If you’re looking for an aerobic powerhouse with a one-two punch of a heart pumping workout that gets virtually ever muscle in your body involved, then cross-country skiing is for you. Scientific testing has shown that some competitive cross-country skiers have the highest level of aerobic fitness of any other Olympic athletes. Plus it’s a great way to laugh at winter and get out and enjoy the beautiful snow-covered landscape.
Cross-country skiing is also unique because, although it can be very demanding physically, it’s easy to learn. Once you pick up that rhythm, you’re on your way to enjoying a great activity.
How to Get Started
• Purchase or rent skis, boots and poles from a reputable retailer. Be sure that the length of the skis and poles is appropriate for your height and level of expertise. Skis are available both waxed and waxless. The waxless version requires less fuss and provides more control on downhill parts of the trail. Once you have become proficient you may want the better overall performance and speed afforded by waxable skis. You will then have to learn how to match the wax to the type of snow and to change it as snow conditions change.
• Take some lessons. Even though the skills are basic and simple to learn, a lesson or two from a pro ensures that you develop the correct technique and get the most effective workout. Simply “walking” on your skis provides little benefit. If lessons aren’t your thing, go to the library or surf the “net” and read up on the activity.
• Wear multiple layers of thin clothing. As your body temperature increases and you begin to perspire you can remove layers as needed. Discarded layers can be carried in a knapsack or waist pouch. Avoid wearing clothes that are loose and baggy. They won’t keep you as warm and will chafe against each other as your legs and arms pump forward and backward. Warm tights and close fitting sweaters are the best options. Don’t forget a hat and lightweight insulated gloves or mittens.
• Carry water with you and drink regularly. Your body functions best when it is fully hydrated.
• Practise in a snow-covered park or on any other relatively smooth, traffic-free surface. As your skills improve and you’re more comfortable, challenge yourself with a true cross-country trail at a local ski club.
• Your first time out, use the skis like snowshoes and use your poles to tramp across the snow for balance. Once you are comfortable, progress to a gliding motion with your skis and a pushing action with your poles.
• The kick and glide technique is the classic way to cross- country ski. It involves using your poles to propel yourself along, not just to help you retain your balance.
• The upper and lower body work together in a rhythm of kicks, long glides and propelling poling motions. Eventually, you should be gliding across the snow with your body at a 45 to 60 degree angle to the ground.
• After your workout stretch all the major muscles of the body. This will help you to retain or increase your flexibility. Good flexibility is critical in preventing muscle strains (refer to Cool Down in this section).
• Cross-country skiing can be a challenging workout so pace yourself accordingly. If you find it difficult to sustain your pace, use an interval training technique. Ski hard for a few minutes then slow your pace for a few minutes. As you become more fit, increase the length of the hard interval and/or decrease the length of the recovery interval.
• Use common sense to ensure you have a safe workout. Approach downhill trails with caution and know your personal limitations. Cross-country skiing injuries are relatively uncommon. However, if you lack flexibility you’ll be more prone to muscle strains and injury due to falls. So be sure to warm up well before you head out on the trails.