Kicksled club Ketkupolkka, Helsinki 1987-1999
Introduction to kicksledding
Places for kicksledding
Kicksledding in 1915
Kicksledding is physical activity for the new millennium. It is a pleasant and environmental-friendly sport for everybody. Snowy and icy winters offer unsurpassed possibilities for kicksledding even in areas without any specific sports facilities.Kicksled is a traditional means of transportation in Nordic countries. However, its significance has decreased as the use of motor vehicles has increased. Furthermore, many roads and streets are sanded and salted to increase the traction of wheeled vehicles, reducing the suitable places for kicksledding.
White Christmas in the past ... and nowadays (Suomen Kuvalehti 30.11.1963)
Although kicksledding is still part of everyday life in Nordic countryside and small towns, there are no books on the market presenting kicksledding as a fitness activity. This compact primer is written in order to guide beginning kicksledders as well as general sports enthusiasts by introducing the most important aspects of kicksledding from its proud history to available equipment.
The primer might give new insight also to an experienced kicksledder. One can learn faster kicking techniques and training tips. In addition, the guide helps to find suitable conditions for kicksledding.
In the past it has often been more easy for new ideas to spread from west to east than to the opposite direction. Also kicksledding has moved from Scandinavia first to the east via Finland. In Russian (finski sanki) and in Estonian (soome kelk) kicksled is called "Finnish sled".
The kicksled conquest of the whole world is now beginning from Finland as the new millennium starts. There is no less reason to believe in this than in Santa Claus.
Kicksledding fits perfectly in Finnish nature. You can kick in a variety of surroundings, on lake and sea ice, on outdoor paths or on ploughed roads. You can find places for kicksledding even during mild winters when snow is scarce. On bare ice or icy cross-country skiing paths you can gain astonishing speeds with a kicksled. Kicksledding is often a more convenient alternative for skiing or skating, especially in suboptimal winter conditions.
The practicality of kicksledding depends not only on weather but also on the local roadkeeping practice. Like all users of winter vehicles with gliding surfaces, kicksledders are difficult customers for the authorities responsible for the maintenance of streets and roads.
Main objectives of wintertime road maintenance are facilitating traffic flow and preventing accidents on slippery surfaces. From the viewpoint of a kicksledder there is a conflict between the two objectives, as sand and salt used for increasing friction effectively hinder kicksledding on the same surfaces.
According to Finnish legislation the obligation to prevent slipperiness on pedestrian lanes and sidewalks cannot be neglected in city areas. However, after snowfall and changes of temperature incurring melting and freezing it is often possible to kicksled also in densely populated areas. Now and then you might encounter sanded or bare streets, but they only provide diversity to the workout as you must carry the sled for a while or simply push harder.
In many towns one can learn kicksledding early (photo Anne-Maria Vierikko).
Maintenance of roads and streets does not bring plain trouble for kicksledders. On the contrary, without proper ploughing of roads kicksledding would be much more difficult. Furthermore, automotive tyres and pedestrian shoe soles help to pack the snow hard, which is optimal for kicksledding.
When you go kicksledding in road traffic, you should remember that according to Finnish legislation you are a pedestrian. You should kick on the pedestrian lane; in absence of one you should use the left side of the road. When it is dark, good reflectors are an obligatory accessory that you should never forget.
Icy ski skating tracks and hard-packed pedestrian paths are most suitable for kicksledding. Near cities and towns there are usually plenty of prepared outdoor paths. Such routes you can find mostly near towns and villages, often in urban neighborhoods. One or two laps around the park with a kicksled is a superior alternative to walking or jogging in slippery conditions. Especially in Southern Finland the paths might be most of wintertime in such a condition that a kicksled is the safest and most practical fitness equipment. In any case, you should check the current suitability of the paths for kicksledding each time before you start.
One ought to keep in mind that the wintry outdoor paths are meant primarily for XC skiers or motor snow scooters. When the tracks are soft, kicksled is not necessarily the best possible vehicle for driving on them. When the ski folks populate the tracks in huge flocks, it is perhaps not the best idea to rush with the kicksled into the middle of commotion.
In snowy conditions you can attach plastic skis under the normal steel runners. They are not expensive and improve the glide also when there is sand or bare ground under the soft snow.
The unique rugged maze of islands and waterways of Finnish seacoast and inland waters gives outstanding possibilities for kicksledding.
During wintertime the waters are for remarkable periods covered by sturdy ice but not by much snow. This kind of conditions occur most often during early season as well as after milder weather, when the snow on the ice has melt and frost has made the ice surface hard again. At seaside one might not get suitable conditions until late winter; sometimes they won't come at all.
Kicksled has traditionally been an everyday vehicle for moving around in the archipelago and lake areas. Already in the 19th century they experimented with kicksled couriers taking care of the archipelago post traffic. Steel runners made kicksledding even more popular, as ice was the optimal glide surface.
Still today many fishermen use the kicksled to get conveniently to the best fishing places. Perhaps even too conveniently, because use of kicksled is forbidden in winter fishing competitions.
