Outdoor Winter Cross-Training Activities for Runners

cross country skiing

If you’re like many runners, you may find yourself focusing more on cross training during the winter because it’s difficult to run lots of miles in the cold or on the treadmill. But if riding the bike or elliptical machine at the gym is already getting old, try shaking up your winter routine with one of these outdoor winter cross-training activities that take advantage of snowy and icy conditions.

Not only will you beat boredom and get an excellent workout, but doing a fun, invigorating outdoor activity will build up your tolerance for the cold weather and make running in freezing temps much more bearable. Being outdoors in the winter is also beneficial for your mental health and will help you sleep better.

Snowshoeing: Whether you’re walking or running in snowshoes, you’re using the same muscles as regular running. So if icy and snowy conditions are making it impossible to run outside, snowshoeing is a great substitute. It’s also a fun activities to do with a friend or your kids.

Snowshoes are not cheap, but some sports gear shops that rent snowshoes, so you can try them out before making an investment. You might also find some used snowshoes on sites like craigslist or eBay, or Facebook Marketplace.

Cross country Skiing:  When you’re cross country skiing, you vigorously working your entire body to propel yourself forward. You’ll get an incredible upper- and lower-body workout as well as work your core muscles. Outdoor stores such as REI rent Nordic skis (used for cross-country skiing) if you want to try it out without purchasing skis. Check out TrailLink.com to find cross country skis (and showshoeing) trails near you.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding:  Although they’re not as much of a total body workout, downhill skiing and snowboarding are still great workouts to strengthen your legs and core. Many ski mountains offer free beginners lessons if you’ve never skied before.

Ice skating: Ice skating (or playing ice hockey, if that’s your thing) is also a great workout for overall conditioning. All that gliding, pushing, and staying upright helps strengthen your leg muscles and improve your balance and stability, which will definitely help your running.

Safety Tips for Outdoor Winter Activities

Like running outdoors in the winter, you need to take precautions to make sure you’re staying safe, comfortable, and protected from the elements. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:

Make sure you warm-up first. Whichever outdoor activity you’re doing, make sure you do a proper warm-up to get your muscles warmed-up and ready to go. A warm-up is especially crucial in the cold weather, since your muscles will be colder and tighter than they are in warmer weather. And when yur muscles are warm, you don’t notice the cold as much. Do some warm-up exercises such as marching or jogging in place, jumping jacks, squats and lunges.

Dress in layers. Like on your outdoor runs in the cold weater, dress in wicking layers, so you can take clothes off if you start overheating. Your outer layer should be made of a wind-resistant, but breathable, material such as Gortex or nylon.

Use hand warmers. These small chemical packets, like Grabber Hand warmers, work wonders for keeping your fingers warm. You can also get toe warmers for your feet.

Keep your head covered. You’ll lose a lot of heat from your head during any outdoor winter activity. Wearing a winter hat made of a warm fabric like wool or fleece can help you stay warmer and comfortable for longer periods of time. You can always tuck it in your jacket or pants if you feel like you start to overheat at some point.

Also see: 7 Tips for Making Cold Weather Running More Bearable


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