Make your Nordic skiing easier, faster, and less exhausting with this simple training idea the pros use.
If you’re like most Nordic skiing enthusiasts, you aren’t on the snow training every day—you’re sitting in traffic, heading for the hills and doing your darnedest to get in two, three good days a week. So most of us end up going as hard as we can for as long as we can to get in a good workout. And that’s almost the perfect way to guarantee a performance plateau—unless you mix it up.
Enter the 4X4
The 4X4 training technique is nothing new—it’s been used for years by professional and competitive athletes in sports like soccer and Nordic skiing and debate still continues on how to best apply it for professional athletes, but most agree it can help boost gains in fitness for the average athlete.
The gist is this: 4X4 is an interval training technique used as part of an overall training schedule, in which athletes ski at about 87% of their maximum effort—measured by VO2 Max, the amount of oxygen you’re consuming when working at your absolute hardest—for four minutes, recover at about 60% for three minutes, and do this a total of four times—four, times four.
Essentially, the 4X4 is a high-intensity interval training tool that has been proven in studies to dramatically improve success in aerobic endurance sports. The more oxygen you can efficiently use, the better your performance. Or put it this way: the more enjoyable your sport becomes—ugly hills get easier, long skis more invigorating, and tough conditions less exhausting.
Make it Work for You
You don’t need to be an elite athlete, get lab tested, or have tons of gear. You can use a heart rate monitor or simply perceived exertion to signal when you’re at 80% or so of your maximum ability.
Try this: Add a set of 4X4s once a week. Use perceived exertion, and aim for about an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 for your intense intervals—working very hard at a level you would only be able to maintain for a few minutes. Aim for 6 for recovery, where you can still talk but you’re winded, sweaty, and slightly breathless.
Remember more is not more with this method—most of us won’t be working out twice-daily, seven days a week, so any interval training needs to be reasonable and proportionate to the rest of our workouts. If you did work out seven days a week, you might do 4x4s on two days only; overuse of this kind of technique tended to burn athletes out. Once a week will add plenty of challenge and variety to your training. In other words, nice and easy does it.
Add some LSD
Speaking of easy, the workouts that go hand-in-glove with high-intensity interval training are long, slow distances, or LSD. These are the kind of ski sessions where you can easily hold a conversation and go for miles, and help round out your aerobic fitness.
Get Some Guidance
A good coach, clinic, or private lesson will let you talk over your strategies with a Nordic pro. February, with it’s milder weather and peak conditions, is when you’ll find an abundance of clinics and lessons available, and there’s still plenty of season left to train in.
Of course, you should never push yourself or make radical changes in fitness activities without staying in touch with your medical professional.