Skating on natural ice has become more and more popular during the past few years. With a kicksled you can enjoy the glide on the ice plains at least as comfortably. On natural ice one usually encounters cracks and uneven areas that might even require walking. In such conditions a kicksledder passes a skater easily by merely gliding or carrying the sled.
On several occasions during each winter one can find dozens of smaller ice arenas on small lakes and ponds, for instance, in the Noux national park area close to Helsinki. A training tour carrying a modern lightweight sled from one lake to the next one, viewing the scenery above and below the cliffs and rocks, brings gains to both your physical and mental health without any perceivable pain or strain.
When kicksledding on ice, you should always be prepared to the possibility of ice breaking under you. The circumstances might vary substantially within a small area from hour to hour. You should be especially cautious close to currents and on sea ice.
Learn to observe places with weak ice. Water coming from a sewage pipe, creek or brook can make the ice above it bristle. In general, the ice close to the shoreline is often ambiguous because of weeds, buoys, shore bank, rocks and other features breaking the ice surface.
If you kicksled on a river, it is worthwhile to deduce how the currents flow in the riverbed. In the bends the strongest current is on the outside. Hence, there is the weakest ice. In a river flowing normally the strongest current is in the middle.
There are plenty of currents also in lakes and sea. Straits, sounds and tips of peninsulas are places where the ice is often remarkably weaker than elsewhere. In such a case you'd better portage the insecure area carrying the sled on dry land.
Although you might get an impression of hazardous locations by looking at the shoreline, the shape of the bottom remains hidden. Every shoal, rock or ridge makes the ice thinner. For instance, a big rock might direct a current or warmer water from the depths closer to the surface. The effects can be very local, just ten meters from safe ice you can find yourself plunging.
The quality and durability of ice is naturally different during different stages of winter. Freezing up happens always in phases. Shallow shores, inlets and bays freeze first, after which the ice cover eventually spreads towards the wider and deeper waters.
There are many climatical and physical phenomena accounting for the formation of ice. The most significant are temperature, wind, cloudiness, snow cover on ice and water currents. Ice gets thicker fastest during a frosty windless starbright night. Clouds, on the contrary, retard the evaporation of warmth into space.
Snow is effective insulation, therefore snow-covered ice gets stronger much slower than snowfree ice. Abundant snow masses may push the ice under the water surface. In such a case the water arising above the ice mixes with the snow forming slush that freezes into porous and fragile gray ice. The carrying capacity of gray ice is only ca. one half of pure black ice.
The effect of wind is quite contradictory. Wind propagates evaporation that hastens ice formation. On the other hand, wind might raise waves that keep wide waters open long after the more sheltered places already have got their ice cover.
Wind openings might be extremely hazardous. Especially after they get covered by a thin ice lid, it might be almost impossible to differentiate them from the surrounding safe ice. Similar openings can appear also on top of deep valleys, where the warm bottom water rotates upwards and pushes the cold surface water away.
One might find openings also in the middle of thick and durable ice. Note that the backpacks are fastened to the sleds against safety instructions.
During hard frost you can hear the ice making thunder-like banging sounds. They can seem quite frightening in the beginning. The sounds are created as the ice gets colder. Ice volume decreases and it begins cracking. In smaller lakes such cracks are usually thin fissures that don't cause major problems for a kicksledder. Nevertheless, the cracks might expand and become extremely dangerous especially on sea ice.
During thaw the sun begins to make ice more fragile. Thickness does not anymore guarantee ice safety. The ice crystals remain only loosely attached to each another. There are no cracking sounds acting as warning signs. You should stop kicksledding on ice ultimately when the ice starts getting dark. On the other hand, white color is no guarantee for ice durability even during springtime.
Saltiness is the most important difference between sea and freshwater ice. It makes sea ice become fragile more easily. Furthermore, sea currents bring warmer water from the depths melting the ice from down below.
On the basis of the previous lesson you can never be quite sure of the durability of ice. Therefore you ought to be prepared for a swim in chilly waters always when you are ice-bound.
Ice studs are utterly necessary standard equipment around your neck, because without them it might be too difficult to pull yourself from an opening to durable ice. In addition, it is good to have a rescue rope. A handy trick is to attach a weight to the rope, shove it loosely into a small bag and throw it keeping the free end in your hand.
The sound of a whistle can be heard farther than plain shouting, so you should have one ready for use besides ice studs. Even such a modern gadget as mobile telephone might prove amazingly useful, if you pack it watertight.
If you have ice studs around your neck and other people helping you up, then the biggest danger is not drowning, but freezing after getting up from water in wet clothes. You should be aware of this especially in cold and windy weather on natural ice far from human residences.
A professional rescue suit would be optimal, of course, but it is too warm for kicking. However, spare clothes packed in a watertight bag make your rucksack a floating life-saving aid. A normal plastic bag is too fragile. A garbage sack is slightly better, but the best alternative is a sturdy canoe paddler's equipment bag.
The rucksack should have a waist belt, because otherwise it might rise up to one's neck when plunging. You should not attach any equipment to your kicksled, they might float away or sink with it.
It is extremely difficult to raise your sled up without any support while struggling in the water, because it makes you sink down yourself. It is better to let the sled go if you cannot push it immediately onto the ice.
