Preparing for the cross-country skiing season

18. October 2017

Professional cross-country skiers have it easy – they can still find snow in the summer. Glacier days, training camps, ski tunnels or snow farming make this possible. Yet even the cracks do an essential part of their cross-country training in the dry. Strength, stamina, dexterity, balance and technique can all be trained well without any snow. Here are the most important forms of training at a glance:

(Cross-country) running training

To efficiently prepare for the winter, runners can do a few specific exercises to turn their usual runs into cross-country jogging runs without any great effort. 

  • After a 15-min relaxed warm up and run, do some strength exercises using your own body weight: push-ups, sit ups, knee bends, straddle jumps, side planks, etc. Repeat the individual exercises around 8-15 times; do 2 to 3 series and take a 20 to 30 second break in between. Or hop in one place or do a relaxed jog-trot for 1-2 minutes between the series.
  • After the exercises, run again for about 15 minutes, this time a bit faster than before. Find a dried-up stream bed or any other rough surface and do sideways and forwards jumps. This trains your balance and develops the foot muscles. 
  • Balance on the backrest of a bench with both legs or even just on one leg.
  • Run again for 20 minutes at a steady relaxed tempo. Use stairs to incorporate some more strength and coordination exercises such as one-legged jumps sideways, forwards and upwards. Or go up the stairs in a deep squat (do this slowly). 
  • To conclude, run once again for 5 to 10 minutes, running the first minutes quickly. Then cool down for ten minutes with foot strength exercises and stretching.

Nordic running

Nordic running entails running with poles. Cross-country skiers have long been racing up hills with poles, thus training their physical fitness and arm strength. Stride jumps can specifically simulate the use of the arms and develop coordination. The poles can also be used for stretching and strength exercises. In principle, your usual running training can be completely carried out with poles. However, it is best to use routes with a lot of uphill passes which can either be run up quickly or like intervals, integrated several times in succession with fast hill runs and relaxed jogs back to the foot of the slope. Speed hiking on a mountain, or marching up a mountain quickly with poles is also extremely suitable. This is an efficient way to increase your pulse and train your arm muscles at the same time. Of course, it’s best if the one above makes a track back down again.


Roller ski skating

Roller ski training comes closest to cross-country skiing on snow. However, roller skiing is not so easy to get the hang of (brake!) and therefore particularly popular with dedicated recreational cross-country skiers who do a lot of specific training. With a length of +/- 60cm, skating roller skis are somewhat shorter than classic roller skis and have narrow rubber wheels – comparable with those of inline skates. Compared to classic rollers, the rubber is harder and the wheel diameter larger. A backstop is not required for the skating technique. The roller ski skating feeling barely differs from the familiar skating sensation on snow in winter, which also makes skating roller skis a perfect form of training during the months with low snowfall – especially in the lowlands. Boots (latched to the cross-country ski binding) and poles can be the same as those used in winter.

Roller ski classic

Classic roller skis are approximately 70 centimetres long and roll on rather wide, soft rubber rollers. A backstop is fitted on one of the two axle pairs. Because the wheel only rotates in the forward direction, it is possible to push off in a diagonal and single step. Roller ski training is the best dry training for the specific classic cross-country skiing technique. In contrast to skating, the classic roller skiing technique does not require more space than a bicycle. 


In the last few years, skikes have evolved to become an alternative and interesting summer training device because the sophisticated braking system offers a relatively high level of safety and can be used in different and even hilly terrain. Thanks to their pneumatic tyres they can be used on both tar and forest roads. However, in comparison to skating roller skis, the skiking technique is a far cry from that of winter cross-country skiing and they are relatively cumbersome to use.


Off-road roller skis / off-road inline skates 

Nordic or off-road skates with their bulky rollers are more suited to soft terrain and – in contrast to the pneumatic-tired off-road roller skis – are less geared towards specific cross-country ski training. The boot is already integrated into the off-road skate, whereas off-road roller skis have cross-country skiing boots and connections. Both versions enable you to ski or skate not only on tar but also forest roads with fine gravel. They are a little bit sportier than skikes, but are still quite removed from the specific cross-country skiing movement. 


