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Cross-Country Skiing for Cross-Training

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It's an endurance activity, it's a distance exercise, and it works many of the same muscle groups as running. All that, without the pounding of the road, makes cross-country skiing an ideal cross-training option when the weather turns cold. You only need two or three inches of snow, but if the ground is bare, indoor ski machines can provide a workout nearly identical to the real thing.

Cross country skiing is an excellent aerobic exercise and can actually help you increase your oxygen intake beyond what your running does. On top of that, the gliding action stretches your hamstrings, calves and lower-back muscles. All in one activity, you promote flexibility, muscle fitness and cardiorespiratory endurance. This, of course, translates to improved performance when you get your running shoes back on your feet.

The basics of cross-country skiing aren't too tough, but it helps to have a lesson; it can take a little while to get the hang of it. At a rudimentary level, though, it's not all that different from walking on skis. Keep your ski tips down, lean forward on your skis and glide along. Once you get the hang of it, faster skiing is a reasonably good approximation of the running motion; you push off stronger and the steps, or glides, are longer. The faster you go, the more you push your weight forward and lift the back of the skis out of the snow.

Use of the poles can give you a good workout in your arms and shoulders, especially on uphill climbs. For particularly steep slopes, though, you have to switch to the herringbone approach, making a V-shape with the back of your skis, and placing your poles behind the skis.

"Skating" means that you push off to the sides with your skis rather than straight back, and you use your poles more. It's more demanding than traditional cross-country technique and will do more to work your quadriceps, abdominals and lower back muscles.

To get the same workout as running, you have to ski about twice as much time. To approximate a ten-mile run, for example, you have to ski for around two hours. But go easy at first, or the next day you'll be sore everywhere. Because cross-country skiing requires your legs to be closer together and your back more bent than when running, you might find that your inner thighs and lower back get particularly sore until you get used to skiing.

If you do a lot of cross-country skiing in your off season, be aware that it could take you some time to get your running form back. You might want to avoid skiing during the week of a big race.


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