Training through experimentation

Closing the gap

Team Asker sports training

Photo: Maks Zechel
Team Asker skiers recover as they run down an alpine ski slope during 10- x 4-minute Zone 4 bounding intervals, with one minute rests in between, at a recent training camp in Norefjell, Norway.

Maks Zechel
Faster Skier

There is something about passion that drives people to push boundaries like nothing else. For many Canadians, this passion lies in hockey. No matter your gender or age, whether you claim to have been a AAA hockey legend or have never skated before, whether your family has lived in Canada for generations or if you are a newly landed immigrant, Canadians are brought together by something that transcends sport.

National passion for a sport ensures that a large and diverse percentage of the population will actively pursue that activity in a multitude of ways. It encourages creativity and innovation. Similar to hockey in Canada, albeit on a smaller scale, there are an astonishing number of Norwegian skiers who dedicate much of their time to just training and racing fast, even without sponsorships or national-team status.

This creates a field of close to 500 open men at the Norwegian national championships. The depth of field at Norwegian and Scandinavian cups and national championships races rivals that of World Cup races, with many believing it to be more difficult to crack the top 30 in the aforementioned three than it is at most World Cups.

The success that we see in the Norwegian senior ranks begins with Norway’s junior skiers, and I am lucky enough to be training partners with some of these top-level athletes. One of Team Asker’s most successful junior skiers, Harald, has two medals from last year’s Junior World Championships. To put his level of skiing into a senior-racing perspective, he was 26th in the previously mentioned 10k race at the Norwegian nationals—as an 18-year-old.

I believe that much of this ability stems from the incredible amount of maturity in Norwegian junior racers, although not necessarily in the traditional sense. Their maturity becomes apparent in how they approach training and races, ready to learn to push their bodies in the best way that they can.

Team Asker sports training

Photo: Maks Zechel
Team Asker held “King’s Court” style rollerski skate sprints (8 x approximately 1:30 minutes) at a Go Kart track during a recent training camp in Norefjell, Norway.

With Team Asker, we discuss technique with our coach and we do group-technique sessions, but then we are encouraged to try things out by ourselves and see how we can adapt those basics of power transfer to how our individual bodies work. The same goes with training plans. The spectrum of what type of training makes someone ski fast is all over the place, and that is something that many Norwegian skiers seem to accept.

In Canada, I have often heard repeated “golden rules” to technique and training, things that are accepted by most coaches across the country. In Norway, I learn a new philosophy every time I speak to a different coach or athlete.

From my perspective, training innovation and experimentation doesn’t happen in North America on the same small-scale level as it does in Norway. In Canada we look to those who are better than us, whether they are national-team members or World Cup skiers, and try to copy them from afar. This puts us decades behind the competition.

When I first came to Norway, the first thing I did was try to copy how the best skiers on the team double poled. I copied them for 12 weeks, but every time I looked at video footage of myself, I still looked completely different. It wasn’t until my coach explained a miniscule timing difference to me that I understood what the others were doing differently. With the switch flicked, my double poling has improved because of things that I could not figure out just by watching others ski. It is this type of interaction, between skiers and coaches of all levels, that causes breakthroughs in technique.

Most skiers love to talk about technique and the finer aspects of skiing, but when I was in Canada, I found these discussions usually revolved around what faster people were doing. In Norway I find myself having more discussions on what we individually think we should be doing, and even if someone is superior at a certain aspect of skiing, they are usually eager to try what someone else thinks might be better.

We have to seek variation in training and learn together to discover the things that make us go fast as individuals or else we suffer individually under the repetition of uniform training that cannot meet all of our needs.

Maks Zechel is a competitive cross-country skier who secretly wants to become a professional mile runner. He loves hiking and going on canoe trips with his family, as well as peanut butter cups in ice cream. Johan Olsson is his favorite skier, and he hopes to race the Cortina-Toblach stage of the Tour de Ski one day. Follow him on Instagram @makszechel.

This article was originally published on Faster Skier. View the complete post at www.fasterskier.com/fsarticle/closing-gap-brain-training.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 12, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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