How Olympic Biathlete Deedra Irwin Spends Her “Off Season”

How Olympic Biathlete Deedra Irwin Spends Her “Off Season”

Biathlon combines the endurance of skate ski racing with the precision of marksmanship. It's arguably one of the Olympic's most demanding sports, pairing together two uniquely different skillsets. To hone in both her marksmanship and her skiing, Olympian Deedra Irwin trains nearly year round for the World Cup season.

These are the key techniques and skills she focuses on.

words by Deedra Irwin // photos by Nordic Focus

I should start by answering a simple question: What is biathlon?

Biathlon is an Olympic Nordic sport that combines the endurance of skate ski racing with the precision of marksmanship. Each race tests the athletes on the course and the range to their maximum fitness and focus.

So, how do we train for two vastly different sports at the same time? I’ll try to break it down for you. In biathlon, we race from November to March. We get the month of April off to recover from the racing season and then it’s back to work May 1, and we train from May through October to prepare for the season.

My name is Deedra Irwin. I am a 2022 Winter Olympian in biathlon. In my debut race at the Olympics, I shot 19/20 targets placing seventh overall, earning the best individual Olympic finish ever by a U.S. Biathlete. I’ve been competing in biathlon for six years now, and I’ve been skiing for about 15 years. I’ve had a lot of success in a short amount of time, and these are some of the training basics that have helped me along the way.



Shooting without live ammunition

TO DRYFIRE IS TO PRACTICE all the shooting components without live ammunition. This helps improve all the positive shooting habits you want for competition—if you do it right.

During dryfire, athletes will work on everything from simple magazine changes and getting in and out of shooting position to more complex practices like trigger control and natural point of aim. All phases of shooting and range procedure can be practiced during dryfire, and there are countless drills that can be done to work on each tiny detail.

Whole books can be written just about dryfire, so I won’t belabor the subject: What I can say is that it is a very important tool in the toolbox for biathletes. It's the easiest way to practice precision rifle marksmanship without shooting live ammunition. And, when done properly, it can benefit many different aspects of shoot procedure and performance.

Frequency of dryfire depends on the athlete. When I first started biathlon, I was working on dryfire almost every evening, trying to build the habits required for me to keep up on the range. Now I use it on a need basis to help as a reminder or when working on a particular skill I might be struggling with.



Combine physical exercise with shooting

"COMBOS" ARE WORKOUTS that combine physical exercise and shooting. During the summer, this involves skiing, running, biking, strength, etc.—if it's combined with shooting, it's called combos. The goal is to practice the skills we use during racing with a higher heart rate than what you would get with dryfire or just shooting workouts.

Combos can be done with both easy cardio training and intense intervals and are done multiple times a week based on what phase of training we are in. Early in the summer, we focus more on slow fire and honing our precision skills. As the summer goes on, we work on combining the precision skills with speed and range procedures, more like what we want to accomplish in the winter. Skate roller skiing combos the type of training that's most similar to racing in the winter.



Break it down & hit the gym

THE NEXT COUPLE CONCEPTS are very similar to that of a Nordic ski racer's training: ski technique and strength.

The only real difference between a Nordic skier and a biathlete is that we predominantly focus on skate skiing, whereas a Nordic skier will also focus on classic skiing work. For ski-specific strength, we’ll break down technique into as many parts as we can to work on all the different aspects of skate technique to gain strength and efficiency. These workouts include double poling only, no poling, single poling, V2 or V1 technique only, etc.

I’m a firm believer that strength training in the gym is important for every sport. You can always gain something from gym work even if it's done with low weight. I find myself in the gym two to three days a week doing strength, physical therapy, and stretching, and I believe this is the extra work that can help make everything we do on the racecourse easier to perform.

If you have the strength and balance to get into the positions needed for perfect glide and efficiency, it makes learning and achieving the technique easier. Also, as biathletes, we are carrying a rifle with a minimum weight of 7.5 lbs., and most rifles average around 8 lbs. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can really wear on your body after skiing many kilometers. Therefore, building the strength for carrying and shooting the rifle is important.



Variety is the spice of the off-season

CROSS-TRAINING IS CRUCIAL for every sport. You need variety in your training, not only for your body but for your mind, too. I find myself skate roller-skiing a lot but will also spend time classic roller-skiing, mountain biking, road biking, running, hiking, bounding, practicing yoga and more.

There are so many ways that you can build your cardio base without doing the same thing every single day. I also try to do stuff that challenges me, like whitewater kayaking and climbing, which I’ve picked up in the past few years. I find it is an enjoyable way for me to be outside and training without necessarily doing my specific sport.

- Quick Takes -

550 to 700 hours, depending on health, injuries, etc.

Food, delicious food, all the food.

In the fall of 2017, when I was 25 years old.

Meta for everyday/relaxing, Edge for mountain biking, Density Rx for road cycling, gravel and running, and Fury for roller skiing.


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