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The Most Aggressive Winter Fitness Routine You've Never Tried

Posted on 2016-11-14

Winter is coming. And with it comes the choice to hibernate inside with the TV and blankets or to get outside and experience the joys of your winter wonderland. The latter comes with lots of calorie burning and unique fitness opportunities that make the choice a little easier.

Here are 7 winter sports that will get you going and keep your body healthy during those short winter days and long winter nights.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross country skiing is the highest calorie burning olympic sport. In a study from the Compendium of Physical Activities, researchers estimated a 220-pound racer would burn 260 calories during 10 minutes of cross-country skiing. It is a great aerobic activity that will increase your heart’s ability to supply your body with oxygen. Cross country skiers cruise across bumpy terrain with little help from gravity which makes it one of the best sports “for building endurance,” says neurologist Stephen Olvey, MD. Also, the cold temperatures likely activate the mysterious “brown fat” which burns regular fat at an accelerated rate in certain conditions.

Cross country skiing strengthens the thigh muscles, gluteus maximus, calves, biceps, and triceps.

Dr. Olvey provides a few tips for beginners:

  • Don’t get too intense too soon. Keep it simple.
  • Prepare by using an elliptical trainer to prevent muscle strain.
  • Bring the appropriate food and gear.
  • Be safe. Notify a friend of your trip.

Cross-Country Skiing

Downhill Skiing

Downhill skiing, the more popular sister of cross country skiing, is more of a power sport that requires short bursts of energy for quick, downhill runs. A 150-pound skier burns about 360 to 570 calories per hour while downhill skiing. Downhill skiing can be quite a social activity and the sunlight can have positive health benefits also. “I think there’s a lot to be said for just getting outdoors in the winter. Exercising also causes your brain to release epinephrine, or adrenaline, and norepinephrine, which make us happy. And getting active in the cold can cause your brain to release even more of the substances,” said LaRoche, a University of New Hampshire professor.

Downhill skiing works the "prime movers," including the hamstrings, quadriceps, calf, hip, and foot muscles. It also works the abdominal muscles for control, and the arms on the poles. Beyond that, it’s speed and intensity that improves balance, flexibility, agility, and leg and core strength. It’s also not too hard on the back, unlike water skiing.

Dr. Olvey again offers some tips to make getting down the hill just a little bit easier:

  • Avoid altitude sickness. Don’t go too high too fast. Keeping it below 11,000 feet is a safe bet.
  • Signs of altitude sickness include a headache, muscle aches, inappropriate shortness of breath, and inability to reason normally.
  • Don’t go too hard. A large percentage of injuries happen from fatigue later in the day when someone goes for that "one last run" and ends up breaking an ankle.
  • Stay hydrated. Don’t be fooled by all the snow.

Downhill Skiing


Snowboarding is as popular as ever, and it offers great health benefits. A 150-pound snowboarder burns about 480 calories per hour. Many studies suggest mood and anxiety levels improve when people exercise outdoors. Keeping the mood up and anxiety down is especially important in the dark winter months.

Getting out and hitting the slopes for a few minutes a few times a week, can help the body maintain a healthy amount of vitamin D, according to Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare. Vitamin D builds healthy bones and keeps them strong.

Another key benefit of snowboarding is that "the thrill of shredding the powder is good for your mental health," says Jonathan Chang, MD, of Pacific Orthopaedic Associates.

Snowboarding works the calf muscles, hamstrings, and quadriceps while guiding the board; ankle and foot muscles while steering; and abdominal muscles for balancing. And of course, it’s also a great cardiovascular workout that will keep the heart pumping.

Dr. Chang provides a few tips for doing it right:

  • Pick a terrain that matches your skill level.
  • If appropriate, take a more challenging route to burn more calories.
  • Get the right gear, including a helmet.
  • Don’t get in over your head. Get some lessons if you’re just getting started.


Speed Skating

Speed skating is the more intense sister of ice skating. Ice skating began when Northern European natives started putting bones on the bottom of their shoes to cruise down frozen rivers; today skaters do full marathons on ice. The health benefits are numerous. It’s generally a low-impact sport that can be enjoyed indoors or out, or anywhere there is some ice. A skater can burn between 250 to 810 calories an hour with recreational skating. Not to mention, if skating outside, spending an hour or two outside in the cold will likely increase resting metabolism.

Skating “truly addresses all components of fitness at any level. It can be done across a lifetime and can be done individually or as a group sport. All those things make it a pretty unique sport in my mind," says orthopedic surgeon Angela Smith, the former chairwoman of the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Committee.

Skating works the lower-body muscles including the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Performing jumps can build bone mass and increase the physicality. Skating also boosts balance, flexibility, quickness, and agility. Speed skating works the the thighs harder; whereas it’s not too distant cousin, figure skating, is a great opportunity to increase upper body strength through lifts.

Dr. Smith provides a couple tips for beginners:

  • Skating can be hard at first, but it gets easier as endurance builds.
  • Get skates that run about a size below your street shoes. It will save you lots of ankle pain.

Speed Skating


Ice Surfing

If all of these classic options seem too mundane for your winter fitness, maybe you should try ice surfing. Without the friction of liquid water to slow them down, ice surfers rocket along on blades of steel at speeds of up to 70 mph. And by the way, there are no breaks. Although the fitness benefits may not be proven yet, the workout is evident.

ice Surfing