Cross Training Tips for Winter – Cross Country Skiing by Chris Christie

Chris Christie cross country skiing banner
Chris Christie cross country skiing banner
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For those of us who live North of the Mason-Dixon line, we know what it’s like to try and stay in shape and on the water all winter for paddling.  It’s hard.  It requires a ton of great commitment, the right gear and a hardy constitution.  We are starting, here at Standup Journal, a series on Cross Training Tips for Winter featuring alternative activities/exercises you can use when the (a) the water’s frozen – it happens! or (b) you need to change it up to stay motivated this winter.  Read on for Chris Christie’s cross training tips with Cross Country Skiing and stay stoked on winter!

Chris Christie cross country skiing
Chris Christie demonstrates the skate technique as a great way to keep legs in shape for summer paddling

Benefits of Cross Country Skiing for the Paddling Enthusiast

In the Northern Hemisphere winter brings shorter days and conditions are often not optimal for paddling.  It can be really hard mentally to head into the gym to maintain fitness, especially if you’re like me and find going to the gym just a shade better than a visit to the dentist. Cross country skiing can be a perfect way to reset the mind for the paddle season.

The benefits associated with cross country skiing are numerous and many of the muscle groups used in standup paddling will benefit from both the Classic and Skating Technique in cross country skiing. The skating technique requires groomed trails.  Whereas the classic style can be done just about anywhere with snow; however, it is more dynamic in a place that has a track already set.

Chris Christie skates his way up Whistler Olympic Park trails in Vancouver, BC

The benefits of proper technique

There has been a fair amount of discussion about the fitness benefits of standup paddling.  It seems agreeable that, in order to get the best results,  we must paddle with good technique and proper intent.  Finding, using and strengthening the appropriate muscle groups for paddling comes with time.  Cross country skiing can also help one become paddle fit in winter and get you ready for a summer on the water.

Heading into the paddling season with a winter reset of cross country skiing will have you primed and ready to get on the water as skiing engages many of the same large muscle groups. Simply balancing on skinny skis fires the core and when you skate or glide, the motion triggers your core stablizers for balance. As you push off with your poles the upper body, or pectoral muscles and triceps come into play!

Working the body in similar patterns to standup paddling

I’ll often ski in a track set on my skate skis and double pole plant to isolate these groups for a crushing workout. Other upper body groups used in cross-country skiing include the rhomboids, lats, rear deltoids and biceps.  The rhomboids are the muscles of the upper back.  They are involved in pulling the shoulder blades together. The rear deltoids are located at the back of your shoulders and the biceps are your Popeye muscles in the front of your arms. These muscles work together as you pull yourself forward on snow to bring the poles towards and then behind the body. Switching up the leading arm in the skate technique will train the body to be more balanced and one side won’t fatigue from doing all the work.  This is much like switching sides while paddling.

Chris Christie winter paddling
Chris Christie creates his own heat in Blind Channel, Squamish B.C.

Uphill Skiing and Cardio

I live in a hilly area so cross country ski climbing really builds up my cardio endurance. This gives me the confidence and longevity I need in my paddle sprint training or those longer sessions where I’m pushing at threshold and trying to follow Norman Hann. This kind of cardio and breath work also gets me through the occasional hold down when I’m sup surfing.

The kick-off phase of skate skiing uses many of the muscle groups in the legs as paddling including the hamstrings, quads, glutes, leg abductors/adductors all the way down to the calf muscles. In addition, the feet are in engaged with micro-corrections to aid with balance which is very similar to standing on a board in sloppy water.

Rethink Your Strength Training

When I’m not paddle fit, I’m always surprised by how fatigued my legs are.  Conditioning with cross country skiing fires these muscle groups and allows you to avoid shocking your body when you do your first downwinder or long open ocean paddle of the year.

The clear winner is that cross country skiing gets you outside.  Oftentimes, it allows us to work those appropriate muscle groups and engage in our cardio training when it is less than ideal paddle conditions out there.  A good cross country ski targets an amazing cardio workout with strength training of the body and a mental reset for the next paddle season ahead.

Paddle On! -Chris Christie

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Chris lives in Squamish British Columbia. Squamish means "Mother of the wind, people of the sacred water in 1st Nations". The past few years Chris Christie has balanced the experience the mountains provide with exploring the waters, rivers and oceans surrounding the West Coast. His hometown is located in the Southern Most Fjord in North America where long standup paddle circuits are always a mental and physical challenge. The strong summer winds give amazing downwind opportunities and the rivers run fast and steep.  The cold surf of Tofino, B.C. gives Chris an incredible variety of paddle sports to explore in Western Canada!  Chris is rarely seen without his camera on his adventures.  He is supported by such top name brands as: Surftech, Kokatat, Ryders Eyewear and Prima Bars. // Check out his work: Chirs Christie Images