You don't have to train at high speed, long distances, or take significant risks to become a World Champion in bikejoring.
Just ask multiple World Champion, European Champion, and Norwegian Champion, Viktor Sinding-Larsen. He is sharing his training philosophy about biking with dogs in Non-stop dogwear's podcast "Unleashed."
You can listen to the full episode here!
Viktor also competes in scooter and on snow in skijoring, pulka, and 4-dog sled. After both dryland and winter season ends around April, his dogs get an 8-week break.
- During this offseason period, we don't do not competition-specific training. Instead, we try to build up our dog's strength with some power training and a lot of core training.
In general, they train fewer hours during this period. Viktor thinks it is crucial to give his competition dogs a break.
- If some of the dogs come out of the season with small or potential injuries that we do not see, they will usually heal within these two months. That gives us a fresh start for the next season of training and competing.
Start with light training
When starting regular training again, the sessions are very light and easy.
- We only do short training in the beginning, maybe 1-2 kilometers. Then we gradually build up as the weather gets colder. When the dryland season is about to start, we are usually at 9-10 kilometers.
Light, medium and hard weeks
When competing in bikejoring, pulling is an essential part of the training program, of course.
Viktor split the training into light, medium and hard weeks.
- In a light week, we have two-three sessions of pulling. The primary purpose of this week is to recover. Medium weeks are a bit harder, with three to four pulling sessions, followed by a hard week with up to six sessions of pulling. We combine this training with core training and freerunning in the garden.
However, Viktor's dogs don't do much freerunning as a part of the training program.
- Freerunning is an excellent way to build endurance, but the risk for injuries is high with fast and powerful dogs like ours. Therefore we compromise and focus more on power, core and swimming. I love swimming with dogs, as it is a great way to build both endurance and strength during the warm summer months. It is also very gentle to the body.
Build in millimeters - destroy in meters
Keeping all dogs injury-free is the number one priority for Viktor.
- It is better to be safe than sorry. We don't take risks. If the conditions are bad or we feel unsure about something, we skip it - even if it is a competition. I like what hurdler Karsten Warholm's coach said: You build in millimeters, but everything can be destroyed in meters. That means you can't do something fancy in one training - it is the continuity that matters. It is better to take one step at the time and be careful than risking everything and being set back. It is important to think about what's going on besides the training itself. We spend one to two hours daily to train. That leaves 22-23 hours out of the day, and most injuries happen during that time.
If the dog is healthy and feels well, it will also perform better. Viktor and his wife spend much time making sure their four-legged athletes have everything they need.
- We cut their nails, take care of their paws, massage them, and just observe them. How they feel will decide whether they will train the next day or not.
Adapt your training to your dog
All dogs are different. Each individual has weaknesses and strengths. Dogs also have good days and bad days, just like us. Therefore, it is important to adapt the training to the dog you have in front of you - not anyone else.
Viktor tries to give each of his dogs a unique program based on their needs and the competition schedule.
- I have a plan for each training session; where to go and what to do. But everything we do, I base on my intuition and what happens on the go. If a dog struggles uphill and I know we are approaching another hill, I might have a break right in front of it. I want my dog to feel fresh and confident at all times. I take breaks before my dogs get tired. I don't follow the clock.
What speed is right?
Viktor mostly uses a bike when his dogs are pulling, thinking it is easier to keep the right pace for his dogs. He usually helps them uphill and towards the end of the training session.
Downhill they go very slow.
- I think this is very important for my dogs to build up the trust for going slowly downwards. I want them to feel like they want to run faster and lean into the harness.
In general, Viktor trains at low speed.
- I get many questions from people following me on Strava, asking why we go so slow. What is essential to me is finding a good rhythm in which the dog is running at a comfortable speed. My theory is that if I bring the speed up too much, the gain or the effect is minimal. The dogs need more time to regenerate, and they don't manage to run as many kilometers as when you find the right rhythm. If the goal for a session is to reach 10 kilometers, I try to find the speed that brings us to this distance as efficiently as possible. I always compare my Strava with my wife's to see who had the lowest maximum speed and the highest average speed. It is in the downhills you can control the race.
Stop before your dog gets tired
Keeping training sessions short and ending them before the dogs are tired, is something Viktor highly recommends.
- That makes my dogs always wanting to push harder. Even though I know my dogs can run two or three times as much, we start with just one or two kilometers and gradually increase the distance.
Viktor compares training to putting money into a bank. He is only willing to cash out the full amount once a year, at the European championships or World championships.
- You can't withdraw money from the bank every time; you have to save some. By doing this, I have more "money in the bank" at the championship. You cannot ask a dog to perform every weekend.
Biking without the dogs
The dogs are mostly doing the job when Viktor is training them. He does not see the dog training as exercise for himself.
- I go biking every day. Two or three times a week, I have an interval session. I am also working with a coach on building up leg power. I try to, especially during winter, have three power workouts for my legs. But you cannot win with just legs - you need a super dog as well. Without these fantastic dogs I am lucky to have, I would not stand a chance.
Are you interested in learning more about how Viktor is training himself and his dog? Listen to the full episode here!