The SkiErg Keeps Nordic Skiers In Motion, Even When Snow Is Nowhere To Be Seen
by Alex Abrams
Michael Kneeland has continued to train as a sit skier while in Florida this summer.
Even though he’s nowhere near snow, Kneeland has worked on improving his skiing technique at a local gym. The teenager uses an exercise machine called a Concept2 SkiErg to replicate the arm motions he does when he’s competing in a Para Nordic skiing race.
Kneeland records videos of himself doing ski-specific workouts with the SkiErg, which is like a rowing machine designed for cross-country skiers. He then sends the videos to Nick Michaud, a U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing coach in Kneeland’s hometown of Bozeman, Montana.
“We can look together at his technique and actually teach form a lot, teach economy, (and we) can very clearly see if there are any body symmetry issues to address,” Michaud said. “And then (we can) go work on them and just build a really strong base, so when it comes time to get on snow, you have the capacity to do all the fun work that you want to do.”
Para Nordic skiers must find ways to stay in shape and keep their arm and back muscles strong during the offseason when they’re unable to get on snow. They can take part in other sports, such as handcycling and swimming, but training with a SkiErg is an option that’s readily available no matter where they are.
Athletes use the SkiErg by pulling down on the two handles attached to the machine, simulating the double-pole skiing technique that Para Nordic skiers utilize to move across snow-covered trails.
“It’s the closest thing we have to mimicking what we do on snow and provides the athletes (a way) to keep those muscles and everything kind of awake,” BethAnn Chamberlain, a development coach with U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, said of the SkiErg.
Since the exercise machine is used indoors, Para Nordic skiers can continue training regardless of what the weather or air quality is like outdoors. They can also work out with a SkiErg when they’re traveling and staying a hotel, which makes it convenient.
Four-time Paralympic gold medalist Kendall Gretsch has used a SkiErg to stay in shape for Nordic skiing when she’s away from snow while competing in her summer sport, the triathlon.
“Everyone does a range of activities throughout the summer to be ready for snow, but it’s really nice to have a specific mode for training,” Michaud said of the SkiErg. “Sit skiers are also mountain boarding and roller skiing, so it kind of depends on the person or location where they’re at in their development. But (the SkiErg has) been a really helpful tool. It also helps for having just some kind of repeated test to mark progress.”
Chamberlain said athletes can get a good endurance workout that strengthens their arm muscles, including their triceps, and the latissimus dorsi, a large, flat muscle on the back, with a SkiErg.
“You can continue to work on technique a little bit with it, which is great,” Chamberlain said. “It’s a smooth pulling motion, and so it’s not broken up into like a pull and a bend. It’s one smooth motion. You can reinforce that to get that muscle memory in all of those pieces.”
Depending on the individual, Chamberlain recommended that athletes who are new to Para Nordic skiing start training for 15-20 minutes at a time on SkiErg. She also said they should use easy motions during these low-intensity workouts.
U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing has several videos that sit skiers and standing skiers can watch to learn the proper technique to use while doing workouts with a SkiErg.
From there, Chamberlain said athletes should work their way to where they can train with a SkiErg for an hour. This progression could happen quickly or take a few weeks, depending on the individual.
“But then after you get the basics and are feeling pretty comfortable with a half an hour of erging, easy 45 minutes, then we add some intensity,” Chamberlain said. “You can do sprints. You can do intervals. That’s a good way to shake it up, mix it up, because we all know how kind of mundane it can be to be just on a piece of equipment.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USParaNordicSkiing.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.