Cross-country skiing, the winter alternative to swimming (How can cross-country skiing improve your swimming?)

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Mar 28, 2011

Cross-country skiing, the winter alternative to swimming (How can cross-country skiing improve your swimming?)

Swimming is a sport that one can usually do all year round, however, depending on where you live on our water covered planet, you might have varied swimming conditions during the course of the year. Therefore, it might be necessary to do another alternative sport activity to supplement your swim training.
(Note: you should always do more than just swim if you want to improve and build core body strength). Same applies if you have only limited time to get into the pool during the busy work week. Having an alternative exercise which also helps you in swimming is a key to success. During winter, one such alternate activity could be cross-country skiing.

The northern hemisphere is now recovering from a beautiful snowy winter, so the minds of the swimmers are more geared toward sunny days and outdoor swimming pools, however, we can’t forget our brothers and sisters down under on the southern hemisphere who are now slowly transitioning into their fall and winter time, so talking about cross-country skiing at this time still feels appropriate. Actually, most of the skiing exercises can be done on roller skis or roller-blades as well, so winter is really not needed, but it is more fun.

I am not implying that cross-country skiing mimics the same movements you should do in the water when swimming with the right technique, however, there are some similar muscle groups being worked. As you might know there are 2 major types of cross-country skiing styles: classic and skate style. Different skis are usually needed for each, but if you have classic style skis, you should be able to perform skating style for a short distances no problem. If you are interested in learning more about cross-country skiing in general, go here.

One of the main body elements that gets utilized over and over during swimming is your core body. So, having a strong core is a must for a successful swimmer. First, it helps you to keep your body in line, second allows you to rotate your hips much easier and third, your kick relies on it as well. Now, in cross-country skiing, the first skill you need to acquire is a balance on the skis. So, the more you ski, the easier it is to glide on the skis and not feel like you are on a balance board. Guess what? This is exactly the right type of strengthening of your core you need for swimming.

Other muscle groups that are majorly used during swimming are your shoulders, lats and triceps. Similar concept applies in cross-country skiing when you use the ski poles to help you move forward. In the classic cross-country ski style, you can move your arms and legs in alternate directions or you can move only your arms in a parallel movement to propel yourself forward. Does this sound familiar? Hint hint, freestyle vs. butterfly arm motion. Now, here goes the disclaimer again, in swimming you work on not dropping your elbow and having a high catch, in skiing, this is not so much as you drop your elbow, but your shoulders and lats get definitely a workout. You can consciously keep your elbow high, but the power generated here is not as big, so it is more of a drill exercise which should be done with care. If you pay attention to your arm movement and finish your ski pole push all the way, extending your arms fully behind your body, both of your triceps will sing in harmony the next day. Finally, if you want to make it a bit more interesting, why not work on your oblique ab muscles and more of your core body. Instead of pushing with your poles on each side of the skis, just hold them together and push with both of the poles only on one side of the skiing trail. This way, you are also introducing a rotation of your upper body (sort of a cross over woodchipper exercise in a gym).

It is a well known fact that swimmers over-utilize their arms when they cross-country ski and forget about the kick they should have with their legs to help them go forward. So, next time you are skiing, also employ a powerful kick backwards with your legs and don’t just rely on your arms to do all the work. For this to work, you need to make sure your skis are waxed right.

During the skate cross-country ski style, your legs move in a V shaped pattern which makes it a pretty good alternative to breaststroke, especially if you remove the use of the ski poles and only use the legs. All the major muscles in your legs get a good workout after climbing up a few hills with the skis. You will also notice that the upper part of your foot might be sore from holding the tip of the ski up, same happens in breaststroke when you swim for a longer time while working on your breaststroke ankle angle. Disclaimer here again though, in breaststroke you should focus on pushing water behind you with your feet and legs, so don’t think that breaststroke is swum the same way as the cross-country skate ski style where you push down with your foot.

So as you can see, cross-country skiing will work on all the good swimming muscles starting with your core, shoulders, lats, triceps and ending with your legs. However, as any dryland activity, cross-country skiing also strengthens your ankle, which is not really ideal for swimming since your ankles need to be loose to create propulsion and eliminate drag. So, make sure you keep up with those stretches each time after you get done with skiing and before you go swimming.

And there you have it, if you live in a country where snow covers the ground for a part of the year, you now have an excuse to dust off those old cross-country skis from the cellar and enjoy the benefits of this wonderfully enjoyable winter sport. If you are less fortunate and don’t have the pleasure of skiing on the white powder, why not use ski poles with your roller-blades next time you are out for a skate. You will love it.
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

3 comments:

David said...

Thanks for the post. I hadn't thought about the connection between XC Skiing and swimming beyond the cardiovascular endurance gains from skate skiing. I havent found anything that gets my endurance more dialed up then a winter of skating skiing. Just got in the pool last week for the first time all winter last week (snow is melting) and it felt pretty good:)

swimator said...

Glad to hear. Yes, XC skiing will definitely get your heart rate going much faster than in the water, especially if you have some up and downs in your track. Good luck with your training.

Sam From Swimming Drills said...

Skiing really takes it out of me, much more than swimming (am I aloud to say that!?) Especially at the top of my legs. And as for cross country skiing! Well that's a different ball game altogether!

Sam