Don't Let Winter Weather Freeze Your Workouts: Break Cabin Fever and Boost Fitness with Snow Sports

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Winter weather chases many active people indoors, but snow and ice can actually create stimulating athletic challenges. Skiing and snowshoeing offer low-impact workouts that raise the heart rate and increase respiration. The physical demands of snowshoeing can build up endurance levels and strengthen quadriceps, while skiing works the hip flexors and extensors. The use of poles also helps condition arm, shoulder and back muscles.

Winter weather chases many active people indoors, but snow and ice can actually create stimulating athletic challenges. Skiing and snowshoeing offer low-impact workouts that raise the heart rate and increase respiration. The physical demands of snowshoeing can build up endurance levels and strengthen quadriceps, while skiing works the hip flexors and extensors. The use of poles also helps condition arm, shoulder and back muscles.

Doug and Courtenay Schurman, authors of The Outdoor Athlete (Human Kinetics 2009), remind snow birds that deep snow and cold temperatures increase the fitness requirements needed for activity compared to summer pursuits of similar distances. Training for and participating in activities such as snowshoeing and skiing can improve athletic ability, and become part of a long-term fitness program.

Doug Schurman stresses the importance of training to reap the benefits of snow sports and avoid injury. "Training for snow sports is important because skilled athletes are precise with their movements and use less energy completing an activity when compared to their less-skilled counterparts," he says. Because snow sports require good balance and high endurance throughout all major muscle groups, the Schurmans recommend three areas of training focus:

  • Preparing the cardiovascular system. When planning a cardio workout, Schurman suggests determining a goal for each session. "You want to build to your target distance gradually, adding 5 to 15 percent each week," says Schurman. He also recommends one workout each week of shorter distance with higher intensity, and mixing in hills for an extra cardio boost. "The more of an aerobic base you have, the better you will feel on your outings."
  • Building strength requirements. Snow sports require large core and leg muscles to work in coordination with shoulder, upper back, and arm muscles for extended periods of time. To prepare muscles, snow sporters can add more repetitions of their favorite strength-training exercises. "Rotate through exercises that target gluteals and hamstrings, and include upper-back strength exercises. After improving your muscle balance and core strength, you can add full-body exercises that will cover the full range of motion," Schurman explains. "Then add sport-specific movements, such as high marches for snowshoeing, or leaning lunges for cross-country skiing."
  • Preparing for flexibility needs. In skiing and snowshoeing, a full range of motion enables essential flexibility for high steps, awkward gait, double poling, skate skiing, ascents, and descents. "Since some of these movements are not easily duplicated on dry land, a good stretching routine can help to prepare you for snow challenges as well as restore flexibility following a day of snow play," points out Schurman. "Stretches for the hamstrings, abdominals, and lower back are especially useful for the double-pole technique, which generates forward movement from the arms and torso."

To keep training on track, Schurman recommends setting realistic goals and gauging improvement every four weeks.

The Outdoor Athlete offers workouts and programs for 17 activities, including alpine mountaineering, trekking, rock climbing, trail running, snowshoeing, and skiing. The book also includes nutritional considerations for each activity and information on environmental factors affecting participation and training. For more information on The Outdoor Athlete or other recreation books, visit http://www.HumanKinetics.com or call 800-747-4457.

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Patty Lehn
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