Viktor Sinding-Larsen | How to train like a World champion in bikejoring
JEANETTE: If you like biking, you will probably like this episode as well, as today’s guest is the World Champion, European Champions, and Norwegian Champion in bikejoring. He also competes in scooter and Nordic with skijoring, pulka, and 4-dog sled. Viktor Sinding Larsen, welcome.
VIKTOR: Thank you.
JEANETTE: You have achieved some impressive results throughout many years, so of course we want to know: how are you training yourself and your dogs? Now it’s offseason.
VIKTOR: It is. We just finished the winter season. Every year, we give the dogs an 8-week offseason period where we do other things, like not competition-specific training. We try to build up their strength, so we do some power training, a lot of core training. But in general, fewer hours than what we normally do. If some of the dogs come out of the season with small injuries that we do not see, these 2 months normally will heal all kinds of small potential injuries so that when we start again in 2 months, we know that they’re ready for a new year of training and competition.
JEANETTE: How do you build your training throughout the rest of the year?
VIKTOR: When the offseason period is over, we start very, very light. Only short trainings, maybe 1-2 kilometers in the beginning. Then we build up. Normally when the weather gets colder, it’s possible to do longer trainings. We start 1-2 kilometers and we try to end when the dryland competition is getting closer. We build up so that we are on 9-10 kilometer trainings.
Then we prepare for the dryland competitions, and when the dryland competitions are done, we have a lack of time, trying to prepare for the winter season, trying to catch up. All the Nordic guys have been training huge amounts through the fall, so then we have to program the dogs for longer distances, train big amounts in November/December, preparing for competition.
JEANETTE: You divide your training into light, medium, and hard weeks. What’s the difference between these weeks?
VIKTOR: We try to have these light, medium, and hard weeks. In general we do a lot of pulling. In the light week, maybe two or three times of pulling. The main purpose of this week is to recover. The medium week is a bit harder, maybe three to four times a week pulling. Then we end up with the hard week, five to six times pulling, and we also try to combine it with some core training or just free running in the garden.
JEANETTE: You’re living in Oslo, and that’s a city where it could be hard to have your dogs free running, but you solve this by training them in many other different ways.
VIKTOR: Yes, that’s true. We live in Oslo, and it’s a little bit challenging to train as much free running as we might like to do for the capacity of the dogs. But I like swimming a lot. It’s a very good, gentle way of training both capacity and strength. So during summer, we try to swim as much as possible.
JEANETTE: Swimming is also a very gentle way to train the dogs to avoid injuries.
VIKTOR: It is. I always spend quite a lot of energy on avoiding injuries for our dogs. Especially when we got our first greysters, they were really, really good dogs, Siri and Sagan. Because they were such amazing dogs, it was very important for us to get them to the starting line without having any injuries. It was better to compromise a little bit on the capacity training and more focus on having them without any injuries. Therefore, we train a lot of power, core, swimming, and not that much free running as maybe others do.
Of course, we don’t get the same capacity, but a healthy dog normally has good enough capacity for bikejoring anyway. It’s more important that it is without any kind of injuries.
JEANETTE: At the European Championships this winter, you started with seven dogs. Every dog was healthy.
VIKTOR: Yeah. Even though it was a very challenging winter with a lot of ice and it was really hard to train, we managed to bring all our seven dogs without any kind of injuries to the starting line. That’s something I’m very, very proud of.
The brain behind keeping the dogs free of injuries is my wife. She’s a physical therapist for both humans and our dogs, and she’s very good at observing. She spends a lot of time looking for any kind of injuries, if they walk in special ways. She spends a lot of time observing the dogs to see if there is anything wrong. This also affects the way we train. We say we try to be better safe than sorry. If there’s any kind of risk involved in the plans we have or the conditions, etc., we try to drop it just to make sure that we avoid any injuries.
JEANETTE: Even if it’s competition?
VIKTOR: Yeah, even if it’s competition. I think this has changed a little bit. When we started racing and for many years, we were in the middle of the list. It was quite a gap to the best ones, especially on the Nordic part. Then the feeling was much stronger to come up with something a little bit fancier, involving a little bit more risk, to close this gap.
But when you continue training like this and try to build the gap in a fast way, it’s normally not possible. The coach of Karsten Warholm says that they build in millimeters, but things can be destroyed in meters, meaning you cannot do something fancy in one training, which means that you need continuity in your training. Every day you train, you become a little bit better. But if you do one mistake, you can ruin everything just in one training. So it’s better to take one step at a time, being careful, instead of having to risk ruining everything and putting you many steps back.
