Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners

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If you're looking for a way to stay fit in the winter months, or simply want to add a new sport to your athletic repertoire, consider Nordic skiing. Not only is kicking and gliding on two skis an incredible aerobic challenge that works your running muscles, but it also builds your arm, back and core strength, too. Plus, you're in the great outdoors swishing on snow, which can be an invigorating change from pounding miles on an indoor treadmill.

Classic and skate are two styles of Nordic skiing. Classic, the more traditional form, involves kicking and gliding in a forward-leaning motion. This style is done in deeply groomed tracks that run parallel to each other.

Skate skiing requires the skier to push off each ski in a V pattern, resembling rollerblading or ice-skating. Skate skiing is performed on wide groomed tracks, often right next to classic tracks.

Both types of Nordic skiing can burn from 400 to upwards of 1,000 calories an hour (at racing speed and weight dependent), according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Add to that the muscular strength and endurance necessary, and you've got yourself one heck of a winter cross-training activity.

True, both classic and skate skiing can be difficult to master, at first. A beginner's lesson at a Nordic center can give you basic tips and an excellent starting point. The price of most lessons includes gear rental.

Once you're ready to head out on your own with borrowed or rented gear, there is plenty of technique involved to keep you busy—and improving—for years to come.

Mastering the Kick-and-Glide: You're a runner—you have the leg strength. Nordic skiing not only requires strength in your whole body, but it's a sport (like swimming) where efficiency and proper form is key. Professional skier and 2006 Olympian (and 2010 Olympic hopeful) Rebecca Dussault shares some advice for novice Nordic skiers.

Athletic Stance: In both forms of Nordic skiing, it's imperative to stand tall, then add a deep ankle flexion that puts you in an upright slouch. You should bend from the ankles, not from the hip. From this stance, your arms can swing backward and forward freely from a loose shoulder posture. Try to be rhythmic instead of mechanical, with supple and active legs that are ready to load and explode in the kick-and-glide phases.

Core Principles: When skiing, like running, you are balanced on one leg at a time, which requires a lot of stabilization. This is generated from your core, allowing you to apply force to propel yourself forward.

Be Dynamic, Be Balanced: Since the muscle movements of Nordic skiing are full-range, try to keep your body dynamic, balanced and active. In other words, don't tense up!

Specifically Classic Cross-Country Skiing: When classic skiing, keep your hips in a high position with your legs stacked underneath you, all while leaning slightly forward (bending your ankles, not your hips). With each stride aim to land on a coiled, pre-loaded leg so it can launch you forward to the next leg. Aim for short, quick, active gliding.