Fitness Fitness Tips skiing Sports Performance Winter Sports

Stay Fit This Winter With Cross-Country Skiing

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine

The terrain is changing; leaves have fallen, the weather is colder and for many, snow is finally covering the ground indicating the winter season is upon us. For those who enjoy exercising outdoors, you’ve become somewhat limited with the activities you can do; snow covered streets and sidewalks don’t make for the best running or biking conditions. However, cross-country skiing offers a fun and challenging alternative for those who are looking to exercise outside.


Cross-country skiing typically utilizes equipment similar to that of downhill skiing. The skis used are narrower to reduce the friction against the snow and longer to displace the skiers weight more evenly. The ski poles are typically longer and have a sharp end to help skiers penetrate icy surfaces. Equipment will vary slightly based on the technique adopted for cross-country skiing.


There are two techniques used for cross-country skiing. The first technique is classic in which skiers use a running action to achieve momentum. Classic cross-country skiers are able to emulate the motion of running because of the free heel design of the bindings, allowing skiers to plantar flex (point their foot downward) in order to generate force needed to propel forward (1). Skate skiing uses a more dynamic approach that allows skiers to generate force through a motion similar to ice skating. Like downhill skiing, the heel is fixed onto the ski which allows for a more fluid transfer of force. Cross-country skiing can be done almost anywhere snow covers the ground; however, icier and more compacted snow cover is more preferable.


Training for cross-country skiing can be modified to accommodate the demands of the individual and his or her goals. Individuals seeking more than just recreational pursuits can enter cross-country races, which usually cover distances from 10-50 km (2). Athletes typically use a zone training system in which exercise intensity is based off the goals and fitness of individuals. Although not completely identical, this type of training is similar to the cardiorespiratory zone training system found in NASM’s Essentials of Personal Fitness Training text (3).


Individuals who choose to try cross-country skiing can experience an array of benefits similar to other forms of aerobic exercise. When compared with other modalities for aerobic exercise (i.e. running, stair stepping, rowing, rider and cycle ergometer) at various intensities, cross-country skiing ranked second, only behind running in caloric expenditure (4). A 200 pound individual can burn 619 calories in a single hour of a cross-country skiing workout, which is perfect for combating those large meals eaten over the winter holiday season (5).

Another study investigated the correlation between high intensity cross-country skiing and key components of aerobic performance. It was found that cross-country skiing for a five month period increased activity in enzymes correlated to improved aerobic performance which helped provide evidence to the molecular and systemic changes undergone during this activity (3).

Cross-country skiing isn’t only capable of improving an individual’s endurance performance. Studies have shown the benefits of cross-country skiing on anaerobic performance and total body strength as well (6, 7). For those who don’t like lifting weights or just simply don’t have time for both endurance and strength training, this is great news.


Although it’s not a year round sport, cross-country skiing can add some variety and excitement into any exercise routine. Cross-country skiing can be done anywhere, from a park to a golf course, and is an exciting way to get in shape. Some of the best aerobically trained athletes in the world are cross-country skiers, shedding some light on the benefits that cross-country skiing can offer (2). Stay in the outdoor action this winter, try on a pair of cross-country skis and find out for yourself the challenge and diversity that comes with this activity.

By Sam Hutchison NASM-CPT, CES, PES


1. Smith, G Biomechanical analysis of cross-country skiing techniques Med Sci Sports Exerc. (1992)24:9; 1015-1022.

2. Sandbakk O, Holmberg HC, Leirdal S, Ettema G The physiology of world-class sprint skiers Scand J Med Sci Sports. (2011)21: 9-15.

3. Evertsen F, Medbo JI, Jebens E, Gjovaag TF. Effect of training on the activity of five muscle enzymes studied on elite cross-country skiers (1999). Acta Physiol Scand. 167:247-257.

4. Moyna NM, Robertson RJ, Meckes CL, Peoples JA, Millich NB, Thompson PD. Intermodal comparison of energy expenditure at exercise intensities corresponding to the perceptual preference range. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2001)33;8:1404-1410.

5. Millet GP, Boissiere D, Candau R. Energy cost of different skating techniques in cross-country skiing. J Sports Sci (2003)21:3-11.

6. Bjorklund G, Laaksonen MS, Holmberg H. Blood lactate recovery and respiratory responses during diagonal skiing of variable intensity. Eur J Sport Sci (2011); 11(5): 317-326.

7. Bilodeau B, Roy B, Boulay MR. Upper-body testing of cross-country skiers. Med Sci Sports Exerc (1995); 27(11). 1557-1562.

Tags: Fitness Tags: Fitness Tips Tags: skiing Tags: Sports Performance Tags: Winter Sports

The Author

National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Since 1987 the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been the global leader in delivering evidence-based certifications and advanced specializations to health and fitness professionals. Our products and services are scientifically and clinically proven. They are revered and utilized by leading brands and programs around the world and have launched thousands of successful careers.