Monday, December 20

Cross-country skiing
by Armand Tecco, M.Ed.

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What is it?
Cross-country (or Nordic) skiing is a comprehensive, total-body workout that challenges your endurance in ways few activities can. In fact, elite cross-country skiers are among rare groups of athletes with the greatest heart and lung capacities. The smooth pushing and gliding movements of cross-country skiing are performed on snow-packed ground using skis and poles. When the weather doesn't cooperate, cross-country ski machines are available for a terrific indoor workout.

Both the upper and lower body -- including arms, shoulders, legs, abdomen, chest and back -- are conditioned during cross-country skiing. Yet, because it's low impact, minimal stress is placed on the joints so the injury rate is low.

Cross-country skiing can strengthen your cardiovascular system, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, promote weight loss, and reduce stress. It can be done throughout the year, utilizing the outdoors on snowy days and an indoor ski machine the rest of the time. Outdoor skiing has the added advantage of beautiful scenery, making it a pleasant recreation as well as a strenuous workout.

Cross-country skiing can be difficult to master. It takes time and coordination to conquer the exercise. The gliding motion on the machine and the sliding on the snow can sometimes be tricky. Many people become frustrated because they feel awkward and give up before mastering the skill. Not everyone has access to snowy trails or a ski machine, either; and the equipment is costly.

Where to Participate
There are several choices for participating in cross-country skiing. If you like the outdoors, cross-country skiing trails may be for you. These trails provide challenging courses with varying terrain, often including small inclines and hills.

If indoor exercise appeals to you more, try purchasing a ski machine for use in your home or join a local fitness center that has a machine. These machines provide varying resistance levels for the arms and legs, as well as incline adjustments.

Recommended equipment and attire

Outdoor Cross-Country Skiing:

  • Cross-country skis -- Choose between wax-less and wax-able. Wax-less shoes are slower than wax-able. However, they don't require applications of wax and tend to hold better skiing uphill.
  • Boots -- Made of leather or synthetic materials, which are specially made to fit cross-country skis.
  • Ski poles - They should be at least as high as your armpit.
  • Clothing -- Wear clothing light enough to allow for full range of motion in your arms and legs. Dress warmly, but don't overdo it. Layer clothes, starting with a cotton base that will absorb sweat and ending with a warm outer shell that allows heat exchange. Remember: skiing generates plenty of body heat!
  • Sunglasses -- Shaded glasses are a good idea for avoiding sun glare.

Indoor Cross-Country Skiing:

  • Ski machine -- Cross-country ski machines can be purchased from retailers that sell fitness equipment. Look for a model with an arm pulley system (rather than vertical poles that you pull back and forth), which allows greater freedom of movement for a smoother more effective glide. Also look for an adjustable hip pad, which will allow you to find a comfortable position on the machine.
  • Shoes -- Choose a pair of cross trainers that provide adequate support and flexibility. Insist on a good fit.
  • Clothing -- Wear loose, comfortable clothing that will absorb sweat and allow unrestricted movement.

Exercise Guidelines

  • To learn the movements, seek the advice of a qualified instructor. With outdoor skiing, it helps to follow an experienced skier and imitate his or her form.
  • For good posture, keep your shoulders back and head up. Lean slightly forward. Let your arms swing freely on the machine's pulley system.
  • Keep your hips pressed against the hip pad on ski machines
  • Lift your heel in the forward motion, allowing you to pull the ski forward.
  • Start out slowly for the first five minutes and then gradually increase to the desired speed. This warm-up prepares your body for the workout.
  • For the first couple of weeks, ski for only 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times per week to get accustomed to the activity. Then, increase to 30 or 40 minutes per workout session over a period of several weeks.
  • Once you have increased to the desired time you can add intensity by choosing outdoor trails with more incline or by increasing the tension of the indoor machines.
  • The fitness benefits increase as you move your arms and legs more vigorously. You won't become tired as quickly if you shorten your stride when increasing the tempo.
  • When you are outdoors on slight down hills, do not coast. Use your upper body to work the poles, thus maintaining your target heart rate.
  • Slow down gradually before ending your workout. Then, stretch your entire body while your muscles are warm.
  • For safety reasons, ski with someone when outdoors. Never try to perform a maneuver that is beyond your capabilities.

Glossary of Terms

    Diagonal stride -- The classic ski technique, which combines running and skating.

    Double poling -- The fastest way to ski on gradual downhill slopes. With your feet flat on the skis, swing both your arms forward with the poles to push down, then backward.

    Herringbone -- Technique used to climb steep slopes. Form a V shape with your skis. Put your weight on the inside edge of the ski to create a small ledge of snow on each step from which you can push off.

    Low impact -- An activity that only puts slight amounts of stress on the joints of the lower body. When performing a low-impact movement, one foot is always touching the floor.

    Skating -- The fastest cross-country skiing stride, which was developed by long-distance ski racers. Leave one ski in the track while pushing the other ski out to the side and simultaneously double poling.

    Snowplow -- Also called wedge, it's used to slow down. Form an A shape with your skis, bending your knees and moving the tips of the skis together while moving the backs apart. The wider the A, the greater the braking power.

The information, including opinions and recommendations, contained in this website is for educational purposes only. Such information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. No one should act upon any information provided in this website without first seeking medical advice from a qualified medical physician.

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