Which winter sports offer the best workout?


As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)


This week’s Jockology column gets into the Olympic spirit, taking a look at four winter sports: snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and downhill skiing. The question is, how do they stack up as workouts? Beyond the obvious (XC skiing is a great aerobic workout, downhill works your core balance muscles), there are some unexpected nuggets. For example:

…a study published last year in the European Journal of Applied Physiology made a surprising observation: a short test of upper-body strength lasting as little as 10 seconds provided better predictions of performance in a 10-kilometre classic ski race than a test of peak oxygen uptake, which measures aerobic endurance.

In other words, the arms are more important than you might guess. In fact, they provide “up to half the power going uphill during skate skiing, and up to a third of the power going uphill with classic style.”

Other random facts: snowshoeing in powder doubles your oxygen consumption compared to going at the same pace on packed snow. And snowboarders have good bone density, thanks to the high loads on their limbs — and possibly thanks to the whole-body vibration offered by a fast ride.

To read the whole piece, click here (and then click on the graphic to see the whole piece, which is presented as an infographic).

[Note one correction: the data for snowboarding and cross-country skiing got reversed. Recreational snowboarding typically takes about 5-6 MET, while recreational cross-country takes 7-9 MET.]