Shout for help or use your whistle if there are people nearby. Break the ice with your hands. Use your ice studs. Try to get into a horizontal position by swim kicks. The best direction is back where you came from, or towards the shoreline if it is close.
After you get up roll to more durable ice. Go inside or change spare clothes immediately. In chilly weather you might like to go on dry land away from the worst breeze in case the shore is within a reasonable distance. Otherwise your touring partners can form a human windshield around you and help in changing.
In short, you should keep in mind at least the most important golden rules for an ice kicksledder:
There are guidebooks written for tour skaters, in which the safety aspects are handled in detail. You can apply the same instructions also while kicksledding on ice.
Kicksled is popularly familiar as a transport vehicle for elderly people, school children and ice fishermen. As race sport, on the contrary, kicksledding is quite unknown, not least because of relatively small number of participants. However, kicksledding is a traditional and challenging form of athletics that requires diverse talent and tough sport-specific training at top level.
Back in 1906 kicksledding was considered one of the three most significant winter sports in Finland besides cross-country skiing and skating. According to Ivar Wilskman, the father of modern Finnish sports life, kicksledding had acquired the relatively widest spread.
Kicksledding has thus a solid athletic background. Already in 1882 a sports newspaper in Stockholm reported a vehicle that could be kicked forwards. In Sweden the most prominent kicksled enthusiast was captain Victor Balck, a member of the first modern Olympic Committee and good friend of baron de Coubertin. He founded the world's first kicksledding club in 1889 in Stockholm.
The first kicksleds were introduced in Finland contemporarily. In 1891 the first Finnish club was established in Oulu. Founder of the club, colonel Edward Furuhielm arranged races within the military and promoted the use of kicksled also on soldiers' holiday trips from the garnison to their home areas.
There were road races on different distances. The most famous long-distance races were arranged in Sweden, for instance, on routes Stockholm-Uppsala (best time A.Holm 6.51 in 1891) and Stockholm-Södertälje-Stockholm (6.02.46). In Nordic Games, the biggest winter sport festival in those days, kicksledding was introduced in 1901. All winners were Swedish (1609 m 5.55.8, 2500 m 8.55.4, 5000 m 20.53.2). On another route in Stockholm someone had kicked 5000 m already few years earlier in time 18.42. Nevertheless, an amazing world record 14.15 was made in Oulu a decade later. Astonishingly, however, kicksledding never became a major championship sport.
After many decades of stagnation race kicking started again in 1980's. There are races both on roads (also called terrain) and on ice. The distances vary from 200 m sprint to 100 km ice race. The most famous games are the annual Ice Kicksled World Championships in the small town of Multia that gather hundreds of participants of different age groups both in competitional and recreational events.
The most famous kicksledder of modern times is undoubtedly Hannu Vierikko, whose long suite of victories was broken only after 11 years in 1998. There are races in many countries, besides Scandinavia also in Central Europe and North America.
Race velocities have improved substantially in 100 years. Besides kicksled development the main reason is that nowadays the record attempts are made on swift natural or prepared ice.
Alpo Kuusisto pushes away from Ville Vickholm towards the victory of Multia Ice Marathon 1998.
The suite of Hannu Vierikko's ice track records after season 1999 is still quite impressive. (200 m 22.6, 2000 m 4.18.8, 10000 m 21.48, marathon 1.33.30). In March 1999 he lost the 100 km record to Ville Vickholm in Victor Balck memorial race in Kuopio.
On ladies' side each distance has its own record-holdress ( 200 m Annika Renvaktar 26.5, 2000 m Anu Heikkilä 4.59.5, 10000 m Reetta Matsi 26.55.8, marathon Päivi Leppäsalmi 2.01.33, 100 km Hanna Markkula 4.50.22). Hitherto no records have traveled outside Finland.
In road races (also called terrain races) the velocities are usually much more human. 10 km might take more than 30 minutes even for a top kicker in slow conditions. As record hunting has become more and more intensive, the popularity of road races has decreased. However, many kicksledders still consider races on hilly and curvy Finnish country roads the salt and pepper of kicksledding, although they wouldn't invite the salt truck for a visit on the race morning.
World's elite thrusts into 10 km road race in Vihavuosi 1999.
The kicksled originates from Northern Scandinavia, most probably from Jämtland. It got its modern structure in the end of 19th century, evolving from a water or timber sled that could be pushed more easily by elongating the runners backwards. The glide and durability was improved by applying iron coating on the underside. A horizontal handlebar was attached to the vertical supports for pushing stability. Thus the Swedish-style race sled of late 19th century was a sturdy and swift wooden beauty.
Sketch by Edward Furuhjelm illustrating a race kicksled published in Sporten magazine, Helsinki 1891.
In 1900 technician Oskari Terhi from Salo built the first known kicksled with iron runners. The kicksleds of early 20th century were quite similar to the present-day standard sleds, although stiffer and heavier. The vertical supports were tilted backwards in order to improve manoeuvrability and to give the kicking foot more room in the front. As the roads gradually became better ploughed and hard-packed due to increasing traffic, the runners could be made more narrow. This decreased weight and facilitated steering even further.
