The skating technique
The skating technique is nowadays the trendiest style in cross-country skiing, it quickly provides stunning gliding sensations and a great feel of speed, way more impressive than in classic style. Physically more demanding, skating seduces more and more because of its thrilling feel.
You will quickly enjoy it on the flat and downhill sections but it becomes way harder on the steep and long uphill sections. That is where the technique comes into action, you need to work on your skills to get a max of pleasure. The goal of such a workout is to save energy and know when to lengthen the stride (to ski long) and when to increase the movement frequency (to ski short). To begin it is useful to remember the different steps in skating style.
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Skating 1-2 with guiding arm:
At the beginning, it will be your best friend because it is the less demanding step, it is also why it is used in the uphill sections.
You do a double-arm-push for two leg-pushes. You have to pole plant when you put the lead ski down and the double-arm-push will be long enough to push sideways with your two legs. In order to save your arms, you move your hands sideways, that makes the poles look shorter because you are not in an axial push.
On the pole plant, your hands are pretty close from your head to offer and short and economical angle. The more you put your hands forward the more power it requires.
It is the most technical move when skating because it requires a great coordination. You do a leg-push and an arm-push at the same time. It is technically difficult and balance is hard to maintain, but it is the most common step used during a race, 70% of the time a skier will use it.
Like the skating 1-2 with guiding arm technique, you will use it on flat sections and gentle slopes but it is primordial to adapt the gestures frequency to the terrain. Ski short on the uphill sections and ski longer on flat sections in order to save energy. The adaptation of the frequency is vital, depending on the skier's morphology, different techniques may be used on the same spots.
Skating 2-2 with active arm swing:
It is the most common step to use when the speed is high enough, on flat sections following a downhill or on long gliding sections, because its inertia can quickly slow you down and you will need to go back to a skating 1-1 technique. Technically simple, it is a step that beginners have no problem to master, you do a double-arm-push for two leg-push while keeping the arms in the axis.
The trick is to push simultaneously with the lead leg and the arm, but you only push with the other leg at the end of the double-arm-push. You bring back the second leg under the gravity center when the poles come back forward.
This step is the one you don’t want to use in a race, it is the same as the skating 1-2 with guiding arm technique alternating opposite arm/leg and add a glide motion. Usually you only use it to recover or in a race when you pushed the limits and you are completely worn out. You can understand that no one really wants to use this technique.
During the race you can see the best skiers in the world skating diagonally in the final uphill section or to go up an alpine ski slope. It is the only time you could see skiers of that level using that technique, after ten days of racing in a 30% hill.
The Hop skate:
It is the anti skate diagonally, the hop skate is a technique used in uphill sections on a skating 1-2 step. The only difference is that the skier uses a jumped step to put down the lead leg a bit further and give a stronger impulsion.
This technique is usually used by the best athletes because it is super energy hungry, the hop skate is used to make the difference on the last uphill sections of the race or during KO sprints.
Tips to improve your technique
In skating, you can see most skiers, about 90% of them, skating with a bad technique.
The skating gesture involves a swing of the hips above the lower body, most of the skiers even some really good athletes, have some trouble to totally transfer their gravity center and their full body weight on top of their support leg. This technical fault comes from our natural propensity to seek comfort. As you know you don’t often get performances staying in your comfort zone.
In order to improve technically, the best solutions is to train without poles. Not really fun, but it is the best way to learn how to swing your hips from one side to another putting your full body weight on a single leg and master your balance. To succeed, you need push the limits because you need to create a disequilibrium on the lateral push that will force you to raise on your supporting leg and to hold up your whole body weight.
In order to master the technique you really need to do a good lateral leg-push on your skis. In skating you do a leg-push laterally and not backward, the backward push would make you subside on your ski, create a lateral disequilibrium and will allow you to fully get onto your ski. Don’t forget, the disequilibrium creates strength and inertia, it allows in the momentum, to bring you a boost of energy to put your lower body on top of the ski.
Once you know how to skate properly, you need to learn how to coordinate lower and upper limbs. Depending on the technique used, coordination can be different:
1-2 with active arm swing
The beginning of the move is the same but you do the second leg-push while you bring back the poles forward. This step requires a higher speed in order to execute it properly.
1-2 with guiding arm
You plant pole at the same time as you put the lead ski down, then you skate with the repulsing leg like you would do in skating 1-2 with active arm swing.
This skating exercise trains you on how to transfer efficiently your body weight from a leg to the other:
The finnstep exercise was designed to help you learn how to push efficiently on one leg: