In the past 10 years, a sport that had been unchanged for centuries has undergone a revolution. An American national team skier found he could go much faster by skating on his skis instead of doing the classic striding. Thus was born the skating, or freestyle technique. These two techniques, now called classic (striding) and freestyle (skating), have become separate competitions, much as Alpine skiing is divided into slalom, downhill and giant slalom.
There are two types of equipment to match these two techniques. The skating skis are shorter and built to take twisting forces. Skaters use longer poles that are chin to “moustache” height instead of the classic pole height of “armpit” level. The boots are even different. The classic ones look like a running shoe, while the skating type are like a hightop basketball shoe.
Expert skiers who ski thousands of kilometres per year can benefit from these specialized designs. Fortunately, if you are a beginner to intermediate skier, you can simplify your needs by getting equipment that allows you to do both techniques.
When exercise physiologists talk about highly conditioned athletes, they usually place crosscountry ski racers at the top of the list. Since they are endurance athletes and use most of their upper and lower body muscles, they become very fit. For this reason, Nordic skiing is a good conditioning sport for recreational athletes.
While everyone can enjoy a short jaunt without any physical conditioning, a bit of preseason training will definitely help you explore more challenging and rewarding terrain. Also, the risk of injury is reduced.
Before starting any new exercise program or making any drastic changes in the amount you exercise, you should see your doctor. If you have (or had) heart trouble, chest pains, dizziness, high blood pressure, joint problems, are over age 40, or have other health concerns, you will need special medical evaluation.
Always stretch slowly without bouncing. You should feel a pain in the muscles and tendons but should not feel pain.
Preseason training for skiing falls under the same guidelines as other fitness activities. For basic health reasons, everyone should do some form of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, three times per week. Aerobic means that you are exercising constantly using at least half of your body’s muscles. Sports such as brisk walking, running, cycling and rowing are all excellent. Stopstart type activities such as racquet sports are good for many reasons but do not condition the heart and lungs (the cardiovascular system) as well as others do.
The way to tell if you are exercising hard enough is to use the ‘talk test.' During the exercise, you should be breathing harder than normal and sweating slightly but still able to talk to someone beside you.
|Pulse count is a good method to assess your response to aerobic exercises. Count for 10 seconds immediately after stopping your activity. Have your doctor or exercise professional show you how to count your pulse. The chart below is age adjusted. Be content to work at the lower FIT START heart rate at first until your condition improves, then slowly increase the intensity of your activity until your heart rate is reaching the KEEP FIT level. Remember, enter and exit your activity gently.|
|FIT START||KEEP FIT|
|Derived from the “HalfAsMuch” approach, B.C. Department of Health|
If you want to be more scientific, you can check your pulse. The chart will guide you to your ideal heart rate.
It is important to start gradually and increase only 10 per cent a week from your present activity level. For example, if you were riding an exercise bicycle 20 minutes three times per week, you should increase two to three minutes per week. Even if you are very fit, you should begin gradually if you change sports. Although your heart may be strong, your muscles and joints need time to adapt to the stresses of the new activity.
Make sure that you do a gentle warmup and cooldown, including a general stretching program. Good stretches for cross country skiing include those for the hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps shown in the accompanying diagrams.
Once you have started a basic exercise program, you can prepare for crosscountry skiing by working out both your upper and lower body. For example, if you have been running, you could do weight training several times per week. Since this is an endurance activity and not a power event, the weight program should include both low resistance and high repetitions. Alternatively, you could do one activity that uses the whole body, such as rowing.
If you stick to these guidelines, you can safely improve your level of fitness. Once the snow flies, be sure to start gradually enough that you do not become overtired on your first outing.
Although injuries can occur from overuse or falls, crosscountry skiing is considered one of the safer sports. Equipment of the proper size and in good repair can help prevent injury. Also, using caution while descending tricky or unknown trails can reduce the risk of damaging falls.
The main risk of injury involves frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is a freezing of the skin from exposure to extreme cold. It can be recognized by a pale white patch of skin. It may be painful at first, but it then becomes numb as more serious damage occurs. Exposed areas of skin are most often affected, but the hands and feet also frequently get frostbite.
To prevent frostbite, take the wind chill factor into account as well as outdoor temperature. Then, dress appropriately, stay dry and aim for more sheltered areas during extreme cold. If you do get frostbite, get out of the cold as soon as possible. If it takes more than a few moments of gentle rewarming with your hands (or someone else’s), be sure to seek medical advice.
Hypothermia is a dangerous condition where the core temperature of the body drops below its normal level. One of the early signs is shivering which cannot be controlled. Next there is weakness, drowsiness, lethargy, irritability, confusion and poor coordination. Finally, a person becomes sleepy and may lapse into unconsciousness.
The exposure to damp conditions is as much a factor in the development of hypothermia as exposure to cold. Therefore, it is important to keep dry by wearing suitable clothing. Most important is to wear nonabsorbent materials such as polypropylene, silk or wool. These materials are ‘warm when wet.' That means that when they become wet from snow, rain or perspiration, they are still good insulators. Cotton is one material that should be avoided as it holds moisture and speeds cooling.
It is helpful to dress in many light layers instead of a few heavy ones. That way, you can peel off layers as you warm up and add as you cool down.
The treatment of hypothermia is complex, but most important is to get the person out of the cold as soon as early symptoms appear. If the brain effects of confusion and loss of coordination are evident, it is a life threatening condition requiring immediate medical aid.
Remember to take in fluids, which do not contain alcohol or caffeine, both before and during most long treks. This will help prevent dehydration from perspiration and breathing cold dry air. Keeping your fluids up will also improve performance.
Crosscountry skiing is a relatively inexpensive and accessible sport that can improve your fitness and enjoyment of life. Gliding along on a crisp, clear winter day is a sensation that is hard to equal.
The best medicine is still prevention. Be sure to anticipate weather changes and avoid fatigue by planning your trip well. A small amount of preparation and a bit of common sense can reduce the risk of injury and enhance your experience. Happy skiing!