Winter running can be tricky and even downright unsafe, depending on in which part of the country you reside. Below zero wind chills (or even temperatures!), icy roads, and snow up to your waist can prevent even the most dedicated of runners from getting outside for all of their miles. Especially if you aren’t training for an early spring race, winter can be a time to reduce your running mileage (so you spent less time out on the snowy roads or stuck on the treadmill) and explore different types of winter cross-training for runners.
With winter cross-training, you can improve your aerobic base and become a better athlete during the winter season, which both gives your body a break from your normal training while making you a better runner for your next season. Winter cross-training also allows you to opt outside when the roads may not be safe from running, so you can still reap the benefits of outdoor exercise.
When I say cross-training here, I mean aerobic exercise that can serve as a substitute for running. Strength training, Pilates, and yoga are all fantastic forms of exercise, but those do not provide the same physiological stimulus as running. Besides, you should be strength training and doing Pilates or yoga regardless of the time of year!
4 Types of Winter Cross-Training for Runners
Snowshoe running uses lighter, more compact snowshoes designed to fit onto your running shoes. Snowshoe running is more difficult than road or trail running, so be sure that you have a good aerobic base and be prepared to run at a significantly slower pace. You want to also make sure you are prepared with the right gear and dress appropriately for the weather – just as with running, you need to plan on heating up as you go.
You can snowshoe run on the trails or, if it’s snowy enough, on the roads – wherever there’s a thick layer of snow. For lighter snow on the roads, you are better off opting for Yaktraks, Stabiliciers, or other crampons.
Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing
Even snowshoeing at a walking pace provides you with a great aerobic workout! This is my current favorite type of winter cross-training, because the endurance workout it provides feels mentally and physically similar to a long slow distance long run.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing both provide a low-impact cardiovascular workout that you can do outside in winter. You’ll improve your aerobic fitness and endurance, especially since you can easily snowshoe or cross-country ski for hours. If you use trekking or ski poles, you will also receive an upper body workout – a weak area for many runners.
You can cross-country ski and snowshoe on flat, guided trails, such as snowed-over rail trails or Nordic ski areas at ski resorts. Both can also be done on your favorite hiking trails – just be sure that you practice winter safety and know how to respond in case of an avalanche.
Just like snowshoe running requires a special pair of snowshoes, you want to make sure you select the right pair of snowshoes for your terrain. If you plan on heading out into the backcountry and tackling some hills (or mountains), you want more traction on the bottom of your snowshoes.
Downhill Skiing or Snowboarding
Thanks to the aid of gravity, downhill skiing and snowboarding do not provide as substantial of an endurance workout as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Yet this doesn’t mean runners won’t benefit from regularly hitting the ski slopes. biggest benefit of skiing and snowboarding for runners is that you train your body to move in multiple planes of motion. Many runners train in one plane of motion: forward.
The biggest benefit of skiing and snowboarding for runners is that you train your body to move in multiple planes of motion. Many runners train in one plane of motion: forward. When you ski or snowboard, you move laterally and twist your body as you wind along the slope – thus working your muscles differently than you would on a run.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding do carry a higher risk of injury than other forms of winter cross-training, so be cautious and recognize your limits. You don’t want to miss months of running because you decided to tackle a black diamond after your first lesson!
Want a challenging cardio workout on the ski slopes? Climb up the ski hill instead of taking the chair lift! This isn’t recommended for beginners, but for more experienced skiers, uphill skiing will provide an excellent aerobic workout, beyond what downhill skiing alone offers.
If you don’t have time to make it to the slopes or trail or can’t leave the house because of the weather, plyometrics are a challenging cardio workout. Granted, plyometrics are more anaerobic than they are aerobic, but they will still improve your cardiovascular fitness. Burpees, box jumps, squat jumps, jumping lunges, and similar exercises will get your heart pumping and increase your power for running. Jumping rope provides an aerobic workout as well, with the added benefit of helping you improve your running cadence. Just be mindful if you live in a second floor or higher apartment!
Try one of these 6 indoor workouts for runners for when you can’t make it outside but want more of a workout than just strength training.
What’s your favorite type of winter cross-training?
Do you cross-train more in winter or are you often running as normal?