Inline skates

Pure inline skating without any poles is excellent training for the leg muscles, even though the body position is very much lower and the leg movement is not quite the same as the technique used when skating on skis. Due to the short rail, an inline skate is very agile and for many, braking on inline skates is easier and more effective than on roller skis. Disadvantage: the arms get hardly any training.

Inline skates with poles - Nordic blading

If you don’t want to lean forward when inline skating, or if you want to specifically involve the arms, then we recommend using poles – this is called Nordic blading and it uses the whole body. Sharply ascending uphill routes are particularly suited to poles, since inline skates require very little space compared to skating roller skis, even with a wide foot angle. On flat routes, however, you often move too fast to be able to get an appropriate pole rhythm. Nevertheless, it is a good alternative for those who can’t get to grips with roller skis but want to do efficient roller training using the arms.

Strength training/indoor training

Fast and efficient: when done regularly, bodyweight strength exercises are an important and effective addition to the rest of your training. There are many possibilities: strength and athletic exercises at home in the living room, strength circuit training in the fitness studio, specific group training units in a fitness studio (CrossFit, boot camp, functional training), Vita Parcours with a combination of running and strength/ dexterity exercises. Also rowing on an ergometer or specific cross-country ski training equipment for indoors exercise the upper body and arm muscles and are therefore perfect winter preparation.

Balance training

Cross-country skiing is a highly technical matter that requires good balance. You can use a balance board to train exactly the same foot muscles you need for balancing on skis. You’ll find all types of balance boards in fitness studios or sports shops.

Alternative sports

While swimming is not related to cross-country skiing, it uses the entire core and upper body muscles and is an ideal alternative sport for cross-country skiers. 

How should you combine the training forms with each other?

You now know all the possible ways in which you can train for the winter without any snow. But how exactly should the different forms of training be combined with each other? The most important principles:
  • All types of roller training have a great advantage: they are gentle forms of training that don’t impact the body, which is why even long endurance units can be completed without overly straining the musculoskeletal system.
  • Since the preparation time for winter is a transitional period for many amateur athletes, it is worth making the training as diverse as possible and combining all possibilities with each other. So, in addition to doing longer units (60-120 min) at a relaxed intensity, also do strength training and intensive, shorter units (e.g. run 30-40 min uphill or skate with poles).
  • During the transition phase, you should work on the basics again by doing relaxed and longer training units, while simultaneously getting used to the high intensity peaks that are required during cross-country skiing by doing short intervals or mountain training.
  • Coupling training units are also very beneficial - for example, first do an inline skating round and then run for half an hour with poles. When going uphill, you can enter the red zone now and again to improve both your anaerobic capacity and challenge your arm muscles.
  • Strength training can be easily combined with balance training (these coordination exercises should be done before the strength exercises when the muscles have not yet been stressed).
  • When doing roller training, please remember that it is constantly getting darker earlier, so it is essential that you are highly visible when training on asphalt and wear lights and reflectors so you can be seen. And the following also applies: wear a helmet!


The first trainings in snow

Should the first snow come sooner than expected – then enjoy it as often as you can! But remember, at the beginning your focus should no longer lie on endurance as in roller training but on your technique. That is why a “rewarding break" is recommended instead of racing over the cross-country ski trails at a continuous tempo. This means, repeatedly interrupting your cross-country skiing during the first training unit if your pulse gets too high. You can use the break to do technique exercises such as gliding without sticks or balance exercises, which are less challenging and predominantly fun. In these so-called phases of pre-fatigue, these exercises consistently force you to focus on a clean technique and appropriate running economy. During the cross-country skiing season, you should also repeatedly incorporate technique exercises into you training because while you can continue to work on your stamina in (dry) alternative training units, you can’t work on your specific cross-country skiing technique.