Thursday, February 10, 2011

4 Great Winter Sports Workouts

Cross-country skiing is great if you live in a small country.

Stephen Wright


4 Great Winter Sports Workouts

By Andrew Rice

Winter Sports

There comes a time when you just have to make a break from the confines of your living room and get outside. The great news is that winter sports are fantastic cross-training workouts because they require more balance than many summer sports. Also, they each utilize a set of muscles different from your usual workout. It's possible to be at peak strength and form come spring if you engage in one or more of these four winter sports activities to get outside and stay fit.

  1. Downhill SkiingDownhill skiing. As you already know, the core muscles are the cluster of muscles around your spine, pelvis, and groin that give you balance and stability. Skiing uses all these muscles in a fun, dynamic workout. To mix it up a little, do things like skating in your skis up the hill to the chairlift rather than booting up the slope. For a beginner, just learning to ski is plenty of exercise. More advanced skiers can use a few tricks to keep improving balance and core strength: Take a run where you balance on just one ski for as long as possible while still turning and stopping. When one leg gets tired, switch to the other and keep going. Backward skiing is also a test of your balance and works a different set of muscles. Leave your poles at the lodge when you try backward skiing, or take them off your wrists and hold them out in front of your body, kind of like a pair of handlebars. Of course, try these tricks on a run where you're really comfortable, not on a double black diamond. Skiing moguls and shredding the terrain park with the snowboarders are also fantastic for your core.
  2. Cross-Country SkiingCross-country ski skating. First, my condolences to those of you who have snow but no mountains. Life is cruel. But flat snow has its uses, too. The variety of cross-country skiing called ski skating is wonderful for your balance and overall aerobic fitness. If you don't know what this is already, picture yourself ice skating really fast through the woods, but on skis. Seek out your local snow-covered frozen lake or a groomed cross-country ski resort for the best trails. Lacking those options, seek out the closest golf course or even a snow-covered football field. The motions of skating work the heck out of your quads, glutes, and core. Your arms get a nice benefit, too, since you sometimes use them to push. And you can adapt skating to your own preferences. Some people go long distances; others do sprints. Mix it up and come up with a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) program that'll blow away anything you do on a track in a pair of running shoes.
  3. Group of People SnowshoeingSnowshoe running. Proof that people will do just about anything to stay fit. This sport is largely practiced by devoted—make that maniacal—runners looking to crank up their fitness. According to at least one expert, marathoners who cross-train in the winter with snowshoes often find their race times have plummeted come spring. A set of good trail-running snowshoes should set you back between $200 and $400. Beyond that, it's free. It'll feel awkward at first. You'll need to retrain your brain a little from your running stride. On snowshoes, you'll pull your feet up using your hips rather than pushing down with your feet like you would running on dirt or asphalt. And don't run using a wide stance; that'll wear you down in no time. Truly hardcore snowshoe runners log up to 70 miles a week, but that's extreme. Start out slowly and work up to a mileage that's maybe 20 percent of your summer running.
  4. Ice SkatingIce skating. Anyone who has ever watched Olympic speed skating or a hockey game can tell you that ice skating is a great way to build your lower body and flexibility at the same time. Plus, like everything that requires dynamic balance, skating builds insane core strength—that tiny 10-year-old doing a flying camel spin has more core strength than the entire Chicago Bears defensive line. But you don't have to be Olympic material to benefit from a good skating workout. No matter what your ability level, just getting on the ice works your core. Skating can also provide a great workout for the large muscles you employ on the ice, including your glutes, hip abductors, hip adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.

For skaters at any skill level, the key is to get a little outside your comfort zone. Beginning skaters should work on gliding on one blade as long as possible with the other blade off the ice. Everyone has a strong and weak side—use both. Start trying to do 5-second glides on each foot, then work up until you can go for much longer. Linking parallel ski-style turns is a blast on skates and utilizes your abs, glutes and thighs. Do this in sets with gentle skating in between. Finally, skating backward is a terrific exercise for your butt muscles and works the muscles on both sides of your legs. Make it a point to spend at least a third of your rink time going backward and soon you'll look like Wayne Gretzky from the rear.

I could blather on until spring thaw about great winter sports workouts, but I've got to get myself out of this chair and down to the rink. Enjoy the chill. Summer will be here soon enough and this year, I've promised myself to stay fit through the winter. I hope you can too.

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