"Taking the time to slow down and unwind is just as crucial for me as the training itself."

By Faith Brar
Updated: January 26, 2018

Jessie Diggins has been hitting cross-country skiing trails since she was a toddler riding in a kid-carrier backpack. Now, the 26-year-old is one of the most experienced and talented cross-country skiers in the country and recently made history by becoming the first American to take the podium at Tour de Ski, winning third place. The Minnesota native is set to represent Team USA for the second time at the 2018 Winter Olympics and is feeling more prepared than ever. (Related: 12 Female Athletes to Watch at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics)

We had a chance to catch up with her on behalf of Ice Breakers and talk about some of the most important things that go into her training, including the importance of rest, sleep, and taking time off throughout the year. "I think cross-country skiing is much more of a demanding and engaging sport than a lot of people realize," Diggins says. "You're using your entire body-your arms, your legs, your core-and maxing out on power and endurance while using speed and tactic." (Don't let Jessie do all the skiing. Here are some cross-country skiing tips for newbies.)

This summer, Diggins trained six days a week, twice a day. "We did a ton of cardio work because cross-country skiing is an endurance sport," Diggins says. Most mornings, Diggins and her team started with roller skiing-which, for people who might not know, is the off-snow equivalent to cross-country skiing. The skis themselves have wheels on their ends and are used on a hard surface (like a road or track) to emulate the winter sport. "It gives us a chance to practice our technique and work on our endurance without having to be on actual snow," Diggins says.

The main focus of this particular workout is interval training. The team does 10 minutes of roller skiing at race pace, then slows down for three minutes, then goes back to race pace again, over and over for two hours straight.

That is usually followed by a big lunch, some rest time, then another workout. "We run for 30 minutes; then we lift for an hour and a half, focusing on the core, legs, upper arms, and back."

You'll probably like one of the most important parts of Diggins' training: sleep. She manages to squeeze in nine to 10 hours a night, plus a 30- to 45-minute nap during the day. "You can only train as fast as you can recover-especially considering it takes so much for my body to heal and recuperate after working out for four hours a day, nearly every day. I don't know how I'd survive without getting that much sleep," Diggins says. "Taking the time to slow down and unwind is just as crucial for me as training itself," she says. (P.S. Scientists have known for a while that sleep and exercise have a symbiotic relationship.)

To make sure she catches up on her zzz's, Diggins has gotten into the habit of putting her phone away half an hour before getting into bed. "It's hard to make yourself unavailable by ditching your phone, but I try to," she says. "I also read pretty much every night for about an hour, so that gives me something to look forward to and helps me relax and get into sleep mode."

Diggins is all about making the most of her time off. This year, for instance, before training for the Olympics, she took a monthlong vacation to Hawaii with one of her best friends to mentally and physically prepare for the grueling months of training and competition ahead. (Here's why taking extended time off is good for your health.)

"Most of us are training and competing every year from May until March, so April is the only month we have off, which is why that time is absolutely crucial. Not to mention, I've been training for the Olympics for 10 years, so doing absolutely nothing during that time is basically mandatory for me to prevent injury and to not get burnt out," she says.

And while getting back into the game after time off, isn't necessarily easy, Diggins says it makes you that much more grateful for how good you feel. "After that vacation, I was jonesing to get back at it. I was excited to train and looked forward to it because my mind felt rejuvenated and my body was ready to crush some goals," she says.

Looking ahead, Diggins feels confident that her training in and out of the gym has helped prepare her to put her best foot forward at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. "There's a lot of things in sports that are out of your control," she says. "For me, success at these games is going to mean crossing that finish line, looking back and knowing that I gave it everything I had, left no stone unturned and did everything I possibly could. Right now, I know I'm on that path and to me, that's worth more than any medal."

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