Working Out at Altitude
First things first, mountains mean altitude and altitude means low oxygen. Your body is used to being bathed in oxygen rich blood and when you reach elevation oxygen becomes more scarce. Physiologically your body will begin to increase your heart rate and respiration as it tries to compensate. When you first hit a flight of stairs at elevation it feels like you just completed a marathon, hence the heavy breathing. We personal trainers tell clients to make sure and take it easy, stay hydrated and of course, dress in layers when exercising outdoors at altitude. These things will help assist the body to acclimate to elevation. Typically it takes about two weeks to acclimate sufficiently but progress usually is seen after only five days. Your sleep is going to be compromised too. I know many of us look forward to a good night sleep on vacation but lack of oxygen tends to make a body wake up periodically as a built-in monitoring system.
The Sport That Rates High for Both Aerobic and Muscular Endurance Efficiency
Alright, now that we’ve covered altitude let’s get down to the workout. I know that the first thing everyone thinks of when they think of mountains is downhill skiing or snowboarding but I’m going to make an appeal to you to try cross-country skiing. Personal trainers strive to give their clients a more efficient aerobic capacity AND strength capability. In fact, during my training with the American Council on Exercise (ACE) they taught us that activities are rated on a 5-point scale in term s of capacity to develop aerobic fitness and muscular strength. Five was the best and one was the worst on the scale. Out of every kind of exercise you can think of cross-country skiing scored the highest with a 5 in aerobic fitness and a 4 in muscular strength and endurance. Awesome! If you’ve never done it before it’s easy to think that your arms are not really involved but I can assure you that after your first time, your arms won’t ever let you think that again. The muscle groups that are working in cross-country skiing are the legs, abdominals and back. In particular if you perform the classic cross-country skiing method you’re using the Sartorius, Rectus Femoris (biggest muscle in your Quads), Triceps Brachii, Biceps Brachii and Gastrocnemius (calf muscles). Like I said, legs AND arms. Such a great workout.
In addition to the amazing physical benefits of cross-country skiing you get the added benefits of:
- Not having to wait in lift lines
- Seeing wildlife (this may not always be such a good thing)
- Being immersed in silence
- Paying as much as 50 percent less for an all day cross-country ski pass for groomed trails (same goes for ski rentals)
- Less prone to high impact injuries
- Not being bitterly cold (as long as you’re moving). The heat you create while cross-country skiing keeps you nice and toasty.
I did some research and found a website that does a good job of covering all things cross-country skiing called, Cross Country Ski Technique. They have a section on Introduction to Cross Country skiing that I suggest you check out. Below is their video from that page.
How Long Should You Cross-Country Ski?
Make sure you do wear a hat. I know you’ve heard it before but the hat keeps the heat in as the head is where most heat is lost. Keep some food and water with you at all times, wear sunscreen and stay hydrated out there. Just because you’re cold doesn’t mean you should deny your body water. It still needs it, especially with this type of exercise. How much time you should spend on this exercise is largely due to how much you regularly exercise and what type of shape you’re currently in. If you’re a “regular” exerciser then go ahead and go for a couple hours or so. If you’re new to the sport AND exercise, 30 minutes should probably be your max. You can do this every single day of your vacation if you’re not too sore. If you’re really sore the next day, keep drinking lots of water, stretch and rest a day. I’ve been cross-country skiing with my husband, my kids, with people who have never cross-country skied before, with seniors, my dog…all types! Don’t let the fact that you’ve never been before hold you back from trying. And if you can afford it…never hurts to take a lesson.
In addition to all things marketing, Natalie Cagle is an ACE certified personal trainer and Co-Founder of Ramblen.co a website that curates healthy places to eat and where to workout while traveling. She also enjoys cross-country skiing with her dog who entertains her endlessly by burying herself under the snow. If you’re interested in starting a personal training program please visit her personal training profile.