The basic construct of the standard kicksled that everybody knows today has thus not been modified almost at all during the century. The manufacturing technology has been modernized, however, and all the sleds on the market today are made by only few big factories instead of village craftsmen of yesterday.
Still in 1960's the total annual production in Finland was about 100 000 kicksleds by five separate companies. Nowadays it is about 20 000 pieces most of which come from the ESLA kicksled factory. In Sweden and in Norway it still has remarkable competitors.
Kicksled is a pleasant vehicle in the sense that it is practically maintenance-free. Tightening bolts and nuts is actually the only check required from time to time in order to keep the sled in kicking shape.
Modern race sled
When race kicksledding started to revive in 1980's, quite normal standard sleds were used in races. However, as velocities increased on slippery ice circuits the most enthusiastic competitors began pondering how to make the sled faster and sturdier.
The first step was to make the kicksled stiffer, because the standard sled becomes instabile at high velocities. Stiffening can be made simply by lifting the tilted supports to vertical position. This meant actually returning to the golden ages of late 19th century.
Top stability can be achieved by making also the runners of stiff material. In that case, however, turning becomes difficult. A standard runner is flexible enough to allow an experienced kicksledder to descend curvy village roads fast but safely.
On slippery ice the standard runner slides easily sideways. In order to improve lateral grip you can sharpen the runner. However, a better performing combination of glide and grip can be achieved by using a more narrow runner. This brings us back to the problem how to make the runner stiff enough.
The problem was solved in 1993 by Rauno Pylväläinen. He constructed a kicksled in which a ultra-narrow (<1mm) steel runner was encompassed in a carbon fibre profile. This kind of runners are extremely stiff, but yet flexible enough for swift kicking in curves of a typical ice circuit. Pylvälänen's creation, equipped with a light metal frame with optimized steering geometry, can indeed be called the first full-blooded modern racing kicksled.
Hannu Vierikko, Auli Suomalainen and Anu Heikkilä kicked several world records with these progressive Pylvis-kicksleds. On the other hand, because the model was not freely available on the market, it was not easy for new kicksledders to obtain one for training and racing.
Traditional kicksled has got a more athletic alternative. (sketch Anne-Maria Vierikko).
Cooperation between ESLA and Hannu Vierikko in the late 1990's led to the birht of the first industrially produced racing kicksled. Its original name was Ketkupolkka, according to the Helsinki kicksled club that performed the practical testing of the product. Later the name was changed to the more international Kickspark.
The frame is basically one bent pipe that is attached to the runners and handlebar. You can adjust the height according to the size and style of the kicksledder. With this kind of a vehicle everyone can enjoy the enchantment of fast kicksledding at a reasonable price.
In order to secure kicking comfort and smooth glide it is essential to mount the ice runners as parallel to each another as possible. You can measure the distance between the runners at front bar, frame and foot position. You should adjust the direction of each runner by gently twisting the runner attached to the frame while the front bar is detached. If need be, you can also use small washers between the runner and the frame. When making runners parallel, you ought to keep in mind that a slight toe-in is better than a corresponding toe-out.
Runners get corroded and scratched while using or storing the kicksled. You ought to remove the rust and scratches always after a longer break in kicking. The traditional trick of pushing the kicksled on gravel does indeed remove the rust, but it also creates more scratches. If you really wish to improve glide, you should perform a basic grinding with coarse (nr 80-120) abrasive paper. Few long pulls are usually enough. If you are preparing seriously for a race, then you should continue with supplementary fine grinding.
The ideal kicksledder's shoe is light and warm. It has stiff soles with good grip. For occasional kicksledding or slow touring on frosty snow a normal hiking boot or jogging shoe is quite adequate.
In order to improve grip you can pull grandma's woolen socks over your shoes. A better alternative, however, is to use special ice irons or crampons. A crampon is a friction gadget under your shoe sole that is equipped with studs, spikes or metal teeth. They are not snow shoes; if you have to resort to such apparel, then the snow is probably too soft for kicksledding.
It is also possible to mount studs in the soles of your normal training shoes. Some sport equipment stores offer that kind of service. There also exists special footwear, such as orienteering shoes, that come with studs off the shelf.
If you have more serious fitness or competitive objectives, you'd better purchase spike shoes. Orienteering spike shoes are popular because of their stiffness and textured heel that usually fits well on the runner. Furthermore, some models have studs in the heel that alleviate braking. Baseball (Finnish variant) or track spikes are still lighter, but the sole might be too flexible. Top kicksledders use stiffening inner soles made of carbon fiber, for instance.
Spikes should be long and sharp enough that they bite properly into ice. On the other hand, too long spikes might destroy the spike bases, because the leverage produced by horse kicks is much stronger than running stride on sand or track. Good length of spikes is usually 9-12 mm.
While kicking, toes get frozen more easily than you expect. Feet remain warm if the shoes are big enough. On ice covered with water thermal socks are quite necessary on longer distances. When it is very cold, you can fit a woolen sock or a ski shoe frost cover over the spike shoe. A good trick for making toes warm up is to run with the sled in uphills.