I think also it’s important to think about what’s going on besides training. We train maybe 1 or 2 hours a day, and the rest of the 22-23 hours, it’s important to be careful. Most injuries happen during that time.
JEANETTE: Do you train with both bike and scooter?
VIKTOR: I train 99% of the time on bike. I think with a bike, it’s much easier to find the right speed. You can help them upwards, and especially at the end of the training session, you can help them in a much better way to control and find the right speed that you want for the dogs. Especially where we live, it’s very hilly. It’s up and down. Especially at the end of
the training when they’re a little bit weaker, it’s super nice to go on a bike, and you can help them find exactly the speed that you want.
JEANETTE: How do you know what speed is the right speed?
VIKTOR: In general, we train very, very slow downwards. I think this is very important for them to build up the trust for going slowly downwards so that the dogs have the feeling that they want to run faster. When you do that all the time, they really put themselves in a nice way into the harness. They really push downwards, and it’s like they want to go faster. So when competitions come and we pick the speed up, then it’s something they want.
When it’s going upwards, then we train very differently. Sometimes we want to do it heavy; sometimes we want to do it light. But by using a bike, you can adjust it just the way you want.
In general, I think we train very slow. I get many questions from people following me on Strava for example. They can follow each of our dog trainings, and they ask why we go so slow. I think for me, it’s important just to find a good rhythm where the dog is like flying in a comfortable speed.
If the goal for us is to reach, for example, 10K during this training, I try to find a speed, up, down, and on the flat, that will bring us to this 10K as easily as possible, a speed that they will roll or fly in the most efficient way. Then we have to brake downwards, trying not to have it too high on maximum speed, trying to find a good average speed, a good flow, so that we as efficiently as possible reach the kilometers that we want. By doing that, we can gain a lot of kilometers where the regeneration or restitution time is as low as possible.
My theory is that if I bring the speed up too much, the gain or the effect is very small, but they need much more time to regenerate and they don’t manage to run as many kilometers as if you find the right rhythm, the right flow, where they can fly away, gaining as many kilometers as possible.
JEANETTE: That theory seems to be correct because you’ve done quite well. [laughs]
VIKTOR: Yeah. It seems like this is working. I have many different dogs; they’re all running quite well.
JEANETTE: After a training session like this, how tired are the dogs?
VIKTOR: I always try to vary that as well, but in general I’m very fond of having short trainings. Very often, I end the training before they are very tired. By doing that quite often, they always want to push harder.
It’s a very important key in having the progression during the year. We start with just 1 or 2 kilometers, but I know the dogs can run two or three times as much. But by doing this many, many times, maybe five times a week, they will push harder and harder because they know, “This training is going to be short; I’ll spend as much energy as I can on these 3 kilometers.” By doing this, then we can slowly add one more and one more kilometer and still have a lot of power, building up towards 10K.
JEANETTE: Is it only in competition that you’re really pushing it to the maximum?
VIKTOR: Yeah. Only one time a year, I push 100%. I say that every competition or exercise is like putting money into the bank, and it’s only the European Championship or the World Championship where we go 100%. Even the Norwegian Championship or small competitions, I just do about 90-95%. I’m saving everything for the big championships because if you push your dog as hard as you can, even the strongest dog cannot do this very often.
That’s my theory. Maybe I’m a little bit soft, but I think that even such a short distance cannot take out money from the bank every time. You’ve got to save it. By doing this holding back a little bit all the time, I think I have much more money in the bank when the championship is coming that I can take out.
JEANETTE: During a competition, you are also working hard yourself. How much are you training yourself without the dogs?
VIKTOR: I train as much as I can. It’s a busy life now with plenty of dogs. They need a lot of training. But when I train the dogs, I don’t see this as an exercise myself. I put on warm clothes, and the dogs are doing the job.
I ride a bike almost every day. Two or three times I have an interval per week, and we’re also working with my coach on building up my leg power. I try to, especially during winter, have three power workouts with my legs. So I train as much as I can. The total load of dogs and the work and everything is quite high.
But in bike training, it’s also like as long as you reach a certain level, I think the dog gets very, very important. You need a super dog to win. You cannot win just with legs. I know that now I’m really lucky, having a super good bikejoring dog, and I have some young dogs that I think will be good as well. But without these super dogs, I have no chance.
That’s why we changed our focus a little bit during the years and now we have more dogs than we used to have, just to be a little bit less vulnerable, to make sure that when Siri, my super dog, is getting too old, I have some new dogs coming up. And of course, having four, five, six dogs in training takes a lot of energy. It affects my own cycling capacity, which I know can be improved a lot. But as long as I have one of those super dogs, I think my cycling capacity now is good enough.
