To explore a pristine path through the wilderness, a path that has no tracks.
My cheeks sting as I trek a snow covered trail that sparkles like diamonds. Heart beating fast, breath setting the tempo for each step. Snow crunches like sugar beneath my snowshoes. Branches laden with snow, bow into archways. Like a child I explore familiar ground as if for the first time.
Snowshoeing invites us into the tranquility of winter while boosting our cardiovascular fitness. Over 6,000 years old, once used as a mode of transportation, today snowshoeing is an inexpensive, easy to learn, and multigenerational winter activity. If you are looking to shed a few pounds, snowshoeing burns as many calories as running, without the impact. Snowshoeing is excellent cross-training not only for hiking, but also for running and cycling. Snowshoeing builds strength and endurance in the lower body, and by adding poles, improves upper body strength in the arms, shoulders, and back.
To get the most out of your snowshoeing, you’ll want to stand up tall. Aligning your body, improves joint range of motion, takes pressure off your back, and improves your breathing. A strong core helps you to stay light and lifted over your feet. Boosting your core strength also improves your balance and agility so the next time you traverse a snowy slope, you’ll have more confidence. Pilates can help you strengthen and stabilize your core. In addition, Pilates can help you balance your muscles, thereby enhancing your gait and reducing risk of injury. Improving the strength and flexibility in your legs and hips takes pressure off your knees, improves range of motion, and also improves your endurance.
An effective snowshoeing cross-training routine focuses on boosting core strength, improving flexibility and muscle balance. Here are three Pilates exercises to help you get started. For my complete 15-minute Pilates for Snowshoeing Routine, please check out my book, Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete, available at pilatesfortheoutdoorathlete.com. Copies are also available at Evergreen Pilates.
Kneeling Side Kicks
Purpose: Strengthen the abductor and adductor muscles of the legs and hips.
Begin by kneeling with your legs together and your arms reaching out to the sides at shoulder height. Tip over until you are balancing over your right arm and leg. Extend your left leg out straight. Keep your hips square and abdominals scooped. INHALE to kick the leg forward like you’re kicking over a tabletop. Keep your supporting leg vertical and strong like a tree trunk.
EXHALE to sweep the leg straight back over the imaginary tabletop. Keep your leg parallel with the floor and level with your hip. For additional challenge, add kicking up and down and leg circles. Note: This exercise can be modified and performed standing. Hinge at the hips and use a countertop or table for balance. Switch sides.
Figure 4 Stretch with Ski Poles
Purpose: Stretch the hips extensors and back muscles.
Place the poles in front of you for support and balance, holding them with both hands.
Cross one ankle over the opposite knee.
Keep your spine tall and hinge it forward as you gently bend your standing knee.
Purpose: Stretch the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip extensors, and flexors.
Begin facing the tailgate or a counter top. Raise one leg, place your heel on top of the tailgate, leg out straight, and square your hips. The knee of your raised leg should point upward. INHALE, stand up tall, and EXHALE curl forward over your leg, scooping your belly to your back. Come back up. INHALE, bend the raised leg, and shift your weight forward keeping your chest close to your thigh. EXHALE, straighten your raised leg and stand tall.
Rotate on your standing leg until you are facing sideways and your raised leg is externally rotated. The kneecap should still face upward. INHALE and bring your outside arm up by your head. EXHALE and side bend toward your raised leg. Pretend that your back is against a wall and slide against it as you side bend. Keep your chest lifted and breathe.
Lauri Stricker is the author of Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete, and the owner of Evergreen Pilates. Copies are available at Evergreen Pilates and online at: www.pilatesfortheoutdoorathlete.com. For information on classes, please check out our website: www.evergreenpilates.com.