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My Cross Country Ski Training
Summer Training
Week 21 (Fall Intensity!)

intensity for cross country skiing

This series shares my cross country ski training activities, and this is Week 21 of my training year, which started last May.

This week, my training hours drop to half of the prior week's maximum volume of training, in order to recover from the prior weeks' gigantic buildup of training hours. But, even though the volume of overall training drops, the intensity climbs and will continue to climb, as cross country ski racing season gets closer.

Since I'll be logging more intense workouts, this seems like a good time to look at how my intensity workouts progress throughout the year. Here's a quick view of sample intensity workouts, which are grouped by level of intensity.

For the next 5 weeks (Weeks 22-26 until the end of October) I would like to accomplish 3 intensity workouts per week. Starting next week, my plan is to choose a workout from each of the intensity levels shown below. Three intensity workouts per week is ambitious for me, but I have been working up to it by doing 2 intensity sessions per week so far. Since the paragraphs below refer a lot to intensity levels (such as L3, L4 and L5) and if you are wondering what those letters and numbers mean, scoll down to the KEY for an explanation.

Intensity Workouts for Cross Country Ski Race Preparation

First, I warmup as if for a race. My favorite warmup is to mosey along for 10 minutes, then go 15min L1, 3min L2, 3min L3, and 4x20sec accelerations.

Level 3
Level 3
Marathon Race Pace

For a L3 workout, I choose either Threshold Pace -or- Threshold Intervals. These are the base of intensity training, and the goal is to go no more intense than L3 in order to prevent crossing the Lactate Threshold into L4, since L4 is the intensity level in which the body creates lactate faster than the body can metabolize it. When this occurs, the athlete may feel burning muscles and an accompanying drop in power or speed. Why limit one's self to L3 for this workout? Research shows that by working at a heart rate that bumps up against the lactate threshold, but does not exceed it, the body can actually raise its own lactate threshold and perform better athletically.
  • Threshold Pace: 30min of L3 If on a loop, try to go farther on 2nd loop
  • Threshold Intervals: 6x(7min L3 / 2min OFF)

Level 4
Level 4
5K Race Pace

L4 is also known as VO2max to stress my body beyond the Lactate Threshold and into a pace that I would only be able to do in shorter races, such as a 5K run. For cross country skiers, coaches recommend that L4 intervals are best on an uphill. Many coaches recommend doing these on a repeat section or loop, to try to go farther each time. Most of the time coaches recommend equal ON and OFF durations for this workout. The goal is to create lactate during the ON phase, then allow enough time to flush it during the OFF. An active OFF phase is usually recommended, such as skiing super easily or walking until the heart rate reaches L1 and then jogging in L1 until the next interval starts.
  • Summer: 4x(4min L4 / 4min OFF)
  • Fall: 5x(4min L4 / 4min OFF) or 8x1 kilometer of arms-only roller ski single stick/diagonaling
  • Winter Before Race Season: 5x(5min L4 / 5min OFF) -or-
  • Winter During Race Season (in a week when there is no race): 4x(4min L4 / 4min OFF)

Level 5
Level 5
All Out!

L5 Speeds! Move quickly yet with proper technique and power. Create lactate during the ON phase, and flush it during the OFF. Increase comfort going fast and moving fast on skis. At first glance, the short duration of each interval may seem as if it might not generate much fatigue, but the perceived effort "adds up" as the workout progresses. Yet, even though the workouts recommend a prescribed number of repeats and durations, the athlete is encouraged to perform only as many intervals as can be done without extreme discomfort, knowing that there is "more in the tank" and they could have done one or two more intervals.
  • Fall: 3 Sets of 4x(45sec-1min ON/ 15sec OFF) of moose hoofing or the arms-only techniques (one set per single sticking/diagonal, part-way double poling, then full double poling)
  • Late Fall: Progress from 3 Sets to 5 Sets the above workout
  • Early Winter: 3 Sets of 5x(30sec ON/ 2min OFF) with 10 min. between sets; followed by 4x20sec.ON/2 min OFF
  • Variation: Drop-in speeds: precede each interval with a fast downhill leading into an uphill.

This blog is based on my cross country ski training, and the info. is provided just for those who are curious about the kind of training cross country ski racers enjoy doing to get ready for winter fun at Lake Tahoe and beyond. You can view more of my training log by clicking on one of the navigation links below.

So let's check out Week 21...

Week 21 AM/PM Mode 1st Week/3-Week Block: Goal hrs. ~8 hrs. of 35 this 3-Week Cycle: New: Roller Ski 3 Times/Week for Ski Specificity Hours
Mon AM
OFF - Recover from last week. It was big.

