Benefits of Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing can be enjoyed by a wide range of students, from the youngest kindergartners to those secondary students who are so difficult to please. This activity can challenge students who are in excellent cardiovascular condition, or it can provide a gentle workout in the appropriate training zone for students who are just getting into shape. Moreover, for the students who really don’t care about “getting in shape,” cross-country skiing can simply be a very fun activity. And while having fun, those students will still gain benefits related to cardiovascular fitness, strength, and balance. By getting your class outside during the winter months to exercise, you are showing your students that they can easily stay warm while out in cold temperatures. Cross-country skiing provides many benefits, including some great physical benefits.
The physical benefits of cross-country skiing are well known. If you look at Olympic cross-country skiers, you can see the positive effects on the body that result from training for cross-country skiing. The average elite female cross-country skier carries 11 percent body fat, and elite male skiers carry 5 percent. These percentages are well below the average for people who are considered to be athletic—17 percent for females and 10 percent for males (Fox, Bowers, and Foss, 1993). The high number of calories burned while skiing helps to keep skiers trim and lean. One hour of moderate cross-country skiing can burn approximately 470 calories for a 130-pound person and nearly 700 calories for a 190-pound person. Therefore, cross-country skiing is a great way to burn calories while having fun!
Cross-country skiing is also an efficient way to exercise a large number of muscles at once. Because skiers use ski poles as a means of propulsion, the upper body gets much more of a workout when cross-country skiing compared to when running or cycling. When a skier is using the diagonal stride, the biceps and triceps provide power to the ski poles. When the double-pole technique is used, the skier’s core muscles, pectoralis major, deltoids, and latissimus dorsi are put to work. Of course, the leg muscles also do their fair share. The quadriceps (the muscle group on the front of the thigh) and the gastrocnemius (the large, powerful muscle on the back of the lower leg) provide the forceful “kick” and propel the skier forward. People who use cross-country skiing as a workout over several weeks will discover that the muscles of their entire body increase in strength. As a result, cross-country skiing and other activities become easier.
Cross-country skiing involves the use of the large muscle groups of both the upper and lower body; therefore, during this activity, there is a large demand for oxygen to be supplied to these muscles. The body’s ability to supply oxygen to the working muscles is referred to as V.O2max. Because of the large number of muscles that are working hard when a person is skiing, V.O2max measurements in skiers are very high. Well-trained cross-country skiers have efficient cardiovascular systems; in fact, elite cross-country skiers have the highest recorded V.O2max levels of any group of athletes (Saltin and Astrand, 1967).
Cross-country skiing on a regular basis has a tremendous effect on a person’s cardiovascular system. In addition to gaining strength in the muscles of the upper and lower body, people who use cross-country skiing as a workout method over several weeks will also discover that their heart is stronger. A strong heart pumps more efficiently, sending out more blood to the muscles with each contraction. Through weeks of skiing, people often discover that their resting heart rate has decreased. Highly trained Olympic cross-country skiers have resting heart rates between 28 and 40 beats per minute. Compare that to the resting heart rate of the average person, which is 60 to 80 beats per minute! With the highly active lesson plans found in this book, you should have no problem raising your students’ heart rates. In fact, some students may need to take short breaks to catch their breath and let their heart rate drop slightly so that it returns to the appropriate training zone. Younger children are very good at doing this naturally. If you have heart rate monitors, you should use them to check students’ heart rates during and immediately after the lessons. You will be impressed with the amount of time your students are spending in their training zones!
The benefits of cross-country skiing extend beyond the physiological to overall general health and well-being. A lot of evidence exists (Fraioli et al., 1980) indicating that regular physical activity increases the release of mood-lifting endorphins in the body. After one of the energetic and fun lessons you lead, students will be smiling and laughing; they will be relaxed and in a better mood than when you started class. In addition, students will leave class with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that they have developed new skills in a fun activity. They will also know that they can use these skills beyond class time for many years to come. The results of a Finnish research study on the activity levels of boys and girls showed the benefits of cross-country skiing: Among boys, the proportion of persistent exercisers was highest for those who participated in cross-country skiing, jogging, and bodybuilding (Aarnio et al., 2002). By teaching cross-country skiing, you are providing students with fantastic exercise during class time, and you are also helping them learn an activity that many students will pursue outside of class. Cross-country skiing is an activity that students can do with their families, with friends, or alone. With help from the lesson plans in this book, you are the catalyst to make that happen!