You can go kicksledding in quite normal outdoor clothing. If you go out for a heavier training or touring ride, you should keep a few basic aspects of winter sport dressing in mind.
The outfit must be porous to allow moisture to evaporate, but simultaneously windproof at least to some degree. Don't use one thick down-stuffed garment. Multiple layers of thin clothing work much better. Closest to the skin you should have special sports underwear that transfers moisture from your body to the outer absorbing layers. On longer tours you should carry an extra insulating jacket or vest to be worn during breaks.
It is essential to shelter exposed body parts. Besides fingers, toes and face all other extensions of the human body need to be protected. Ear covers or a balaclava are necessary if your cap does not go down enough. In frosty and windy ice marathons the biggest reason for male participants quitting the race has been chilly winds blowing between groins. Wind-shielded underpants relieve this problem quite effectively.
Kicksledding serves fitness enthusiasts as well as competitive athletes. It suits men as well as ladies. Any healthy individual can enjoy the activity without problems. You can start kicking already after a two-minute introductory course. Kicksled is at its best on long distances, where a kicksledder can easily move faster then s/he could run.
Kicking is a more diverse and softer physical activity than running, but equally effective training. Kicksledding employs all big muscle groups in your body. Besides aerobic capacity, kicksledding improves elasticity, so you can use it as supplementary training in many sports while recovering from injuries.
The kicksledder is responsible for 90 % of the speed, the vehicle only for the remaining 10%. In order to be successful in races, you have to concentrate on improving your sport-specific capabilities at homeostatic, muscle and technique levels.
Kicking is a natural way to propel oneself forward. Kids tend to learn it without almost any effort. A good, efficient technique makes kicksledding easy and enjoyable.
Concentrate on you technique and apply power to each kick, letting rather kick frequency decrease. Try consciously to get rid of extra muscle tension. If you kick properly, you employ only the working muscles. While kicking, you need not act hastily. You won't tumble on your nose even though you take a moment to ponder your next move. Soon you will find out, that it is relatively easy to consciously alter one's technique.
Be relaxed and keep your weight on the supporting foot. Don't lean on the kicking foot or hands.
The kick begins by bending the back while keeping the torso horizontal. Imagine that you are an assaulting cheetah. The movement is efficient when lower back muscles are strong enough.
Lift the foot high in the front. Don't swing your leg straight, lift the knee instead. Be careful that you don't hit your nose with your knee. Your weight moves slightly to the arms, but not leaning.
When taking your first kicks or at slow velocities the knee lift is less imminent. Note that kickstart from standstill is most efficient when you begin the first kick from the ground.
Bend the support leg and use your weight to add power to each kick. In a full-effort kick the heel of the support foot detaches from the runner. The kicking foot touches the ground sharply with the forefoot like in sprinting. The knee and the leg extend almost completely.
At high speed the kicking foot detaches from the ground immediately after the pendulum momentum has been transferred to the surface. At slow velocities the push phase might be remarkably longer.
The end phase of the kick is especially important. Kicking ankle should extend completely. Deficiencies in this can be detected as the foot rising too high in the back.
When the kick directs backwards, you should spare the strained quadriceps thigh muscle of your support leg by bending at the pelvis instead of the knee. In this way also the centre of gravity of your body remains quite level. On the other hand, you should not try to keep your knee completely straight, but flex moderately. While kicking longer distances you shall for sure find out when the leg gets tired too fast.
As the speed approaches maximum, the free pendulum movement is not enough for bringing the kicking foot to the front. You have to speed up the leg with hip and thigh flexors. The kicking movement begins to feel like rotating.
In order to perform a rotating kick efficiently you need highly adapted muscle fitness. A hypertrophic tensor fasciae latae of an endurance athlete is a sign of good kicking muscle condition.
Everybody doesn't kick best with completely same technique. Your muscle capabilities and limb lengths are highly individual. Thus, don't single-mindedly imitate the kick technique of the champions. A sharp and strong kick suits some people, others find a more tranquil pendulum movement most efficient. Don't compel yourself to any certain technique or speed.
Take long kicks, let the kicksled glide. On flatland it is more efficient than fast short kicks. The kicking frequency should be proportional to the friction between the runner and gliding surface. You should always try to make maximal use of the glide.
As the kicking distance gets longer, you should remember to change the kicking foot often enough to avoid lactic acid accumulating locally in the most strained muscles. Most often the frequency is about 5 kicks with one foot. A good rule of thumb for feet swapping is
You should swap you feet without haste, standing for a moment on both runners. It is better to use slightly too much than too little time, otherwise you will easily find yourself tumbling down. Especially on fast surfaces you can swap your feet in an exaggarately relaxed manner and use the short rest interval for extending your lower back, for instance.
Practice foot swapping so that you don't constantly need to look at your feet. A skilled kicksledder swaps foot naturally without any conscious effort.
Against common misconceptions you can kick also uphill quite easily. However, you have to possess a certain level of fitness and technique in order to conquer a mighty slope.
When the road begins to ascend, the kicksled slows down remarkably between the kicks. You feel the terrain contours clearly while kicking, although the velocity might not change drastically. Don't push too hard, it's better to adapt uphill technique.