Tue AM

Wed AM RSSK intensity: L5 Speeds: specific strength: Roller Skiing Specific Strength: Warmup on IOHT R.S. 15Min L1, 3min L2, 3min L3, 4x20sec accels. Then 4x(45sec-1min.* ON/2min.OFF) per 3 techniques: Single Stick, Short Stroke Double Poling, Full Double Poling; Cooldown R.S. & walking L1 *These intervals are on steep uphill grade that presents difficulty for these techniques 1:33


Thu AM Run L1 road running: hard surface. Warmup 10 min. then run 1:10 continuously 1:20

PM WT RM core/strength warmup cycling w. a bit of resistance and gradually faster cadence, 5 min jump rope, then all exercises as many as can do in 1min (go fast): 1minON/30secOFF and
Side Planks with 10 lb.
Russian Twist with 15 lb.
Straight Back Situps
Double Leg Box Jumps
Single Leg Box Jumps
Tuck Jumps (30 sec)
Telemark Jumps (30 sec)
Tricep Dips 2x15
Pullups 2x6
Pulldowns on my home gym R, L, then Both Arms with weight
Tricep Dips on my dip bar home gym
Fri AM RSCL L1 roller ski with accelerations: all single stick warmup 10min L1 then 5x(20secON/2minOFF), cooldown 0:17

PM MtB L1 w. light fartlek: ride trails focus: turns and technique 1:02
Sat AM Run intensity: L3 Threshold Intervals: Warmup as usual for a race, then 5x(7min L3 / 2min OFF) Keep it to L3. Do not go into L4 1:30


Sun AM RSSK L1 roller skiing with special attention to timing and coordination of these technique cues: arms up quick, glute activation and weight on forefoot for stability and "high (forward) hips," swing in the non bearing leg "get some scoot," engage core in the poling. Review cross country ski technique tips 1:09

PM WT RM core/strength warmup cycling w. a bit of resistance and gradually faster cadence
5 min jump rope
Then all exercises as many as can do in 1min (go fast): 1minON/30secOFF:
Side Planks with 10 lb.
Pulldowns on Weight Machine Right then Left Arm. Engage core.
Tricep Dips on Box with Legs Elevated
Double Leg Box Jumps
Single Leg Box Jumps (30sec ea leg)
StepUp HopUp with High Front Knee
Single Leg Box Jumps ala Classic Skiing (throw back leg forward)
Week Summary


KEY: The references to L1, L2, L3 and L4 in the spreadsheet refer to heart rate zones, with L1 being lowest heart rate. A general way to think about these heart rate training zones is: L1 is Level 1 - very easy to talk, L2 is Level 2 - easy to talk, L3 is Level 3 - difficult to talk marathon race pace, L4 - cannot talk 5K race pace, L5 - WFO sprint pace maximum speed. Key to modes of training: Ski Walk/Bound SW/SS, Ski Skate SSK, Ski Classic SCL, Rollerski Skate RSSK, Rollerski Classic RSCL, Road Bike RdB, Mountain Bike MtB, Kayak or Row KYK, Double Poling DP, Weight Room/Strength WTRM. (For in-depth information about training plans, periodization of training and all the details that go into making up a training year, please look for CXC Academy or another training organization for that kind of detail.)

> workouts

The Importance of Good Cyclewear...

One of the important training lessons I learned this summer is that I should never scrimp on my cyclewear. After too many rides with sore sit bones, I decided to purchase Aero Tech Designs Cyclewear, since that is the brand that my husband has been happy with for many years. And Wow! what an improvement! For any ride from now on, you will always find me wearing Aero Tech Designs Cyclewear.

shop bike shorts

DISCLAIMER: All sports including Cross Country Skiing have inherent risks. This training page is provided as information only. It is not a prescription for training. It is provided without the benefit of assessing the reader's health, fitness or skill. It is not a substitute for qualified personal coaching. Obtain a doctor's medical assessment before engaging in strenuous exercise. By reading this page, you agree to indemnify the author and any associated entity from any harm you may incur if you decide to follow the training program, and you agree you are at your own risk and that you hold harmless the author and any other associated entity.

  • First Woman Overall in the following races: Kneissel Rendezvous Marathon, President's Cup Marathon, Ridge to River Iron Woman, Pepsi Challenge 10K, two consecutive years: 10th Mountain Division Biathlon, and Muskoka Loppet
  • First Woman Overall and First Mixed Team wins for three consecutive years: Ski to Sea and Ridge to River multi-sport races
  • Second Woman Overall in the following races: Ski Jeep Challenge Series, Gatineau Loppet 27K Worldloppet Race, Superior Ski Classic Marathon, Grand Marnier Cup Marathon, Yellowstone Rendezvous Half-Marathon
  • Third Woman Overall: Payette Lakes Ski Marathon

  • U.S. Ski Association Cross Country Ski Championships results:
    • 26th Place Women All Age Classes in 20K Freestyle
    • 32nd Place Women All Age Classes (3rd in Class F30-39) 25K Freestyle at Royal Gorge
    • 51st Woman All Age Classes 15K Classic at Lake Placid
    • 2nd Woman Overall in the Masters Category Age 30 and up (First in Class F30-34) 20K Classic at Royal Gorge
  • U.S Ski Association Masters Nationals results:
    • First Woman Overall 25K Freestyle race
    • 6th Woman Overall 10K Freestyle race
    • 6th Woman Overall 20K Freestyle race
  • American Birkebeiner 53K Worldloppet Race Elite Wave starter for two consecutive years finishing 22nd and 29th Woman Overall (5th in class F35-39 both years).

After moving to Lake Tahoe, Mary Kay won several Top 3 Woman finishes in Far West Cross Country Ski events. She joined U.S. Biathlon Association and won two consecutive years Overall Woman at the 10th Mountain Division Biathlon, and was runner-up in her third year. She won Top Gun at the Washington State Biathlon Championships, out scoring all men and women. Currently, Mary Kay is a member of Ishpeming Ski Club and frequent competitor in cross country skiing, bicycling and kayaking events.


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