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Power & Endurance: How Nordic Combined Athletes Train

Posted by Dominic Costanzo on

Part 3 of our campaign series featuring winter olympian's Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. 

 

Training, the unavoidable reality that seems to consume the lives of high performing athletes. For olympic athletes, training isn’t something that’s just crossed off of a to-do list, rather it’s quite literally a lifestyle, an obsession, a never ending cycle of preparing the mind and body to perform at the most optimal level.  The unquestionable constant among all of these athletes is their unwavering dedication to training. The variables, however, are the many differences in how an athlete trains from sport to sport.

Nordic combined, as we’ve profiled in past articles, is a demanding winter sport that brings together two vastly different disciplines: ski jumping and cross country skiing. As if training for one sport wasn’t enough, the commitment needed to master two is a testimony as to why Nordic combined is such a daunting sport, and a damn hard one to train for.

 

40 hours a week: the standard metric for the American work week. For olympians Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, it’s the rough time commitment dedicated weekly to training…on top of actual “work”. In a sport where there isn’t a lot of attention, it’s not possible to live strictly off of prize money and sponsorships alone, so maintaining the brutal schedule of balancing work with training is necessary. It’s the cost they have to pay for greatness in their sport.

“For years I busted my ass training from 7 am till 5 pm only to pick myself up and literally run pizza’s to tables in a fast paced restaurant.” - Bryan Fletcher

But once you’re able to get past the unenviable time commitment, you’re able to appreciate the complexity of their training. Preseason conditioning kicks off in the spring, shortly after the competition season has ended.  “The year starts in April, usually with preseason baseline testing for both strength and endurance.” say’s Bryan. “Then based off of those results, a plan is designed to fit the individual.”

Balance is key in a sport that demands excellence in two disciplines. It also require’s athletes audit their strengths and weaknesses to help determine where best to emphasize their training from year to year. “In training for Nordic combined, anytime you train one side you’re taking away from the other, so balance is key. So while cross country skiing comprises the majority of the volume of training, jumping is mixed in proportionately to ensure the fast twitch muscles stay intact.” say’s Bryan. “Fast twitch muscle fibers are more developed in the best ski jumpers and are almost non-existent in the best cross country skiers.” adds Taylor. This distinction is a display of how vastly different the training is for both disciplines. Ski jumping requires explosive strength, flexibility and technique, whereas cross country skiing requires endurance and stamina primarily. Each training day, which at times can last up to 8 hours, includes a healthy dose of endurance training mixed with strength and plyometric exercises.

“Fast twitch muscle fibers are more developed in the best ski jumpers and are almost non-existent in the best cross country skiers.” - Taylor Fletcher

The spring months tend to be dedicated more towards building a base, or foundation to taper and work from for the remainder of the year. As the spring months turn to summer and fall, the intensity is ratcheted up. “As Fall approaches, the intensity and volume both ramp up on the cross county side. Jumping should also start to reach a higher level, with a more refined, specific focus on technique.  In my personal opinion, by November, the bulk of the work is done and it’s time to see if you did a good job throughout the summer or not.” say’s Bryan. From that point on, it’s really feast or famine going into the season come December. Athletes will typically race twice a weekend every weekend with only one week off for Christmas. They’ll maintain that competition schedule all the way through until the middle of March when the season ends. For athletes like Bryan and Taylor, there’ll be a few weeks off to kick their feet up and reflect on a job well done before it’s back to the grindstone preparing for the next season.

Through all of this, you may be asking yourself - how does one practice cross country skiing and jumping during the summer months though? Well according to Bryan, “We use a few different training disciplines for summer training. The first and probably most important is roller skiing. Roller skiing is hard to describe, but basically picture cross country skiing on the roads. All of the same equipment is used, but instead of a ski, we use a two to three foot long plank with wheels on the front and back, allowing us to ski on pavement.” Outside of “rolling skiing”, other endurance training deployed by nordic combined athletes include copious amounts of running and biking.

 

As for jumping, athletes are able to jump year round thanks to a special plastic covering on the slope which simulates a similar landing feel to that of snow. Both the in-run and slope are periodically wetted down to reduce friction as well. “Essentially, the only difference between jumping in the summer and the winter is the outside temperature.” claim’s Bryan.

“Essentially, the only difference between jumping in the summer and the winter is the outside temperature.” - Bryan Fletcher

Diet is also a critical part of every nordic combined athletes training regimen, as optimal weight levels are extremely important in both the jumping and cross country skiing portions. “The less you weigh, the easier it is to fly.” say’s Taylor. But yet again, balance is key as being too lean can deplete the energy storage needed for the grueling cross country race. “So in Nordic combined, it’s all about balancing your weight to a level that’s as optimal as possible for jumping while still being able to perform on the cross country side.” say’s Bryan.

This may all seem a bit overwhelming, and that's because quite frankly, it is. The path to the top is difficult for every elite athlete. There are circumstances to overcome, sacrifices to be made, and sweat equity to be put in. There's a reason why so few athletes will ever earn the right to call themselves an olympian. For Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, it's a price worth paying.

 

Through the month of November, 10% of your purchase of any product in our shop will go towards sponsoring Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. For sports like Nordic combined, funding doesn't always come easy, and elite athletes often times have to incur large personal costs to compete at a high level. The Frynge is proud to provide a platform that allows readers and customers like yourself, to have a direct impact in supporting athletes like Bryan and Taylor. So be sure to check back each week for new stories, gear and apparel!

 Previous

Part 1 - Olympic Dreams: A Tale of Two Brothers

Part 2 - Overcoming Fear & Exhaustion In This Obscure Winter Sport

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