. This invited review defines the current “world records” in human upper limits of aerobic and anaerobic power. Currently, V˙O2max values of ∼7.5 and 7.0 L·min−1 in male XC skiers and rowers, respectively, and/or ∼90 mL·kg−1·min−1 in XC skiers, cyclists, and runners can be described as upper human limits for aerobic power. Corresponding values for women are slightly below 5.0 L·min−1 in rowers and XC skiers and ∼80 mL·kg−1·min−1 in XC skiers and runners. Extremely powerful male athletes may reach ∼85 W·kg−1 in countermovement jump (peak vertical power) and ∼36 W·kg−1 in sprint running (peak horizontal power), cycling (instantaneous power during force–velocity testing from a standing position), and rowing (instantaneous power). Similarly, their female counterparts may reach ∼70 W·kg−1 in countermovement jump and ∼30 W·kg−1 in sprint running, cycling, and rowing. The presented values can serve as reference values for practitioners and scientists working with elite athletes. However, several methodological considerations should be taken into account when interpreting the results. For example, calibrated apparatus and strict procedures are required to ensure high measurement validity and reliability, and the sampling rate for anaerobic power assessments must be strictly predetermined and carefully measured. Doping is also a potential confounding factor when interpreting the human upper limits of aerobic and anaerobic power.