The basic training for winter Biathlon is cross country
freestyle skiing, also called skating. Unlike traditional
cross country skiing where the skis are parallel, this
technique is closer to rollerblading with ski poles.
I think the technique should be renamed blade skiing
for this reason. The skier alternates pushing off and
gliding on each ski, as Russia's Biathlon gold medal
winner Galina Kouklova demonstrates to the right.
I live in the San Francisco Bay area, however, so I
need dry land training techniques to build endurance
and speed when not on snow at Lake Tahoe. I mostly
use running, road biking, mountain biking, rollerblading,
and roller skiing. Mountain biking is an excellent choice,
especially hill climbing, as it puts a similar load on your
legs as a cross country ski race. I hear kayaking is also
a great way to develop the upper body muscles that you
use with your cross country ski poles.
Roller skis are short cross country skis for dry land
training. They have polyurethane wheels, cross
country skate bindings, and are used with normal
cross country ski boots and poles for training in
summer. I've found them much harder to stop than
rollerblades, so I've only taken them on flat and
moderately sloped trails so far. They simulate cross
country skiing surprisingly well and require good
technique to use effectively. Pulling a weight or
fellow athlete will safely simulate steep hills.
I sort my exercises into three categories. The
categories are strength, endurance, and speed.
Sometimes I'll mix a couple but for the most part
I'll focus my running or skiing practice on one of
these for a given day. The endurance workouts
take a long time so those are reserved for days
with lots of spare time, like Saturday and Sunday.
I think for Biathlon training interval speed workouts
are very important when added to a good base of
The basic speed workout is intervals. Instead of
running 5 kilometers at one pace, I break up the
run into 400 meter sprints with two minute rest
periods between each one. Don't forget a warm
up and warm down run at an easy pace to prevent
injury. I'll also do short sprint workouts, where I
use maximum output for ten or sixty seconds up a
steep incline if possible. These are brutal, and may
require a longer rest. Good rest periods are not
stationary, but are instead exercising at a very easy
pace so your body can recover and move lactic
acid out of your muscles.
Training shorter distances at higher speeds is very
good for your cardiovascular strength, muscle
strength, and helps get your muscles used to working
at faster paces. If you only train at one pace, you
would find it harder to go faster in the race.
A heavy track running workout would be a couple
15 minute runs at a strong pace, followed by ten 800
meter (half mile) fast intervals, then four 400 meter
(quarter mile) fast intervals. Double these distances
on skis or multiply by four or five for biking.
Sometimes when I'm not up for the full intensity of
intervals. I'll run an easier pace and vary the speed
slightly for each mile or run in hilly terrain. Hills are
a great way to vary your intensity like an interval,
since you run up and down at different speeds. They
make the run much more interesting as well. If you
don't live near any hills, you can instead run on flat
terrain at a race pace for 10 minutes, then an easier
jog for 10 minutes, then race for 10, etc.
I use two types of strength building exercises, weights
or workouts in hills. Since I want my muscles to be
strong but usable, most of my weight training uses a
higher number of repetitions. I try to do each exercise
30 to 50 times in a set. I do as many sets as possible
or have time for. Examples of weight training exercises
- isolate ham strings, quadracepts, calves
- isolate lower quadracepts (supporting your knee)
- pull ups and dips, at partial weight thanks to a
Gravitron, and push ups inclined against a table.
- abdominal crunches, abdominal oblique exercises
- leg abductors (the outsides of your hip)
- lunges (working your butt and hamstrings)
- pull downs, back, and shoulder exercises
Other good strength workouts involve running or skiing
in difficult terrain or using only specific muscles. For
running, I'll do interval training at slower speeds but
up steep inclines. Running up a 10% incline is excellent
cardiovascular exercise while building stronger leg
muscles. The ten to twenty second sprint exercises I
mentioned above are also great strength workouts
when done up a steep ascent, and can really burn
When running, try bounding up hills with large
giant steps. Try skiing without using poles or only
using double poling. Jumping exercises are good
strength building drills, too.
I used to exercise near my maximum heart rate and
I'd burn out after only 30 minutes. This trains your
body to sprint but not to last in a long race. If you
only did speed training, your muscles would be quick
but wouldn't have the ability to process suger and
remove lactic acid quickly. For the distances in your
typical winter biathlon race, between 7 km and 20 km,
you'll need your muscles to work closer to an aerobic
range than just in an anaerobic sprint.
Another effect of too much speed training is cramping
in a race. If your muscles are strong but don't have
sufficient capillary density to move suger and lactic
acid, and a high threshold for acid in your muscle, you'll
find one or more of your muscles cramping and painful
in longer races. Endurance training develops muscles
that can exercise near their anaerobic threshold for long
periods of time.
A common problem with beginning athletes is they train
too hard. It doesn't feel right to go out for a long run and
intentionally hold back the pace. The goal of this training,
however, is to stay near but below your anaerobic
threshold -- so the training won't feel hard at all. You
should be tired at the end from the long duration and
not the intensity.
A common way now to hold back is to use a heart rate
monitor to guage your intensity. You may workout at
roughly 70% of your maximum heart rate to stay aerobic.
I have a monitor from Cardiosport which I use from time
to time to learn how each intensity level (heart rate) feels
like. You should plan at least half of your workouts at this
intensity but for long durations (two or three hours.)