Guide To Rollerboards & Wind Machines
For several years now XC ski coaches and researchers around the world have known that specificity is key when it comes to effective upper body XC ski strength training. Body resistance circuits and weight training can provide a good boost, but strength training in specific motions is really the ticket when you want to increase your overall ski strength and power levels.
Both snow skiing and rollerskiing can provide exceptional returns with so-called "specific strength" and some top racers do very little other than long double pole only sessions. But few skiers in all the world can afford to stay on snow year round and many folks just don't rollerski enough (if at all) to make snow/roll specific strength work.
An alternative or supplementary form of "artificial" specific strength training is provided by rollerboards and wind machines. These devices come in a variety of shapes/sizes, made out of a variety of materials, and can be found in both commercial and custom built versions. The big advantage is that these training "machines" allow a very wide range of skiers to improve strength levels while also getting an impressive return in term of specificity.
A staple of XC ski training for decades, the traditional rollerboard typically is made of wood and consists of a 6-12 foot long plywood "track" that is elevated on one end to provide an angled surface on which to run a small wheeled cart. The athlete uses two cords to pull themselves up the track with a swift "double pole" motion. When carefully designed, wooden rollerboards can allow users to lie down on the cart (i.e. "Superman" style), kneel, and sometimes even ride horseback style.
Although the overall motion on a rollerboard is usually just a bit off from the actual position in double poling on skis, it uses the same primary muscle groups in a close enough manner to provide exceptional training strength and power returns.
Because the basic wooden rollerboard design is relatively easy to copy, many skiers opt for wooden versions in home use. However, for group settings and particularly in professional/public facilities such as schools, clubs, and park/rec weight rooms, the preferred choice is the "Rolls Royce" of rollerboards...the Vasa Trainer. Made out of stainless steel, Vasa was started by skier Rob Sleamaker who ultimately has found greater marketing success with swimming programs. The machine is quite a bit more of a cost investment than wooden versions, but the payoff is in killer performance that basically lasts forever. AXCS members and nationwide club network organizations can get a $50 discount on qualified Vasa Trainer purchases...contact AXCS for details. Note: The benefits of the Vasa for swimming can be a asset for skiers looking to convince a local facility to purchase one. In most areas of North America, emphasizing how swimmers will benefit from a Vasa in your club will get you more mileage than function for XC skiers.
Another steel rollerboard alternative to homemade wooden models are the Total Trainer (available on ebay and some retailers) or the Total Gym of Christie Brinkley/Chuck Norris infomercial fame. Jaime Mannion of the EMAG training group in Lacrosse, Wisconsin says..."I purchased my Total Trainer on ebay for about $340, and had purchased a Total Gym at our local department store for $240. The Total Trainer allows me to add weights to the slide board and it is a bit easier to change resistance levels. Both are fine pieces of equipment".
Detailed Rollerboard Plans
Detailed wooden rollerboard plans provided by Mike Muha of Michigan's excellent nordicskiracer.com website.
Basic Rollerboard Plan
Single line art image of a Marty Hall rollerboard design featured on the NENSA (New England) website.
Basic Rollerboard Training Tips
The easiest way to get started with adding the rollerboard to your XC training and fitness routine is to add a few sets to your basic circuit strength routine. For example, if you are already doing a mixture of ab/back exercises, pushups, pullups, dips, etc....just throw in 2-3 rollerboard sets of 1-2 minutes each on an easy incline.
For recreational skiers, typically just continuing this routine with occasional increases in incline for a set here and there will be enough to have you entering your winter stronger than you've ever felt before on your tours. You simply cannot believe how good it feels to have increased ski specific strength even for someone that never, ever races!
For racers, a good basic program is to start out just like a rec skier for a few weeks (longer if you have not been on the rollerboard all summer, less if you have) and then progressively throw a great deal of variety into your rollerboard sets...varying both the duration and incline as well as the total number of sets in each workout. A good objective is to get on the rollerboard 2-3 times a week throughout the fall. More motivated skiers would also maintain rollerboard work in the summer monts as well. Continue this mixed bag approach up until you get on snow after which time you can cut back to lighter/fewer sets 1-2 x week depending on the number of on-snow specific strength sessions you can regularly get in.
Different Rollerboard Exercises
Vasa Trainer Strength and Conditioning Suggestions for Nordic Skiers
Double Pole or Wind Machines
XC ski Wind Machines (aka "Russian machines") are either the latest and greatest new training device or yet another old school artificial means towards excellent ski specific strength training. The basic design consists of a wall-mounted steel housing with a double flywheel mechanism attached to two cords. The user stands in front of the machine which is positioned just slightly above shoulder level. Due to the double flywheel, the user can either use double pole or diagonal arm motions.
Wind machines were used in a Fall 2000 Oregon State/Central Oregon Community College training study on XC ski upper body power and have been a staple of the Canadian and some U.S. programs for over a half decade now. Several programs on both sides of the Atlantic have taken rowing machines and modified them to work in an upright setting. Other users have created custom versions based off of designs first credited to the Russian National Team (hence the occasional name of "Russian machine").
One of the clear benefits of the wind machine is that it allows the athlete to train in a very ski specific body position...that is, standing and fully initiating abs, back, shoulders, and even hips precisely as we do on skis. Wind machines also allow for a significant range in speed of full motions which is something that is very difficult to obtain on rollerboards.
Several high end coaches and skiers have used a combination of rollerboard and wind machine routines and have found the mix of the two devices to be an ideal mix for improving raw strength levels, endurance strength, and XC specific power. The trick with the wind machine is finding a reliable way to get your hands on such a device. Whereas rollerboards can be made or bought quite easily, most wind machines found in North America to date are spendy custom models not easily copied by a quick trip to the hardware store. The links below are for wind machines we have been able to find around the world...but we can't promise you can get it delivered into North America.
Ski Pull Trainer:
This is a Finnish version that has a nice contained double flywheel that should be safe for public workout areas and pictures show adjustable height features. The website is entirely in Finnish so you may need help getting more specifics. No word on potential for shipping to North America.
Ercolina Wind Machine:
The Ercolina is a very impressive Italian design of the "Russian wind machine". Up until this product came to our attention, no one we had contacted anywhere in the XC world had access to a "mass market" wind machine product. The Ercolina version offers very interesting features such as adjustable width, height, and resistance. There are challenges to getting one of these machines across the Atlantic, but if you can pull it off -- it's an impressive design.
Vasa Trainer Ergometer:
The makers of the ultimate roller board have also come out with a new ergometer that can measure power output with either diagonal arm or double pole motions. The shipped design shown on the website would provide both the ergometer AND a roller board function. We are looking into the option for skiers to obtain just the ergometer for wall mounting and use while in a standing position.
Although perhaps less sexy than the full double flywheel toys above, Exergenie has been a staple of XC skiers for a many years and has the added advantage of being portable as well as a fraction of the price of full-on wind machines.
Note: One option for simulating some aspects of the full wind machine is to take a variable "pull down" weight machine and replace the single bar with a split rope/cord that has enough length to allow you pull down and past your hips. You will not be able to do diagonal arms without two such machines side-by-side, but you can do a reasonably effective double pole motion with this set up. Be careful to ask facility staff for help when you first try this option to make sure you don't hurt the machine or yourself. Also note that you'll have to find an ideal weight level that will provide enough resistance to keep you from slapping weights, but not so much that you can't perform a reasonable simulation of normal double pole speed.