JEANETTE: How do you see the difference between a good dog and this super dog?
VIKTOR: There are some super dogs that have a high speed, but there’s a lot of dogs with high speed at the moment. I think the super dogs also have stamina. They can just run and run. If the track is 4K, 5K, 6K, it doesn’t matter. They just keep on. That’s also the most amazing feeling, and maybe what motivates me. When you go for a race and you come towards the finish line and there’s still power and speed in front of you, this feeling is amazing.
JEANETTE: What do you focus on during a race?
VIKTOR: A bikejoring race is very tight. You need full speed from the beginning, and normally you don’t have to think much. Just full speed. But sometimes the track is longer. When it’s more than let’s say 5K, then you need to maybe start to think a little bit.
My goal during a race is always to have as high an average speed as possible, but as low maximum speed. I always compare my Strava race with my wife, just to see who has had the lowest maximum speed and the highest average speed. When it’s going downwards, this is where you can control the race.
If you’re nervous if your dog is going to manage to have full speed all the way to the finish line, this is where you can save energy, by using your brake. Don’t push the maximum speed as high as possible because every dog can run fast downward. It just makes it possible. But not all dogs can manage to the finish line if they are pushed too hard when going downwards. If you’re nervous, if you don’t know if you’ll manage all the way to the finish line, use the downwards to brake and save energy.
JEANETTE: Do you spend much time with the dogs besides the training itself?
VIKTOR: Yeah, I try to spend as much time as possible. When you train dryland, you don’t spend that many hours on training. That means that you have more time available for taking care of the dogs, and I think it’s very important that the dogs always feel well. It’s important for the dogs to have good images from training. That means that it has to be 100% in shape every time you take it out, which means that we try to spend much time making their paws perfect, cutting their nails – these very, very simple things that should always be perfect because if it’s not, it will just create negative images when they’re training.
And of course, my wife is super. She spends so much time every day going over the dogs, their muscles, and telling me if it’s ready for training the next day or not.
JEANETTE: You have several dogs at home, but how do you follow up with each individual?
VIKTOR: They are very different. They are different in size, they are different in age, even though they are from the same breeding. I try to give each one of them a individual program. They have different challenges, and they need to train different things.
In general, they follow the same easy, medium, and hard program, but the younger they are, the more careful I am. It depends also on what they are training for. If they’re training for bikejoring, if they’re training for skiing, which is much longer, they need more training. Then I can push a little bit harder for the long distance. But the young ones that are doing a shorter distance, then I’m more careful.
In general, I know that at the end of a hard week, they’re supposed to be a little bit tired, but I always look at how they performed on the last training and then I decide how they’re supposed to train this day. And at the end, my wife is feeling their muscles. She has the last word if they are going out for training or not.
JEANETTE: Do you follow a strict program during your trainings?
VIKTOR: No. Before each training, I have a plan – where we train, what we’re going to train– but it’s all based on feeling, what kinds of problems these dogs are having, and especially where we’re going to put our breaks, if we’re going to have many stops, and where we have them.
But in general I don’t follow a strict program. I take breaks where there’s water so that they can have a drink, and I always try to think of what’s coming next. If the dog had a problem on the uphill and I know we’re coming toward an uphill, maybe I have a break in front of this hill so that it’s fresh, and when we enter the uphill, it can do this with great confidence. Or if they have problems passing a lake, for example, we can have the break in front of that. I try to put the breaks just before they get tired. I don’t follow the clock.
JEANETTE: Do you use a different bike during training than you do in competitions?
VIKTOR: Yes. Now I have three different kinds of dog bikes: one steel bike that’s almost unbreakable that I use for everyday training – big tires and big disc brakes make it very comfortable. It can stop even if I have two dogs in front. If there are people, downhills, I can still stop easily. Then I have a competition bike that is always ready for racing, and a training bike for if I want to simulate competitions but I don’t want to use the competition bike.
Having many different bikes is very time-efficient. I just bring out the old one for normal training, and I know that the competition bike is always ready and in mint condition.
JEANETTE: If you had to put away your bike and do a different sport with your dogs – this is a question we ask everybody on this podcast – what sport would it be?
VIKTOR: I don’t know much about other kinds of dog sports, but I think maybe I would go for something like lure coursing. I like this idea of just having one dog and you put all your resources into the details for this one to run as fast as possible.
JEANETTE: Thank you so much for joining us on this podcast.
VIKTOR: Thank you.