Warm up those snow muscles: It’s time to prepare yourself for the cross country season | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Warm up those snow muscles: It’s time to prepare yourself for the cross country season

Debbi Waldear

Stepping up and forward with ski poles, Debbi Waldear and Joan Parro trudge along the mountain tops at Kirkwood. Brisk walks with ski poles are an excellent way to prepare for the winter season.

It has long been known how valuable the sport of cross country skiing is for both for the body and the mind. Some consider cross country skiing the perfect sport: It uses most all muscle masses, burns lots of calories and it’s enjoyable. It provides an opportunity to spend time with friends and family while getting exercise. As a muscle-powered sport, the pace is relaxed enough to make it social as well as athletic, and affords a winter experience.

Cross country skiing burns more calories per hour than other sports. One can burn from 472 calories an hour to as much as 1,116 calories when climbing uphill. Burning calories can be as much fun as taking calories in, both fulfilling in their own way. It certainly allows one to have that extra hot chocolate at the end of the day.

Cross country skiing also is an excellent low-stress outdoor exercise. The movement of gliding is easy on the legs and back, as opposed to the pounding of other sports. Medical professionals advocate it as the best cardiovascular fitness activity. The benefits are endless for this low-risk, low-impact aerobic form of exercise.

For those who feel a little intimidated by slipping and gliding on skis, snowshoes are a great alternative. Snowshoes provide a means of travel on snow without going through the process of learning to ski. You can climb hills without worrying about sliding down, and you can get down hills without the skills needed on skis. It’s a relaxing and stable way to enjoy a winter outdoor adventure. Snowshoes are for those of us who enjoy experiencing the winter environment without skiing. Again it’s a good idea to be physically prepared before the season starts.

It’s well known that researchers have found the fountain of youth: It’s exercise. Recent studies have shown that exercise throughout the lifespan will boost brainpower, sharpen memory, counter depression, improve one’s mood, reverse cardiac decline and slow the shift from muscle mass to fat mass.


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Training and being physically ready is an essential aspect of any sport. It’s key to feel and be strong to enjoy skiing. Cross country skiing uses muscles that we don’t normally use in our daily lives. A little bit of early season effort will help you get the most out of your winter ski experience. Skiing is such a gratifying sport that can be enjoyed even under physical and environmental stress if you have the stamina, strength and mental preparedness.

Your training should consist of strengthening the ski muscles and preparing your cardiovascular system for extended work. If it’s either a backcountry ski tour or a few hours on machine- groomed track, both activities are considered endurance workouts and both require a good base of aerobic conditioning. With a base you can ski more powerfully, maintain superior technique and recover for the next day of skiing.

The most rewarding and enjoyable way to get into shape for cross country skiing is hiking. A nice, long hike will work on your endurance, cardiovascular system and muscle strength. One hike a week augmented by some shorter workouts each week will get anyone in shape for a winter season. Other activities include ski walking, cycling or jogging, Once or twice a week try to work on upper body power. This could be as simple as a routine of sit-ups, pull-ups and dips. In an upper body weight routine, be sure to use relatively light weights and go for lots of repetition. There are lots of great machines at the gym that work the core and upper body.

Going to the gym a few days a week along with hiking and ski walking will set one up for the winter season. Swimming or rowing are wonderful ways of using most body muscles. Ski walking is how top athletes train a large percentage of the time. Ski walking simulates skiing. It’s natural, it’s enjoyable and it uses all the right muscles. The most important aspect is to walk in the cross country ski position, slightly tilted forward, ankles flexed landing on a flat foot, balancing on one foot at a time. Reaching forward with the hands (about waist height), plant pole behind the body. The body follows the hands – let the poles lead you along. When the snow flies, it’s just a short step from striding to gliding on the snow. Studies say that by walking with poles, the calorie burn was increased by 20 percent to 40 percent and the cardio value went up 25 percent.

Cross country skiing and ski walking use natural movements, resulting in a short learning curve. A cycle of locomotive movements, one steps forward to weight and balance on a ski, causing it to glide, then onto the other ski. The stride is often considered the most effective natural pace for the human anatomy. The ski movement is much like walking with an added glide. The rhythm is smooth and familiar making it an enjoyable activity.

There is also the Zen aspect of cross country skiing and pre-season training. It is a perfect chance to quietly go out of your mind, a time to leave the rational mind behind for awhile. Let go of the hustle and bustle of daily life and allow yourself to experience the joys of movement. Become part of the movement of the environment.

If you can’t smile when you are training, then slow down and turn up the corners of you lips. Sport is for fun and fun is play, so we should be having a good time when we are playing.

– Debbi Waldear is director of Kirkwood Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Center, and is no slouch to the concepts of fitness and training. She has won eight World Master Championship gold medals in recent years.