Strap on a pair of these shoes for an easy, efficient winter workout

Exercises

We’re talking about snowshoes.Happy couple holding snow shoes

Snowshoeing is a great way to enjoy a low-impact winter exercise while experiencing the quiet beauty of the season.

As a bonus, an hour of snowshoeing can burn more calories than an hour of running or cross-country skiing. If you're looking for an effective workout, snowshoeing may be the activity for you. 

  • Snowshoeing is an easy-to-learn, low-impact exercise. Brief instruction is all you’ll need to get started. It might take a few steps for you to adjust to the snowshoes on your feet. But basically, if you can take long strides and wider steps without pain, you can go snowshoeing.

  • Gearing up for snowshoeing is inexpensive. Compared to other sports, snowshoeing has a relatively low-cost. You can buy an introductory pair of snowshoes and poles for less than $100. Of course, like other sporting equipment, you can spend hundreds of dollars for the latest technologically advanced designs.

  • Snowshoeing provides a high-energy workout at a slower pace. Most people burn twice as many calories while snowshoeing than they would burn while walking at the same speed.

  • Snowshoeing is reasonably safe. If you’re in good health, snowshoeing is a great exercise option. It poses less risk than skating or downhill skiing. But, always check with your primary care provider to make sure that you're healthy enough for activity.

According to Dr. Declan Connolly's article, The Energy Expenditure of Snowshoeing in Packed vs. Unpacked Snow at Low-Level Walking Speeds, which was published in the 2002 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a person can burn 250 to 1,000 calories per hour while snowshoeing.

A person snowshoeing on a trailWalking on a packed trail at three miles per hour burns nearly 500 calories. Up your speed to four miles an hour and you can double your calorie burn. Walking in powdery snow or breaking a trail also burns more calories.

Of course, like other workouts, the actual calorie burn is dependent upon each person’s weight. A heavier person burns more calories per hour during exercise than a lighter person.

Dr. Connolly believes the use of major muscle groups combined with the boost in metabolism your body needs to sustain its internal temperature in cold weather makes snowshoeing an efficient workout.

Ready to gear up and hit the trail? Before you strap on your snowshoes, there are a few things to consider.

Determine where you will walk. Will you be walking on a hard-packed trail or breaking a new path through snowy fields and woods? Or, will you crank up your activity a notch and run? You’ll want to use a snowshoe design that functions best for your terrain. Larger, wider snowshoes will keep you on top of the fresh snow. Compact shoes will help you maneuver over established trails. Sleek snowshoes are made for running and competing.Snowshoes standing in the snow

Use the right-sized snowshoe. Snowshoes work by distributing your weight across a larger surface area. Consequently, the size you need has less to do with the size of your foot and more to do with how much you weigh. A heavier man needs a larger shoe than a petite female to float across the snow with ease. Rent or buy a shoe that fits your body and your activity.

Invest in walking poles. Poles can help you keep your balance whether you're just starting out or you’re a seasoned snowshoe enthusiast who enjoys tackling more challenging trails. If you invest in Nordic poles, you
Man and a woman snowshoeing across a fieldmay be able to use them for snowshoeing in the winter and balance walking in the summer.  

Dress in layers. Snowshoeing is hard work. You will get hot and sweaty. Dressing in layers will help you stay comfortable. Use a wicking material next to your skin, followed by an insulating material and then a waterproof, windproof jacket as a protective layer. Your goal is to avoid a chill if you stop to catch your breath or take a break.

Wear a hat to keep your head and ears warm. Invest in a pair of medium-weight athletic socks to wick moisture away from your skin. They will keep your feet warm and dry. If snowshoeing will be a sport you return to year after year, it may be wise to invest in a pair of cross-country skiing gloves. These gloves are designed to wick away perspiration, which will keep your fingers and hands warmer on the trail.

Don’t forget your sun protection. Use sunglasses and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. The snow acts as a mirror. The sun's ultra-violet (UV) rays bounce off the snow, which may increase your exposure.

Phone a friend. Taking a snowshoe hike with a friend is not only more enjoyable, but it’s also safer. If you must walk alone, let someone know where you will be and your estimated time of return.

Warm up your leg muscles before you start. Snowshoeing requires longer and wider strides. Walk briskly or jog in place for five to ten minutes. Then stretch your legs with walking lunges. Step forward with one foot as far as possible, keeping your back leg stationary. Keep the bent knee of the leading leg behind your toe. Hold the stretch. Rise as you redistribute your weight onto the front leg and bring your back leg forward as far possible. Take care to keep your knee behind your toe. Repeat six strides on each side.

Snowshoe trail markerBe courteous when you’re on the trail. Avoid crossing or walking in sledding areas or cross-country ski trails while wearing snowshoes. The tracks can damage the trail and reduce the fun for others. Hike only in designated snowshoe areas. If you want to try breaking a trail, always get the permission of the land owner.

Be aware of the risks. Winter sports bring inherent risks because of the temperatures. Before you go out, check the weather forecast. No matter where you hike, make sure you dress warm enough to avoid hypothermia and frostbite.

Avoid using snowshoes on icy terrain. The footwear that keeps you upright on fresh powder or packed snow turns into a set of fast skates without brakes when you encounter ice.

Pack water for hydration. Working out in the winter weather requires as much hydration as a summer workout. Take your favorite water bottle and sip from it frequently.

Compass, poles, map and backpackBe prepared. Though snowshoeing is one of the safest winter sports, pack for emergencies and survival. You could sprain your ankle, get lost or slip into open water. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use survival skills, but if you do, it’s best to be prepared.

Taking a basic first-aid course, learning how to use a compass, packing survival supplies and learning how to use them in an emergency will keep you and your hiking companion safer. At the very least, you may want to consider carrying a rope, a compass, a first-aid kit, matches, a knife, kindling material, an LED light and a Mylar blanket on each hike. Stock a backpack and keep it filled all winter for convenience.

Many Wisconsin State and County Parks have snowshoe trails. Some locations offer snowshoe rentals. Check with your local park department for information about the trails in your area.

With a little preparation, a few instructions and the right gear, you can start trekking your way to better health in snowshoes this winter.

 

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