The off-season is a great excuse for runners to trade in their shoes for skis, skates or even a fat bike and truly embrace the benefits of cross-training. Studies have shown runners who opt into activities like snowshoeing and skiing over the winter end the season fitter than those who stayed inside at the gym. Getting out in nature and exercising in the sunshine can be a great mood-booster, too, and while putting in another 5K on the treadmill can feel like a slog, a snowshoe expedition on a new trail can be an adventure! So bundle up and get outside with one of these sports:
Not just for slow, meandering hikes: Snowshoeing can burn as many calories as running, depending on how hard you’re going. Snowshoe running is becoming a bigger sport in snowy areas as mountain running is growing — runners are strapping on lighter, smaller snowshoes and actually sprinting through the snow up and down mountains. Of course, classic slow-paced snowshoeing also makes for a great rest day workout.
The classic winter activity, cross-country skiing can be an incredibly demanding activity that not only works the leg muscles that are typically activated when running, but it also uses your upper body and employs more dynamic ranges of motion in your hips. You’ll strengthen your glutes and quads while burning up to 800 calories in an hour.
If you have an outdoor rink near you, ice skating can be a great aerobic activity, not just a kitschy holiday tradition. Because it requires more balance and stability than running on the road, you may even find your ankles, knees and hips are tired after a skating session, but they’ll also be stronger because of it. You can burn anywhere from 400–600 calories per hour on the ice, so you’ll earn that post-skate hot cocoa!
If you live in a snowy area but not near groomed cross-country ski trails, you may still be able to use skis for a serious workout. While you won’t get the speed groomed trails can provide, you’ll get a more muscular workout over less distance to earn the same caloric burn, thanks to the inefficiency of breaking your own trail. You don’t need to be a ‘backcountry expert’ to take advantage of this: towpaths, rail trails and other pedestrian byways often are used by cross-country skiers in the winter. Just get out early before the trails start getting broken up by snowshoes and hiking boot tracks.
If you’re nursing a running injury, fat biking might be the solution to getting aerobic activity during the winter while still enjoying being outside. Because cycling is a low-impact sport, you won’t be taxing your knees while you pedal, and fat biking is a fun way to get around in the snowiest of circumstances. Many cross-country ski areas and mountain bike trail systems are even grooming fat bike trails by packing the snow down to make riding easier.
If it’s truly icy and snowy in your area, but you’re still dying to get outside, there are ways to keep running through the worst winter weather. Rubber netting with spikes and metal bottoms for traction, by brands like Yaktrax, can attach to your shoes in seconds and help keep you from slipping and sliding as you run. Don’t plan to do interval runs or hard efforts in them, but you can get out for easy runs without major issues. (Tip: Just make sure to dress warmly!)