Winter Sports That Match Running in METs
Though you may find off-season road running or cycling a lot more difficult while battling winter's snow and ice, there are joyous recreations to be had that come alive only once the mercury drops. If you love the snow and have the right thermal wear, winter becomes an opportune time for getting outside. Here are three cold weather crosstraining activities that roughly match the exertion level of running 10-minute miles, which burns just about 10 metabolic equivalents (METs). Recall that METs are a measure of the ratio of the caloric cost of work performed against a baseline of sitting quietly for one hour (1 MET).
1. Ice Skating
The ACSM gives a MET value of 9.0 to skating on ice “rapidly, more than 9 mph, not competitve” and a value of 13.3 to “competitive” speed skating. Therefore, skating in between these two exertion levels is a great crosstraining activity that can simulate the calorie burn of running 10-minute miles (6 mph).
If this sounds like winter fun to you, the Michigan Speedskating Association offers these tips:
Get Low. Ice skating gets easier when you bend your knees more. Balance becomes more natural, your body aligns, and you go faster. The more you bend your knees, the bigger your push will be.
Skate Under Control. A speedskater should always know where their skates are and where they’re going on the ice. Watch where you’re going, but also controlling where your blades are at all times. You can steer, carve, push, glide and fly on the blades, but not without command of them.
Think Weight Transfer. The basic idea behind the speedskating push is a simple transfer of weight from one leg to the other. This can’t be achieved if you have your body weight over both legs at the same time. Every last ounce of your weight needs to be over one leg in that moment right before you push, then transfer to the other leg as you land and glide.
Look Up. There is no need to look at your feet. Scan down and ahead for imperfections in the ice and other hazards, but mainly focus your eyes out a bit further away with your head up for the best skating form.
2. Cross Country Skiing
Cross country skiing is highly enjoyable because it has the feel of an almost magical assisted workout without the adrenaline rush and danger of downhill skiing. You are much more in control of your pace, and still reap the benefits of communing with all that nature in winter has to offer.
The ACSM reports a MET value of 9.0 for “moderate speed and effort, general” cross country skiing (4.0 to 4.9 mph). A more “brisk, vigorous effort” of 5.0 to 7.9 mph will deliver a MET value of 12.5. Somewhere in the middle is that 10-minute mile running equivalent sweet spot.
If you're wondering how fit or coordinated you need to be to attempt cross country skiing, the Cross Country Ski Areas Association says that, “If you can walk, you can start xcs.” Here are a few words of advice.
Basic Lay of the Land. The association recommends starting out on “groomed trails.” It’s simply a lot easier to start on trails that have a consistent, even surface with machine-made tracks.
At any resort, there are usually two types of cross country skiing areas: track skiing (also called classic skiing) and skate skiing areas. Track skiing is done in tracks that have been created by machines. They are so named because tracks have been compressed into the snow. When you are track (or classic) skiing, your skis are pointing straight in front of you, and you glide forward, guided by the tracks.
Skate skiing takes place in the “skate lane” next to the tracks. This is about a six to eight-foot wide stretch of flattened snow running alongside the tracks that enable you to place your skis in a V position and push off from side to side, mimicking the action of ice skating.
What to Expect. Like the majority of downhill skiing destinations, services available at “xcs” areas often include: rental equipment, ski instruction, heated bathrooms, snack foods or full meals, a lounge area and lodging.
Consider Lessons. If you're brand new to the sport, ski lessons, which you can likely get from the cross country ski area you’re visiting, are worth the time and money. The instructor will explain getting into and out of the skis and how to move and balance on them, as well as getting up if you fall. You'll also likely learn tips on using the poles and negotiating different types of terrain.
Exertionally and in practice somewhere between cross and downhill skiing there is Telemark, a sport which has gained popularity rapidly in the last several years.
Telemark skiing was invented in 1868 by Sondre Norheim, a Norwegian farmer from the province of Telemark. This wonderfully aesthetic hybrid of downhill (alpine) and xcs also adds a touch of freestyle. In some ways Telemark is the skiing equivalent of fartlek. The main innovation is in the ski itself: Telemark bindings leave the skier’s heel free to make turns with flexed knees. With wide skis, the skier moves more fluidly than traditional downhill, resulting in an exhilarating free form experience.
Start Flat. Making a proper Telemark turn generally requires a lot of practice—beginners should first learn the skill on relatively flat terrain. While turning technique is somewhat similar to a standard parallel turn, Telemark skiers initiate turns by leading with the outside ski, planting the outside pole downhill, and swiveling their hips to shift direction. Your heels remain free so you can pivot your feet just as you turn.
Telemark is not learned overnight, of course. Lessons in the art of it are an exceptionally good idea, and many U.S. Ski resorts now offer them. The North American Telemark Organization can help you find one in your area (www.telemarknato.com). Here are a few overarching principals to contemplate even as you are receiving your first lesson in this delightful and unique winter sport.
Hands in Front. One easy mistake novices to Telemark can make is keeping arms spread wide, making it difficult to keep your upper body facing the fall line. (This refers to the line on a hill that is most directly down the hill; that is, the direction a ball would roll if it were free to move on the slope.) By keeping your hands close together and in front—as if you're carrying a cafeteria tray—you will correctly tend to keep your upper body facing downhill, even as your lower body turns to carve your skis.
Balance Basics. Put as much weight as possible on your rear ski, not your front ski that seems to be doing all the carving. If you feel as if you're trying to put 80 to 90% of your body weight on your rear ski, you're probably in reality putting around 40 to 50%. The result is a shaky rear ski under control. Smooth turns will follow.
Likewise, focus on "stepping back" with your trailing ski into a turn, instead of consciously stepping forward with your leading ski. This not only helps you control your rear ski, but makes you feel less nervous on steep terrain—you're not lunging forward into a scary void, but tucking your leg safely back into the mountain. The end result is the same: your leading ski will be in front of your trailing ski as you carve your turn.
Big Toe, Little Toe. Another good exercise to promote better carving is "big toe, little toe": try to think about pushing down on the big toe of your leading ski and the little toe of the trailing ski as you carve a turn.
Bigger Knee Bends. Next, try exaggerating your knee bends. Many skiers think they're bending their knees a lot, but in fact they're not. In particular, their front leg is stiff. Loosen up and over-perform a little as you turn.
Telemark is a Norwegian novelty that adds a touch of elegance to board sports and is ideal for skiers looking less for speed than for perfect balance and a leisurely ride.