Determinants of performance in male and female adolescent competitive cross-country skiers

Given the complex and demanding nature of XC skiing and the lack of research in adolescent XC skiers, a broad approach to explore the determinants of performance in male and female adolescent skiers is warranted.




Place: Norges Idrettshøgskole

Formal title

Technique analysis and technical development in young cross-country skiers


The process of adolescent cross-country (XC) skiers’ development to become elite senior XC skiers is multifaceted, and a complementary mix of athletic attributes has to be acquired and improved. This includes physiological attributes such as a high energy turnover and efficient movement economy; applying tactics in racing situations; and the ability to learn training methods, tactics and technique. Given the complex and demanding nature of XC skiing and the lack of research in adolescent XC skiers, a broad approach to explore the determinants of performance in male and female adolescent skiers is warranted. Such information may provide important insights for the development of performance in XC skiers.


In papers I-II, we explored the physiological determinants of performance in male and female adolescent skiers (paper I) and sex differences in these determinants within adolescent (~15 yrs), junior (~18 yrs) and senior (~28 yrs) XC skiers (paper II). In paper III, we used a novel approach by combining laboratory measures with inertial measurement unit (IMU) and global navigation satellite system (GNSS) measures to describe pacing patterns and sub-technique selection during racing and compared these patterns to those of elite senior skiers. Technical training for adolescent athletes most often happens in large groups with a high athlete-to-coach ratio, which restricts coaches’ opportunities to provide individual feedback. Thus, organizing practice sessions to facilitate more individual feedback could be an important aspect of technique training. Therefore, in paper IV, we investigated the effects of observational feedback in an applied setting using a novel approach with a long-duration learning


The sex differences in XC skiing performance ranged from ~15–25% in the lab-based performance tests and were similar between the different age groups. The different physiological determinants affected performance similarly in adolescent boys and girls. V̇O2peak seemed to be the most important physiological determinant in explaining sex differences in performance within all age groups, and the most important determinant for both laboratory and on-snow distance skiing in adolescent skiers. However, upper-body strength and body mass index seemed most important for on-snow sprint performance. Moreover, the complexity of on-snow skiing performance in adolescent skiers is highlighted, as V̇O2peak, ΣO2def and GE explained ~80% of the variation in laboratory performance, but were substantially lower in explaining outdoor performance (~20-30% of the variation).

In paper III, the adolescent skiers tended to exhibit higher mean exercise intensity than older and more experienced skiers (120 vs. 112% of V̇O2peak), with a more pronounced positive pacing pattern (130 vs. 110% of V̇O2peak for the initial part of the race). Furthermore, the adolescents used more of the “low-speed sub-technique” Gear 2 (23 vs. 14%), less of the “high speed sub-technique” Gear 3 (36 vs. 45%) and had more frequent transitions between sub-techniques (~18 vs. ~15 transitions·km-1) than the elite seniors. Hence, differences in physical ability affect speed and sub-technique selections, implying a need for differentiating technical training for different ages and levels.  

In paper IV, the video and coaching feedback groups improved high-speed performance during the intervention (2.1% and 3.8%, video and coaching respectively) and coaching feedback improved performance more than dyad practice. Overall, our data suggest that feedback from a competent coach is better than observation for improving performance in adolescent athletes. However, self-observation through video with attentional cues is seen as a promising tool for increasing valuable individual feedback when coaching large groups.

Paper III:

Paper IV:

Overall, this thesis shows that the physiological determinants of XC ski performance and the sex difference in these determinants are similar in adolescent skiers (14-15 yrs) and older skiers. Further, adolescent skiers seem to use these physiological determinants in a similar manner to seniors in a racing situation, although with a more pronounced positive pattern and more use of “slow-speed sub-techniques”. Finally, we show that a competent coach is important for technique learning, but self-observation through video is a promising tool.