By JEFF SCHLOSS
Contributing Editor for The Master Skier Head coach of the Auburn Ski Club and co-head coach of the Far West Division of USSA. He is the former head coach of the University of Nevada Nordic Team. Jeff is an active master racer.
When I am coaching ski racers and say that it is time to do some skating drills, the athletes often give me a look that is all to easy to read: "Oh coach, can't we just ski!"
Of course, most of us would rather "just go skiing" than work on our weaknesses; however, I will boldly say that if you work on these 4 drills below you will improve your skating in a huge way.
For maximum benefit these drills should be done at the start of your ski session and should be done for 10-15 minutes before launching off on your workout.
Drill #1: Balance Warm Up
This simple drill is good for classic and skating.
Find a slight downhill and start by gliding down it in a good athletic stance. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Flex your ankles and knees forward while pressing your hips forward, weight even over the middle of both feet, upper body relaxed and slightly forward and back slightly rounded.
Lift one ski off the ground and stay in that athletic stance as you glide as far as possible on one foot. You should be looking about 10 meters in front of you (not down at your ski) and should keep your knee right over your ski.
Do this a few times on each ski. If it seems pretty easy try a little steeper hill or, for you really balanced folks, try closing your eyes and see how you do.
Balance is the foundation for all skiing, and a learned skill.
Drill #2: No Pole Body Drill
For this drill you want a nice flat area. Put your poles aside and get into your athletic stance. Position your hands on your hips or low in front of you and start to skate from ski to ski.
Flex at the ankle and fall diagonally onto the new ski. Make sure that there is positive and committed weight transfer onto the new leg and that the knee is bent and the hip presses forward up over the foot, not behind the foot.
The hips should be square to the direction of travel.
In order to keep the hips pointing down the track you should immediately bring the leg forward after pushing off.
All of this sounds complicated, but its really just skating without poles and making sure we keep a good body position, with our hips and shoulders facing down the track.
Drill # 3: Speed Skater Drill
This is my favorite skating drill.
In a flat area, put the poles aside and skate without poles. Now begin to swing your arms forward and backwards like a speedskater. As the left ski goes forward the right arm goes forward over the left ski, then the right leg goes forward and the left arm.
The hands should dynamically reach out in front of you and should then extend equally far behind you.
Concentrate on keeping the hands low and not crossing the arms across the body.
When your hand is all the way in front of you it should be directly over the gliding ski. The body should be very low and forward and the knees should be very bent forward. The idea here is to ski with the same good body position we had in the last drill but to work on adding power to the motion.
The arm swing will help with weight transfer but to really get power we need to exaggerate the leg push off.
Really compress the leg by flexing the ankle and knee forward then give a good push off from the whole foot, not just the toe. Remember to land on a flat ski before rolling to the inside edge to push off.
Go ahead and speed skate around like Eric Heiden, with powerful push offs and dynamic arm swings. This is fast, fun and a great drill for learning how to really use our legs in skating.
Drill # 4: No Pole Skating with V1, V2 Arm Motions
We are going to skate without poles again, but now we are going to incorporate the upper body as if we had poles in our hands.
Keep the good body position from drill #2 and the good leg push off from drill #3 but now let the upper body move as if it were poling. Mix up your poling by doing some V1 on slight uphills and then try V2 or V2 alternate arm motions on the flats.
This drill is a favorite of Norwegian gold medalist Thomas Alsgaard. Thomas will often ski whole workouts doing this drill and matching his arm poling with the terrain.
Drills one through three are good for all abilities of skaters and advanced skaters should add # 4. So the next time you skate, get a leg up on your competition by practicing these drills.
They don't seem to have hurt Alsgaard!