"Cross-country skiers are made in the summer; to start training on Dec. 1 is too late," says Mammoth Mountain ski coach Nancy Fiddler. Training hard on dry land during the summer and fall will ensure a better start to your cross-country ski season than if you take those seasons off. Cross-country skiing requires aerobic fitness, balance and strong quads, calves, glutes and upper body. An effective dry land training program combines cardio training with balance, core and explosive strength work.
Roller skis are a summer training alternative for cross-country skiers. Roller skis look like a longer version of inline skates (or roller blades) with wheels on each end and no brakes. You propel roller skis using a motion similar to that used with classic cross-country skis. You can roller ski on paved and packed-dirt roads for both endurance training and strength training by doing hill repeats.
Endurance is the most important part of cross-country skiing. Include other endurance sports such as running, hiking and cycling into your dry land training program. Hiking or running uphill with poles, called Nordic walking, mimics the movement of cross-country skiing and builds aerobic endurance as well as working the upper body and core. Running or hiking with poles is gentler on your body because it minimizes the impact on your joints, tendons and ligaments.
Balance is a key skill that cross-country skiers can improve during the off-season. Purchase a balance or wobble board and practice balancing on both feet and progress to one foot at a time. For added challenge, bounce a ball in front of you while standing on the board or do squats while balancing. A few exercises you can try without a balance board include standing on one foot and writing the ABCs in the air with the other foot, tossing a ball and catching it while standing on one foot, and hopping over a line from one foot to the other.
Plyometric training involves quick, powerful movements such as jumping or lunging. According to Mike Muha at NordicSkiRacer.com, "Plyometrics give the cross-country skier explosive strength and speed of movement." He recommends incorporating plyometric drills into your cross-country training routine starting with four repetitions and working up to 10-12 repetitions over time. Make sure to warm up with a good run or walk and then try the "Explode Up" movement: Squat with your fingers touching the ground and then explode up, jumping up and off the ground.