Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Beginners’ guide to snow sports

Winter may be upon us, but that’s no excuse to give up exercise. With the snow season comes a whole new range of sports and activities to keep you trim and fit.

Snowboarding, skiing and snowshoeing are just some examples of great winter activities that will help you burn calories, build muscle and improve cardio, while having fun at the same time.

Alpine skiing

Perhaps the most popular winter sport, alpine skiing involves sliding down snow-covered hills and mountains on skis with a fixed-heel binding (which attaches the boot to the ski, but releases in a fall).
The sport has reached peak popularity due to the prevalence of ski resorts with lifts, allowing skiers to enjoy the downhill thrill without having to trek up the mountain. 

The basics
Correct form and position is essential, as it impacts on your balance and speed down the mountain.

Your weight should be evenly balanced and distributed over your boot. Your knees should be bent so that you feel slight pressure from your ankles on the tongue of your boots. Your back should be straight and your arms relaxed, holding your poles in front of your body.

If it’s your first time skiing, it’s essential to take part in a beginners’ course, which will teach you the basics in a few hours.

The benefits
Alpine skiing provides a similar level of aerobic exercise to running, and can burn over 450 calories per hour, depending on your exertion. Alpine skiing also improves strength, balance and coordination, and targets muscles in your calves, hamstrings and quadriceps.

What to avoid
Leaning backwards: this results in a loss of contact between the ankle and the boot, causing your skis to cross over each other, which can lead to a loss of balance.

Common injuries
Sport and Recreation Victoria claim knee injuries account for 20-to-32 per cent of all alpine skiing injuries. The main causes are incorrectly fitted boots and bindings.

Cross country skiing

Cross country (XC) skiing is different to alpine skiing, as it involves propelling yourself across relatively even snow-covered terrain on skis, rather than going downhill.

The basics
If you’re new to XC skiing it’s a good idea to stick to pre-groomed tracks. It’s a relatively simple sport and involves shuffling your skis back and forward in a gliding motion to propel yourself forward. Your poles are there to help you, and can be used to balance or help push yourself forward.

The benefits

Depending on the track difficulty, XC skiing can burn upwards of 500 calories per hour. Uphill tracks are great for toning the upper arms as you use your poles to propel yourself forwards. It’s a low impact sport and recommended by health professionals as one of the best forms of sustained cardio exercise.

What to avoid
Looking down: not only is this dangerous because it stops you from seeing any obstacles in your way, but it also limits your ability to move freely.

Common injuries
Along with knees, the thumb is a commonly injured body part in XC skiing and occurs when a skier falls and lands on their hand while still holding the pole. Hold the pole loosely, rather than in the straps, to prevent this injury.

Snow sports tips

As with all sports, proper clothing is required. Make sure you’re wearing warm clothes with no exposed skin. It’s a good idea to wear long socks to prevent your boots from creating friction on the skin.

Don’t underestimate the sun. Make sure you’re covered in SPF 30+ sunscreen because the sun can be extremely strong in alpine areas.

Keep hydrated. Although it may be cold, your body will still sweat from the physical activity and will need water to prevent dehydration.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoes have existed for thousands of years, and were used by ancient civilisations to hunt and move locations without sinking into the snow.
In recent years snowshoeing has emerged as a recreational activity that allows people to walk and run across areas of snow without sinking.

The basics
Snowshoeing involves movement similar to walking or hiking. Simply make your way over the terrain, using poles for stability.

As your technique improves, snowshoes can even be used to jog across areas of snow. In some cases this may even be easier as your feet have less time to sink into the snow.

Hills can be an added challenge. The easiest way to climb an incline is to step into the snow and place your weight on your toes. Then lean forward and step up the incline.

The benefits
Snowshoeing combines muscular and cardio fitness in a simple exercise, which can be undertaken by women of all fitness levels. The resistance of the snow and the added weight from the snowshoes results in an effective workout that can burn more calories than skiing.

What to avoid
Pushing yourself too far: although snowshoeing involves similar movement to walking and hiking, the extra weight of the shoe will slow you down. It’s important not to overdo it to prevent exhaustion or injury.

Common injuries
The amount of muscle, joint and tendon injuries in snowshoeing is quite low; however, they can occur as a result of falls. Avoid walking backwards in snowshoes, as this can cause you to lose your balance.
It’s also important to stretch before and after, as snowshoeing works a broad range of muscles. You’ll be sure to feel it the next day if you don’t warm up and cool down properly.

Snowboarding

Snowboarding combines skateboarding and skiing, and uses a special board with bindings attached to your feet to descend a snow-covered slope.

The basics
Its essential to discover your leading foot. Generally, if you are right-handed you should lead with the left foot, and vice versa, but it’s important to make sure you lead with what feels right.

The bindings should be shoulder-width apart, and the binding of your leading food should be set at about a 15-degree angle.

The benefits
Beginners can expect to burn 300–400 calories per hour. Snowboarding works most of the main muscle groups, especially the legs and core, but beginners will especially notice the use of arm muscles after they pick themselves up from a fall.

What to avoid
Leaning forward: unlike alpine skiing, it’s important to avoid leaning forward while snowboarding as it’s likely to tip you off balance. Leaning slightly back allows you to control your speed and direction and brake easily.

Common injuries
Wrist injuries are common in snowboarders, and will occur if you fall on an outstretched hand. A better option is to fall on your elbows, as this will lessen the impact. Wrist guards are a good choice, especially for beginners, as they will help protect your wrists from injury during a fall. c

How to snowplough

This position is essential for beginners in both alpine and cross-country skiing, and allows you to move downhill while controlling your speed.

Stand upright and ensure your weight is distributed towards the toes of your ski boots.
Move your skis into a ‘V’ shape, with the front tips about 10cm apart. The wider the ‘V’, the greater the braking force.

For additional stoppage, bend your knees slightly inwards to bring the inside edge of the blades of the skis into the snow.

From Women's Health & Fitness Magazine
Written by Alice Algie 

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