What are some of the winter sports that can be used for triathlon training?
It’s a topic I’m often asked about by our Northern Hemisphere athletes at this time of year. People are usually surprised with how receptive I am to incorporating skiing into their off-season training.
I’ve been more than happy to add cross country skiing into the off season programs of many athletes. I believe cross country skiing has fantastic carry over for triathlon. Not only does it give the legs an outstanding workout, but it has great application for your arms as well.
It checks all the boxes for triathlon:
The arm movement works the triceps, which are so dominant in swimming. Each movement is finished off with an acceleration that helps with biomechanics used during the swim. Swim check.
Freestyle (or skating) cross country skiing builds significant thigh power and works the flutes with every movement. Bike check.
The overall cardiovascular workout is absolutely second to none. Run check.
The session is performed with no eccentric pounding, so if it’s done correctly one can allow longer workouts for 1hr 30min without the risk of bone stress injuries. Obviously a downside is if you’re not strong in the knees then poor technique while skating will be a problem. The fix, learn to ski with a better technique or use the classic style, which is still a terrific workout.
Downhill skiing is also very underrated for building bike strength. To go out and get in three solid hours of downhill skiing can be very bike muscle fatiguing and helps to enhance overall leg strength in general.
We have used skiing a number of times as preparation and sent athletes off to races virtually off the back of a winter ski base. One of our Trisutto coaches (multiple Ironman winner Lisbeth Kristensen) has won an Ironman off the back of winter training. Andrew Johns, a long time ITU World Number 1, also came out of a winter prep that had a minimum of four days of skiing instead of biking and placed second in an Ironman that he probably would have won but for a bike puncture. Such is the effectiveness of off-season ski training.
You may ask: ‘How were you reckless enough to experiment with this kind of training in the first place?’ No experiment at all. I used to watch athletes use winter triathlons – running, mountain biking and cross country skiing – as part of their preparations. Early season off the back of the skiing they were always on fire.
Conclusion; With a good winter of skiing along with a small period of time to get used to the bike again, and that can be as little as four weeks, you are actually able to improve your triathlon by using ski preparation.