Increase the frequency and shorten the kicks. Change the pendulum-like kick into a rotating one. With the knee slightly bent you can bring your foot quickly to the front ready for a new kick. In the kicking phase, however, try to keep your knees straight avoiding the up-down pumping motion.
In order to increase kick frequency further, you need to introduce the jump swap. Jump immediately after kicking while you are bringing the kicked foot to the front. Descend with the kicked foot on the runner and the swapped foot already on the ground pushing you forward. A low, inconspicuous kick does not waste energy.
If the hill proves too steep for your fitness or skill, don't become depressed. There are hills difficult enough even for the kicksled champions. It is simple to step off the runners and start walking or running. For a beginner, this is often the most convenient alternative.
When your velocity in downhill accelerates to a certain speed, you will notice that there is no sense in kicking any more. Stand on both runners and flex your knees according to the terrain contours. If the speed becomes frightening, you can brake with your heels. Studded heels work quite effectively even on an icy road.
Always reserve enough braking distance by adjusting your speed to the field of sight. It is much slower to bring your kicksled to a halt in downhills than on flatland.
At the end of downhill let your speed decrease to your normal kicking pace. A beginner often starts kicking at a much higher speed, when putting your foot on the ground only brakes and destabilizes the glide.
Starting and stopping are strong sides of kicksledding. You can change from kicking to walking or vice versa with only one step. You can start running from a relatively high kicking speed. The fastest way to start is to take a couple of fast running strides and then jump on the runners. Note that in races running start is not allowed.
If a kicksled enthusiast wishes to achieve remarkable velocity, s/he needs to have strong engine - the human body. Most people, even active athletes, have inadequate muscle fitness for kicksledding. Strenghthening the lower back, buttocks, hamstrings and hip flexors is the key for delightful kicksledding besides normal fitness training.
Innovativity is the foundation of developing muscle fitness exercises that serve kicksledding. Stair/hill running, plyometrics, circuit training as well as speed and flexibility workouts are all essential while optimizing your kicking shape. When planning your workouts, you should consider carefully which sport-specific characteristics you wish to improve. In strength and plyometric training one tries to find coaching approaches that induce a positive workload transfer to kicksledding. You can count muscle fitness workouts as kicksled training, they are indeed essential for good kicking performance. Kicksledding requires a certain adaptation of the muscular nervous system, which you can develop with sport-specific complementary workouts.
Strength training with and without extra weights: squatting is best done with one leg (l + r), change leg as often as when kicksledding, about four repetitions at a time. Another good workout is stepping onto a bench with a bar behind the neck. One session can be, for instance, 4 x (4 + 4) with 50kg extra weight. You should try to do it fast and sharp.
It is good to perform back extensions both dynamically and statically. In the dynamic version you attach only one foot to the workout bench and and change sides after every ten repetitions. In the static version you try to keep the vertical position as long as you can, typically 2 reps of 5 minutes each. This improves especially the strength of will that you need in long kicksled races.
The kick rubber developed by Hannu Vierikko is essential in order to train hip flexors to the level required in top-level kicksledding. To obtain "Tennis ball muscles" perform short, fast, 15 sec pull intervals with maximum intensity. In the repetitions you should concentrate especially on moving the knee and leg forwards. The kick rubber works well also when exercising hip abductors and adductors.
The strength training session is best organised so that you perform the kick rubber workouts and possible hops last in order to obtain a good sport-specific transfer effect. Even better transfer effect can be induced after the strength session by doing a speed session consisting of short 10-15 sec maximal sprints with Kickbike or Kickspark.
One of the most sport-specific workouts is the one-legged squat-jump that is used extensively also in speed skating. As a kicksled exercise you can do it in two ways, but the rhythm is same in both: 4 x right + 4 x left etc. In the first version you lift the heel to the buttocks. It develops the rotating kick needed in sprinting and changing the kicking rhythm. In the other version you erect the jumping leg without rotating it via buttocks. This is not as strenuous and develops more the pumping characteristics needed in the support leg while kicksledding.
Stair hopping with one foot is an excellent exercise. The rhythm 4 x right + 4 x left works well here, too. Some times a longer cycle might be more practical; you might hop with one leg one flight of stairs and then change.
You ought to supplement your circuit and strength training with familiar workouts exercising various muscle groups: push-ups, sit-ups, abdominal crunches, chin-ups, normal hops with alternating legs etc. It is especially rewarding to improve your weak points.
A suitable amoung of circuit and strength training is 30-60 min once ot twice a week depending on the training period. During the racing season a speed or plyometric workout once a week might well be enough. Of the two weekly sessions one might emphasize strength and the other one speed and elasticity. Sport-specific workouts should be included in both sessions.
A beginner should apply the workouts described above lightly, without excess strain and pain in order to avoid injuries. A fitness program of more advanced kicksledders begins, together with with rising condition, motivation and aspirations, eventually to resemble the training schema of a competitive kicksledder. It is of course not only a matter of muscle fitness, basic principles of aerobic endurance training apply also to kicksledding.
