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MasterBlast: Early Fall XC Training & Fitness (August 2015)

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 15:48 -- JD

The following is an article by AXCS National Director and XC Oregon Coach/Director J.D. Downing originally appearing in the XC Oregon E-News. Reuse by permission only exclusively for AXCS membership.

Labor Day is increasingly the magic point in the year when I see many adult skiers turn at least a casual eye towards skiing and the coming winter. I’m not talking about the logistical planning that many skiers might do involving future travel or early event registration. I’m referring to actually switching gears towards some kind of XC ski fitness.

The early fall is often a fantastic time of year to be outdoors and most adults find September and October significantly easier as compared to subsequent months when it comes to physical activity. One big reason is daylight. Until we hit daylight savings, the early evenings still offer a window of daylight that gives many working adults a chance for a quick outdoor workout before dusk. For folks that hate to be inside, these post-work hours can sometimes make a massive difference!

Another big benefit of the early fall is the weather is often outstanding. Here in Bend the month of September is arguably the best weather of the entire year. Many other places are similar. If you aren’t battling hot, cold, wet, icy, smokey, etc. as much -- it’s no big surprise that you’ll be far more inclined to exercise more.

OK, so it’s an easy time of year for XC fitness, what should be my priorities?

Endurance Base

First priority with building base is just to make sure it happens. Second priority would be to see where you can get ski specificity here and there.

For really motivated adult racers with few physical or logistical limitations, activities in the early fall will heavily lean towards rollerskiing and ski specific foot training. These activities undeniably give you the best bang for the training buck and they easily lend themselves to the advantageous nature of the early fall. But I’m finding the numbers of folks that are willing or able to put in long workouts rolling or doing ski specific foot any time in the year are slowly shrinking for various reasons.

So these days I’m careful to urge adult skiers to “just do it” when it comes to endurance base using whatever endurance activities make sense in your life. Cycling, hiking, paddling, a combination of methods linked together -- any of the above work fine. If you can mix in some periods of hiking or running with short poles, that’s great. But most important is just laying a reasonable endurance base for whatever you want to do this winter. Just do it!


It’s no surprise that strength elements comprise nearly half the time in my fall XC conditioning class at Central Oregon Community College every fall. Whereas some masters are great about getting in strength on a regular basis year-round, many folks need the motivation of a group setting to get it done every week.

Just like endurance base, the big key is simply making strength part of the weekly fitness mix throughout the fall. If you want the biggest payoff for skiing, then you’ll seek out ways to make at least part of your strength time more specific.

Specific strength on roller skis or regular use of one of the several double pole ergometers you can find out there are the “gold standard” when it comes to specific strength. But you can make do nicely with creative use of various gym machines, PT bungees, homemade roller boards, and even old bike tubes.

Does it matter what I do in the gym for exercises? Not as much as you’d think. XC skiing uses the entire body so as long as your gym routine doesn’t hurt you, nearly all forms of strength are a benefit. Just make sure you get in the time every week.

What About Intensity?

If you are planning to do ski competitions this winter, it’s a very good idea to slowly build your intensity fitness over the fall months. But this can be done in several ways.

If you regularly compete in other fall sports such as running races or cycle-cross, you are naturally going to get in a nice amount of intensity efforts via those other competitions. You’ll still need to “reset” your fitness mix once those seasons conclude and you bridge over to the winter -- but that’s pretty easy when the time comes. I will say that it really helps if you can increase the ski specificity of some of your easier fall workouts if you are focused on say cycle-cross in the fall. Example: go for a 1-2 x per week easy roller ski in between cycle-cross sessions. That way your body gets used to a bit of ski specific movement.

If you shy away from competition in the fall, but enjoy hopping in the occasional ski race, you are the type of person that should have at least a 1-2 x per week intensity plan set-up to guide harder workouts from September into the winter. The plan doesn’t have to be a Kikkan Randall-esque design or even one to compete for World Masters medals! Just having a simple progressive plan where you slowly build different components over time in workouts you can logistically handle is usually plenty.

Yes, if you are wondering, the Friends of XC Oregon program has template plans build into our benefit schedules and they can work equally well for the super-casual adult skier as much as a super-serious elite master racer. If you are interested in learning more about the Friends benefits, visit xcoregon.org.

Stay healthy, stay fit, have fun this fall!

Note: AXCS members are welcome to subscribe to the FREE XC Oregon E-News for more original articles of this type roughly a half dozen times per year. Simply send an email to Coach J.D. Downing asking to be added to the XC Oregon database << jd@xcoregon.org >>.