Montana State’s ski teams work with the Health and Human Development department to learn about Bobcat student-athletes’ best training levels to succeed at the collegiate level.

The ultimate pre-ski season prep at MSU

Many of the student-athletes on the Bobcat ski teams have aspirations to ski post-graduation, whether it be on the national team, world cup team or whatever level the student-athlete desires. MSU institutes Olympic level testing to help Bobcat skiers reach their goals. 

 Last week, the Bobcats underwent VO2 max and lactate threshold testing. The testing was done to get a better idea of the athletes anaerobic and aerobic bases. The nordic and alpine ski teams do the testing twice a year, in the fall and in the spring. 

 The Montana alpine skiing team, led by head coach Kevin Francis, focuses on the lactate threshold testing while the nordic ski team, led by head coach Matthew Johnson, focuses on the VO2 max testing. 

 The lactate threshold is the accumulation of lactate in an athlete's blood stream. Lactate is a byproduct produced while exercising.  

“The lactate threshold is basically the point at which you stop being able to recover as fast as you’re creating the byproducts (lactate),” said Francis. “You stop being able to flush them. You can think about it like you’re on a run or something and you're jogging and feeling good, going kind of slow. That’s below threshold, as soon as you break over threshold it’ll start to hurt and build up and after 15 minutes, ‘You’ll be like I can’t keep this pace up.’” 

The testing consists of the skiers riding exercise bikes at different resistance levels. This takes place in Dr. John Seifert's Movement Science Lab that’s part of MSU’s Health and Human Development department. Dr. Seifert and coach Francis increase the resistance of the exercise bikes at four-minute intervals, recording the athletes’ heart-rate and blood lactate levels. The two then work with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches within MSU Athletics to go over results and set a training plan. 

 “We chart the group of physical attributes for each athlete and see if we need to do more work on the aerobic or anaerobic side,” said Dr. Seifert. “We get those programs set individually, so if someone has a little deficit, we can bring them up.”

 When Francis arrived at MSU three years ago, one of the members of his hiring committee was Dr. Seifert. Dr. Seifert teaches classes in exercise science and does research looking into endurance levels and how they associate with skiing, amongst other research topics. 

 Dr. Seifert grew up around the ski slopes. He started skiing when he was 4- or 5-years-old and has remained involved with the sport ever since. He’s taken a keen interest in using his research to help young skiers progress into the best athletes they can be.

 “Alpine skiing has been in my life since I was 4 or 5,” said Dr. Seifert. “I’ve always been around it or involved with it in one form or another. I see this as a way to help these young skiers out.”

 Coach Francis came to MSU three years ago, with a background in year-round ski training and as a former member of the U.S. national ski team. His aspirations for coaching mainly come from wanting to help young athletes reach their goals.  

“My goal is to provide an environment for these athletes to reach their full potential," said Francis. “Which often with ski racing is trying to make the Olympics, trying to make the World Cup after they leave here.”


On the U.S. team, Francis got a firsthand view about the importance of testing.

 “My background is the U.S. national ski team and we did the testing with them about two or three times a year as athletes,” said Francis. “We usually do two runs a day in a race and if you can be pushing it in the last 30 seconds of your second run like you are the first 30 seconds of your first run, we’re finding that’s where the best people in the world are winning races.”

 The VO2 testing the nordic team focuses on is a little different. The testing is done on what is called a roller-ski treadmill, which is basically an extra-large treadmill that can tilt up, testing an athletes power and endurance at different elevations. The point of the test Is to measure the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can utilize during high-intensity exercise. 

 It’s similar to the lactate threshold testing, in the sense athletes are tested at different intervals and their results are individualized to improve training.

 “Our VO2 max testing we’re doing on the treadmill is a little more sport-specific for us,” said Johnson. “We’re actually able to put roller skis on and get those levels from an activity that’s actually within our sport… It’s pretty rare to be able to do it on a roller-ski treadmill where it’s that specific.”

 Coach Johnson came to MSU five years ago to coach the nordic ski team. In those five years, the nordic team has had unprecedented success, which contributed to a school-best fourth place finish in the nation in 2015. 

 VO2 max testing has been done at MSU for over 10 years. It’s a type of testing done all over the world at different ability levels. The athletes know the benefits of the testing, but as Johnson says, it’s a test to failure.

 “Essentially the first couple of five-minute blocks (the athletes) are just kind of ramping up and up and it’s not super hard. Towards the end, it’s a test to failure, where the roller-ski treadmill keeps angling steeper and steeper and you’re just trying to keep up with the treadmill,” said Johnson. “You're harnessed up to it so after you fall off the back of it, that’s going to be your max heart-rate and that’s going to be your max VO2.”

 Johnson, like Francis, then can see where an athlete either has a deficit or excels in attributes such as heart rate level or their oxygen level, and can adjust the athletes' training to their results.

 The program has become more intense the last couple of years. The data is recorded for every interval and compiled over an athlete’s career at MSU. 

 “Either one or two years ago, we had our first group of athletes who came through, where we have data for each year that they were here,” Seifert said.

 Having this type of exercise science lab located on campus is not only a benefit to the athletes, but it also helps in recruiting. Most recruits with aspirations to compete after graduation want the best possible environment to reach their goal. The Montana State lab tests athletes in some of the most efficient ways, trying to help athletes’ dreams come true. Dr. Seifert and the rest of the exercise science lab work tirelessly to give athletes the most-fitting feedback possible.

 “When a potential recruit comes in, I can take them over to the lab and be like 'this is where we do our lactate threshold testing,’” Francis said. “If you're coming off a national team, then you know what this is all about.”

 This kind of testing is not exclusive to ski teams. It can serve a purpose in track and field, cycling, a number of different sports. The coaches and Dr. Seifert do their best to insure athletes of correct results, to mold them for competition while at MSU, and for competition after MSU.

—MSU News Service


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