Below some excerpts from Ville Vickholm's "Kicksledder's diary" during Christmastime 1998 in which he has revealed the kick-specific quality and quantity workouts that are, however, only part of the truth. The Finnish top level triathlete Ville summed up his training of the autumn / winter season from week 43/98 to week 11/99 (Kickbike-workouts weeks 39-45 = 26 hours): Kicksledding 88 h, swimming 85 h, cycling on rollers 61 h, running 51 h, cross-country skiing 38 h, resistance & circuit & plyometric training 19 h = total 351 h which gives an average of more than 15 training hours / week.
One millimeter snow on the lake. In the morning I went searching for my lost horse kicks, 2 h 5 min including 6 * 2.4 km in tailwind 5.07-4.58. That is across Lake Lapinjärvi from north to south. Quite a nice feeling despite the flu.
I tried to get such ease into my kicks as Alpo has. Mine seem currently much more mechanical and angular. I won't probably never reach Alpo's level in technique. In speed, however, I might succeed, especially on ice tracks that favor my capabilities.
The fantastic weather continues. In the morning 2 hours 50 mins enjoyment, six laps around Lapinjärvi, in the end 5 * (20+20) kicks with full effort. The dawn of the shortest day of the year was just as fine a visual experience as the most beautiful sunsets of the world.
The narrow straits between the lake weeds and the shoreline are the most interesting kicking routes. After sunrise at the northern shore one could analyse one's own kicking technique from one's shadow cast on the shore bank.
Afterwards, 30 min running and 30 min circuit training. In the evening 3,3 km swimming.
At 8.30 AM 1 hours 35 mins on the lake. The sky has split in two, a dark cloud cover occluded the other half of the sunrise. A rainbow appeared at the edge of the gloomy sky. In the end 2,4 km in 5.01. The finish was located at the end of the rainbow. Afterwards half an hour running. In the evening my kicking muscles received their regular massage service.
Christmastime was dedicated to other physical activity more lenient to the kicking musculature.
In the morning one hour cross-country kicksledding on Heikinkylä road in tacky conditions. Flegmatic and tired feeling, no push at all, maybe due to the flu causing Christmas tiredness.
In the morning drove to Vantaa where I performed some media kicks for TV with Hannu and Jan. The road was fast and icy but perhaps a bit too uneven in the forest where most of the shots were taken. Afterwards we kicked two loops on the 5 km motion circuit and passed a pretty female cross-country ski athlete while exceeding our lactate thresholds.
We had snow runners and the trail was quite heavy. Even my hip flexor muscles got a bit sore although our effective kicking time was only about 50 mins.
Before the training I had my blood picture taken which proved to be OK. Hence, my tiredness is not due to anemia. No reason to stop kicking !
50 mins kicksledding on the lake. At the end 2,4 km in 5.07. The kicking foot tends to penetrate the surface ice layer now and then. There has not been enough frost lately. Afterwards 1 hour 15 mins running.
At 10.15 AM the toughest ice training of the season if one does not count the races. Total 2 hours 45 mins on Lapinjärvi. 7 * 2200 m in tailwind (4.45, 4.35, 4.35, 4.33, 4.35, 4.32, 4.27!!!). The last interval was faster than my own record on the 200 m sprint. Only three seconds from 30 km/h average speed.
I could push myself quite hard today. The intervals felt bad in the right way. The last one and a half minutes felt almost like eternal hell each time. Same feelings as the end spurt of Balck 1996. In the last interval I had misty eyes and a rage of an ape. It just had to go under 4.30.
Today I found out also that I have adjusted my steer too high in races. In the first interval I lowered the stem to its extreme low position and did not get the same power in my kicks as in subsequent efforts with the stem raised a bit. In the higher position you can raise your knee higher which gives you a "higher gear". This is essential especially in tailwind.
This training left me with a great feeling. Tomorrow my muscles will most probably be more or less jammed.
Winter in Finland is long enough for fulfilling a long and exhausting kicksled season. In spite of this, a real kicksledder cannot forget the never-melting enthusiasm in the garage for the summer like the kicksled. There exists a variety of vehicles on the market that enable you to enjoy kicking also summertime.
You can purchase detachable wheel sets for standard kicksleds that make the sled roll on sand or asphalt. This kind of hybrid construction is often referred to as roller sled. A slightly more conveniently rolling alternative is the wheel sled that comes with four small air-filled tyres and a frame resembling the standard winter kicksled.
Even races on wheel sleds were arranged still in the beginning of 1990's, although these vehicles have been originally designed for slow kicking.
It was clear from the beginning that the heavy and instabile wheel sled is not suitable for fast fitness exercise.
The traditional push scooter, on the contrary, is lighter and more easily maneouverable even at high velocities. However, the small-wheeled scooters so common in 1940's and 1950's have been almost totally forgotten. When you knew how to swap feet, you could cover long distances with them. Even though they were mainly a replacement of bicycles, there were also some races, especially for children.
Kicksled World Champion and medicine student Hannu Vierikko tried out all kinds of summer kicking devices and gadgets in the beginning of his career. A (r)evolutionary idea started gradually ripening in his mind.
