Skiing, whether on the Concept2 SkiErg or out on the trails, is proving to be an effective cross-training tool for many rowers. Elite rowers worldwide are spending time this winter skiing to complement their rowing training. The SkiErg makes skiing accessible for everyone.
For over 20 years, the Norwegian Rowing Federation has been sending its rowers to a three-week high altitude cross-country camp each year in Italy. Nils Jakob Hoff of the Norwegian Double explains that Nordic skiing “is a great way to get many hours of training during winter. It is easy on the muscles, and as a Norwegian, it is good for the soul as well. Physically, it develops the lats and core, which we are so dependent on.”
Skiing is a great way to get outside when conditions leave lakes and rivers frozen. In Craftsbury, Vermont, Green Racing Project rowers use skiing for long easy training sessions, but mix in weekly 5k races. Those 5k races “feel like doing a 6k on the erg… or worse” explains Stephen Whelpley, a member of the Green Racing Project and of the US quadruple sculls that won bronze at the 2014 World Rowing Cup III. They recently competed in the 50k Craftsbury Marathon, in near-zero temperatures. Luckily, both the indoor rower and the SkiErg offer warmer training options for year-round fitness. Next up, a handful of the rowers will be competing in the famous American Birkebeiner—another 50k ski marathon in Wisconsin.
So why are rowers mixing it up with skiing? Think about the complementarity of the two motions: Rowing involves prying open at the hips; the double-pole motion of skiing is the opposite—more like a crunch. By including both in your training, you help balance the muscles involved—strengthening and protecting the core and back. Whelpley's teammate, John Graves, who learned to Nordic ski in college explains, “you do not sacrifice any rowing speed by spending a lot of time on skis; in fact, you are only increasing your potential to row fast. For me, skiing has helped transform my body into a more capable rowing body. While rowing requires great core strength, skiing not only requires it but builds it. This type of core strength is crucial for top speed on the water and for keeping a balanced body, preventing injury.”
Canadian quadruple sculls athlete Carling Zeeman adds that “there are few forms of exercise that are comparable to the physical strain of rowing, but for us, cross-country skiing easily put us into our training zones. The realization of how intense a skier's lung burn must be mid-race was surprising! After a week of skiing and breathing in -20F degree air, I have a newfound respect for all cross country skiers!” Zeeman just returned from her first Nordic ski training camp with Canadian National Team teammates.
If you’re new to Nordic skiing, the SkiErg offers all the benefits without the need for snow. It will develop both strength and endurance and exercise the legs as well as the arms and core. The SkiErg can be used for both double pole and classic alternating arm technique. With the same Performance Monitor as the Concept2 Indoor Rower, the SkiErg offers familiar data and feedback. Rowers will find that an efficient SkiErg “pull” has a much higher spm—in the 40–50 range. A great challenge is to try to ski at familiar rowing splits (pace per 500) in ski workouts. Craftsbury Green Project athlete and US quadruple sculls team member Peter Graves also offers technique guidance: “It's all in the hips! Similar to rowing, weight transfer is very important. Rowing is about gripping the water and sending the boat. Skiing is about gripping the snow and propelling yourself forward. The two sports go hand in hand.”
New to skiing? Whelpley advises: “Try it! Any reservations you might have about learning a new sport and being too inefficient to workout effectively at first will quickly dissipate. Main technical tip: quick, light feet and strengthen your hip flexors.” From a psychological perspective, racing naively in a new sport can also be beneficial. “Being newer to the sport, we can't overthink it as much when someone just tells you to 'GO.' As a result, we inadvertently wind up training our racing capacity and mentality. Sometimes, we accidentally push the pedal right through the floor and take our lungs to places we didn't know they could go. “Beardcicles” are also a plus for the guys!”
Beardcicles aside, perhaps most importantly, skiing can keep training fresh. As Hoff explains, “I ski for the same reason as I row, because it is awesome and I love it.”