Work out like an Olympian
Inspired by the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to get involved in some cold-weather sports?
You’re not exactly about to pull on some snow pants and hit up the bobsled, luge, or skeleton course without any training, obviously. But plenty of the sports showcased at the 2018 Winter Olympics are accessible to everyday athletes and exercisers—and they can be pretty great workouts too. Here are a few you can try instead of merely watching along.
Even if you’re never planning to attempt a Chloe Kim–style trick, downhill snowboarding can deliver serious fitness results. Although it’s not a continuous cardio session, given the time it takes to ride the lift back up to the top of a mountain, snowboarding taxes lower- and upper-body muscles and improves control and stability, explains Timothy Miller, MD, director of the endurance medicine program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, where he specializes in sports medicine and orthopedics.
While not quite as calorie-burning as its cool cousin snowboarding, downhill skiing is still worth your time. In addition to some cardio and core strengthening, you’ll also seriously work your hip adductors and abductors, Dr. Miller says. Those inner and outer thigh muscles make it so you can keep your skis at a stable distance apart as you’re carving your way down the slopes.
Cross-country skiing ranks up there with a more traditional cardio workout, Dr. Miller says. “It engages pretty much the entire body, like running or swimming, and it’s the one on this list that [results in] the most cardiovascular fitness development,” he says.
The ability to balance on that thin little blade on a slippery surface is a bigger deal than it might sound. Not only does it take balance and core strength, but it hones proprioception, a concept that essentially means your ability to control your body in space, Dr. Miller explains. “For example, after an ankle injury, you lose the ability to control the foot, and it takes a while to get that back,” he says. Developing proprioception through a sport like figure skating can actually help you avoid injuries in the future, he adds.
Long-track speed skating is a serious workout—those athletes power through 1,000 and 5,000 meters at lightning-fast speeds. If you’re ready to pick up the pace from more casual figure skating, you can get a major cardio workout, plus some strengthening of upper and lower body muscles and your core, Dr. Miller says.
“I would probably consider ice hockey the most advanced on this list,” Dr. Miller says. Not only do you need the cardio stamina and muscular endurance, you need serious coordination to be able to stay up on skates while chasing the puck and avoiding the opposing team. While it can certainly give you a good workout, you’re going to need an advanced level of fitness and skill to begin with, Dr. Miller says.
The good news is that practice makes perfect—in any of these sports. “Once you gain the ability to control [the right] muscles, you can start advancing and develop these activities even further,” he adds. Happy sweating!