Athletic Secrets of… Norway?

It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that Norway has had a successful run in the winter Olympics. With Sochi coming up, Norway’s present total is 303 medals — impressive, especially compared to the United States’ 253. Of those 303 medals, 96 of them have come in the brutal endurance sport of Cr0ss Country Skiing. If you’ve never tried cross country skiing, I assure you, that it taxes the body’s resources like no other. Of any athletic endeavor I’ve ever participated in, cross country skiing is one that — when performed at a high enough intensity — had me feeling like an ambulance ride would be a nice little break. Naturally, when I found out that Norwegians have spent decades putting a whupping on the competition, I set out to find out a little about their training philosophy. What I found out didn’t surprise me. I knew you were smart, Norway.

Let’s begin a study that was conducted in Trondheim, Norway…

Maximal strength training improves work economy in trained female cross-country skiers. Hoff J, Helgerud J, Wisløff U. Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jun;31(6):870-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10378915

“Maximal strength training in the upper-body improved the double-poling performance by improved work economy. Work economy was improved by a reduction in relative workload and time to peak force while double poling.”

Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. A huge component for success in the most endurance-y of endurance sports is maximal strength training. Not only does it improve the generation of power as needed in propelling the body with a double-ski-poling movement, but it also helps improve work economy of the muscles, which, in turn improves efficiency of energy consumption. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’e a study from Olso, Norway…

Effect of heavy strength training on muscle mass and physical performance in elite cross country skiers. 
T. Losnegard, K. Mikkelsen, B. R. Rønnestad, J. Halle´n, B. Rud1, T. Raastad. The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway, Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2011: 21: 389–401.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20136751

“Supplemental strength training improved both VO(2max) during skate-rollerskiing and double-poling performance.”

The most important thing to remember when using maximal strength training to enhance performance in an endurance based sport is to make sure to program it in such a way that the strength training has its proper place, in a supporting — not a starring — role.

Occasionally, some points are so important that I feel the need to repeat them in a hilariously massive font.

When using maximal strength training to enhance performance in an endurance based sport, make sure that the role of strength training remains supplemental.

Allow me to illustrate my point with an example. If your 1-rep-maximum on the squat is a barbell equivalent to 1x your bodyweight, working up to squatting 2x your bodyweight will make you a better athlete. A 2x bodyweight squatter will be able to jump higher, run faster, and punch harder than a 1x bodyweight squatter. However, the point of diminishing returns usually lies somewhere between a 2x BW squat and a 3x BW squat. In other words, going from 1x to a 2x BW squat is a great idea, but going from a 2x to a 3x BW squat may not be, because it starts to detract from the goal of overall athleticism and eventually turns you into a squatting specialist. In an intelligently planned program, maximal strength training should be programmed in such a way as to avoid hindering other training. The authors of the above mentioned study did this by utilizing three exercises in an undulating periodization model.

These were the exercises they utilized:

  • Half Squat
  • Seated Pulldown
  • Triceps Pressdown

For our purposes, I’m just going to go ahead and change those to:

  • Back Squat
  • Weighted Chin-Up
  • Close-Grip Bench Press

You’re welcome.

Now, here’s the training schematic from the study:

Week 1-3
Day 1: 3 x 6
Day 2: 3 x 10

Week 4
Day 1: 3 x 5
Day 2: 3 x 8

Week 5-8
Day 1: 4 x 8
(Train 1 day/week only in weeks 5-8)

Week 9-12
Day 1: 3 x 4
Day 2: 3 x 6

If all sets x reps are successfully completed in a session, increase the load by 2.5%-5% next session.

Fundamentally sound programming for the pre-season preparatory period. Use it in good health.

Sources

“Effect of heavy strength training on muscle mass and physical performance in elite cross country skiers.”
T. Losnegard, K. Mikkelsen, B. R. Rønnestad, J. Halle´n, B. Rud1, T. Raastad. The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway, Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2011: 21: 389–401.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20136751

“Maximal strength training improves work economy in trained female cross-country skiers.” Hoff J, Helgerud J, Wisløff U. Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jun;31(6):870-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10378915

“Norway at the Olympics” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norway_at_the_Olympics

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