In summer 1992 the first prototype series of Kickbike sport scooter were delivered to the members of Ketkupolkka kicksled club test team. After thousands of miles and experience gathered from races Kickbike is the king of the kicking world.
The design of a sport scooter bases on the same principles as kicksled design. The motion of kicking foot must be free from obstacles. In addition, the scooter has to be equipped with good brakes. Furthermore, the footboard must be raised just high enough so that it does not constantly hit a typically uneven kicking surface.
There is a plenty of other brands on the market, too, but without the open-minded innovativity and athletic background arising from Finnish kicksled culture they have hitherto been left a couple of kicks behind both in speed and convenience.
Scootering is an internationally growing sport. As a side-effect also the knowledge about kicksledding keeps increasing worldwide.
Summertime kicking vehicles (sketch by Anne-Maria Vierikko).
The road surface dried by the first sunny day raises a tooth-rattling dust cloud behind me. My jogging shoes keep slipping on the asphalt covered by sand and gravel and slushy patches of snow kill my speed when uphill begins. However, the cyclometer of my Kickbike gathers the first miles of the season, and I let the rolling tyres swallow the road in spite of the constantly lengthening distance back to home.
Springtime scents on road banks, and my kick revives from winter staleness by leaving one more pedalist grimacing behing me in uphill. The melting water thrown up by the rear wheel streams on my ankles, but the spring sunshine has brought the warmth back into the breeze. Welcome summer !
The best day of summer has awaken shining bright. Wind is warm and even the sea smiles in the sunshine. I turn my Kickbike to a road adjacent to the shoreline and race with the waves raised by a gentle sidewind. The asphalt is hot; the road edgeline quivers in my eyes but yet I increase my speed. No, I am not in a hurry, but the summertime world around me compels into an accelerating motion. I want to see, move and live !
My long kicks push the footboard against the road, and the speed cools down my sweating forehead. There exists only my kick and the road, and neither will cease before autumn.
It's raining again. I do slalom between the puddles balancing on slippery leaves. The pouring rain makes the night more dark than ever, and I curse my madness that made me grip the Kickbike handlebars instead of car keys. Once again I couldn't leave my dear vehicle hibernating early enough.
Mud flies and the chilly water stream from the edge of my helmet continues to flow along my spine. Superb weather!
Maximising misery reaches its extreme and I gradually start enjoying myself in the middle of the autumn storm. This kind of weather is not for humans, but at least there is plenty of room for kicking along the shining wet streets.
My breath freezes into a cloud in the frosty starbright night. An inch or two of first snow has covered the nearby cliffs, and the wind that brushed the ice has left some zebra stripes near the shoreline. The stage for the first kicksled night is perfect.
I glide from the shore toward the middle of the pond leaving strange footprints behind me. The kicksled moves easily as my spike shoes bite the ice, and the take-off strip towards the moon is open.
Only a whirling cloud of snow crystals reveals the route of the kicksledder. When you look again, the sled has already disappeared beyond sight.
During early spring, when the road has become too slippery and the snow too rough for skiing, and when the air is perhaps yet too fresh for running, then it is the best weather for kicksledding. It is the time to conquer the road and cover journeys with a kicksled. Anyone who has once made a kicksled trip on a spring winter night will renew it whenever suitable and shall use his dear vehicle on all possible errands.
Really, how jolly it is even to observe such a kicksledder. Tranquilly, sparsely crackles his foot on the road; shoulders bow lightly as gathering speed, and despite the easy effort it soon makes you swoon. The skiing man and horse carriage are easily overtaken, not speaking of the pedestrian, who just flickers in the kicksledder's eye like a telegraph cable pole. How skillfully the sled turns in curves; you need not fear any tumbles or collisions. Like a slender twig the kicksled bends obeying the will of its master.
Whilst the kicksled rides boldly on flat land, its speed in downward slopes is quite astonishing indeed. A freshneck driver gets almost confused and the heart of a weak-headed spectator begins wavering. For what so wizardly keeps meandering down the hill, yet honourably surviving such incredible bends, as a skilled kicksledder while tackling the steepest of all slopes. There is a certain enchantment similar to descending down the rapids, no less alert can a kicksled steersman stand on his runners. May neither an eye blink nor a limb deceive its contraction, being neither too timid nor too violent, if one desires to happily reach the level land. You need not only stamina in your arms and strength in your torso, but perhaps most of all sharpness of sight and vigilance of thought as well as a heart that doesn't swerve for nothing.
Kicksledding improves manhood, boldness and courage mentally as well as physically. Therefore kicksledding in fresh air during pictoresque springwinter nights is extremely advisable.
Let it become here mentioned, that our Federation has included kicksledding into its competitive events and eventually there might be even a possibility of participating in the Championships. All counties with a general interest in kicksledding are strongly recommended to arrange races in this practically beneficial and even more merry sport.
Column written by nickname "Tossu" was published in "Työväen Urheilulehti" (Labourers' Athletic Magazine) in 1915.
If you feel bitten by the kicksled fever after reading the chapters above, you are welcome to contact the Finnish kicksled enthusiasts who have contributed to the creation of this primer.
Edited by keporter Esa Mononen