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Eirik Myhr Nossum is head coach of the Norwegian cross-country skiing national team. In this interview we discuss his training and coaching philosophy for cross-country skiing and generally for endurance training, and how it applies to elite and amateur endurance athletes, respectively.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Eirik's general training and coaching philosophy
- The training of world-class cross-country skiers
- Polarised training and training volume
- Interval and threshold training
- Performance testing
- Advice for age-group endurance athletes
- I am 35 years old and since 2018 I am the head coach for the Norwegian cross country national team, and before then I was the assistent coach.
I have also been a cross country skier myself but that was some time ago by now, for the majority of my adult life I have been a cross country skiing coach.
I started off working together with Petter Northug, who is one of the greatest cross country skier of all times and from there I moved on to work with the Norwegian cross country skiing national team.
I also have an academic background in exercise physiology.
Moreover, together with my wife, who is an exercise physiologist as well, I run a fairly popular training podcast, called ” Prestasjonspodden”.
Typical cross country skiing training
- I can only speak of the ”Norwegian way” of cross country skiing training, which has a large emphasize on low intensity/easy training and plenty of volume.
Around 90 % of the total training is performed at low intensity (zone 1 in the 3 zone system), the rest constitutes of high intensity and strength training.
Very little training is performed in the middle intensity zone, however, during easy aerobic training sessions, the HR can still rise up to the middle intensity zone (zone 2 in the 3 zone system) in inclines, which within cross country skiing tend to be quite steep and therefore it is simply not possible to keep the HR in the low intensity zone at all times during our distance training sessions.
However, despite this, I still consider the training we practice to be of a typical polarized nature.
- When it comes to my preferences in regards to types of interval training, I prefer the slightly longer intervals, for instance 4x8mins instead of shorter 2-3mins at an intensity close to VO2max.
However, as we approach the season, we tend to do slightly more shorter intervals targeting VO2max.
- In regards to volume, seniors skiers of the national team train between 800-1000 hours per year, but this number can actually be a bit higher for skiers who have not yet reached the level of the national team yet as they don’t travel and race as much as the skiers in the national teams during the season, which enables them to train more during the race period of the year.
I advocate to have a fairly evenly distribution of the annual training hours, at least during the build up period for the season (May-November), during this period our national team members train around 100h per month (25h/week).
However, looking at the total training load, mid September throughout October and early November is probably the ”hardest” period as we then focus more on intensity (and volume remains the same).
Why is Norway so good at cross country skiing?
- I often get the question how come Norway is such a powerhouse pithing cross country skiing, but I think the explanation is quite simpel.
The culture around cross country skiing in Norway is so strong that the majority of our most talented athletes choose to engage in cross country skiing.
In other countries, these group of the country’s most talented athletes would probably have been spread out over many more different sports.
Also, in Norway we have a strong emphasize on having fun during training, and I believe this is a very important contributor to why we are so successful.
- In Norway, we have a strong culture of educating our skiers to really get to know themselves and their bodies’ really well, which starts pretty early on, normally at age 13-14.
This enables the athletes to be able to later engage in the training discussion with their respective coach.
Only you know your body best and that I believe that perspective is massively important.
We recognize the youth period (from 13-20 years of age) to be a learning process for our skiers where they can experiment with different training strategies and find out what seems to work best for themselves.
Additionally, I strongly encourage the athletes in the national team to learn as much as possible from each other.
- I think that many people ”test just to test”, which serves very little purpose.
I think that you primarily should do tests to keep track on your own progress, and try to compare as little as possible with other athletes.
You can do tests both in the lab and out in the field, which I am honestly quite fond of!
Normally when we do field tests, we do not measure lactate (lactate is utilized mainly during sessions to ensure the intervals or whatever is executed at the correct intensity).
- I don’t think in terms of periodization, I rather choose to look at it as ”good planning of training”.
Of course there exist plenty of different kind of periodization models and systems but in my opinion, they lack enough scientific evidence for me to start practicing it.
- Of course intervals are an important part of every athlete’s training program, and plenty of the intervals should be performed at race intensity.
The reason for this is that it probably gets slightly more race specific (the technique etc.) than doing intervals, it’s not a big difference but a considerable difference.
- This is probably the most controversial area.
First there is a question of definition, is it a blood lactate level and what lactate level is that in that case? Or is it a specific pace?
I think that a lot of people refer to the threshold as a specific intensity point where you reach some kind of ”steady state”, but I don’t really believe that ”threshold” is a very narrow spectrum but is is rather a broader intensity spectrum.
Since the physiology varies from day to day, I think it is better to consider the ”threshold training” spectrum to be bit broader than most coaches and physiologists do.
I myself do not talk about threshold training, instead I use words as ”controlled”, like these 6x10mins intervals should be done with control and at a perceived effort of 7-8 out of 10.
Sometimes I can also describe the intensity like ”it should be hard but afterwards you should not lie down in the grass and gasp for air”.
Advise to amateur endurance athletes
- Find a training model and interval type that you enjoy!
If you want to improve and get better at something you need to do it a lot, and the only way to do things a lot is to enjoy it!
- Stop focusing on the details, locate the elephant in the room, there is little return on the investment to focus on the details.
- Don’t neglect recovery, in especially triathlon, many amateurs train a lot while they also have a demanding work life situation and I believe that many of these athletes could benefit more from prioritizing recovery a bit more.
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to running, endurance sports or anything that we have basically discussed here? Open by Andrew Agassi, a biography of a Tennis player that I massively enjoyed!
- What is your favorite of gear or equipment? It’s a split between my phone and an app that’s called ”race splitter”, which I use during all races.
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? My ability to communicate with my athletes.