"For building endurance, [cross-country skiing] is one of the best sports you can do," says Miami neurologist Stephen Olvey, MD. It also burns more calories than almost any other activity.
Cross-country skiing is an aerobic sport. That means you move nonstop for an extended period of time while your heart pumps oxygen to your muscles, providing them with energy. "It is about grinding it out over the long haul with no help from gravity," Olvey says.
The muscles strengthened while you cross-country ski vary with your skiing style. But they typically include the thigh muscles, gluteus maximus (bottom), gastrocnemius (calves), and biceps and triceps (front and back of the upper arm).
A 150-pound person burns about 500 to 640 calories per hour while cross-country skiing, depending on the effort level. Here are Olvey's tips for getting started:
•Don't overdo it. Be conservative in how long you plan to ski.
•Prepare yourself ahead of time by using an elliptical trainer to prevent muscle strain.
•Bring fluids and snacks, especially if you're heading to a remote area.
•Wear layers of clothing that keep you warm and allow for easy movement.
•Be safe. Let someone know where you will be and when you expect to return. "It wouldn’t take long to become hypothermic," Olvey says.
In contrast to cross-country skiing, downhill skiing takes shorter bursts of energy. Most ski runs last about 2 to 3 minutes, Olvey says.
The muscle groups used in downhill skiing are the "prime movers," including the hamstrings, quadriceps (thigh), and calf, hip, and foot muscles. To a lesser degree, you'll also use your abdominal muscles for control and strengthen your arms by using poles.