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Snowshoe Preseason Training in 4-6 Weeks
By C. Schurman, MS, CSCS
What is the best way to get ready for mid-winter snowshoe trips? Just in time for some fun outings at the start of the New Year, we have created a jump-start program for the next 4-6 weeks to get you ready for fun times in the snow. It includes cardiovascular training, strength training specific to snowshoeing, pack-carrying sport-specific training, and anaerobic training specifically if you will be traveling to elevations above 5,000 feet. For optimal performance on such a program, it is best to have a baseline of at least two weekly endurance workouts of 45 minutes each, two full body strength sessions of at least 30 minutes each, and an unloaded outside walk of 4-5 miles.
Cardiovascular Choices: To make your workouts as effective as possible, make them as specific to snowshoeing as you have available to you. While rowing, swimming, aerobics classes, biking and so forth can help you build a suitable aerobic baseline leading into this program, since you have a limited time to fully prepare, you will want to focus on workout modalities that will load the legs, hips and spine in a way that will be similar to snowshoeing. Choose from walking on an incline treadmill, exercising on an Elliptical cross-training machine, step mill, or stairmaster, climbing hills or stairs, hiking, or snowshoeing itself. Include shorter, higher intensity weekly aerobic workouts along with lower intensity endurance workouts and a weekly snowshoe-specific workout (see below).
Anaerobic Suggestions: If you anticipate snowshoeing at altitudes above 5,000 feet or ascending very steep terrain for several hours at a time (such as you might encounter on winter scrambles) then include an intervals workout in each of weeks 4-6 of your program. Specific ideas for how to do this are included at www.bodyresults.com/e2fartlekIntervals.asp and www.bodyresults.com/e2intervals.asp as well as www.bodyresults.com/e2tabatas.asp. The longer work intervals will be more appropriate for endurance activity such as snowshoeing, but if you are pressed for time over the holiday season, Tabata intervals (up to 3 times a week) are perfect.
Sport-Specific Overview: If you have already been doing an unloaded outside walk for at least 4 miles, your first weekend endurance workout on the program will be an hour with an 8-10 pound pack. Each trip you do, add a few pounds or an extra mile until you can safely and comfortably travel the distance you intend to go on your first trip, with the target pack weight. If your goal is a 5 mile snowshoe with a 15# pack with roughly 800 feet of elevation gain and loss, then you should be able to comfortably walk around your neighborhood for two hours with your 15 pound pack before you head for the snow-covered terrain.
Flexibility Tips: Include among your stretching routine the two snowshoe-specific exercises for the psoas and ITB listed at Hip Stretches
as well as at least one calf stretch listed at Calves and Mountaineering.
Strength Overview: Since you will be traveling over varied terrain in potentially heavy snow while carrying extra weight, having the strength endurance and stamina through the core, legs, hips, hip flexors and upper back will clearly be your top priority in preparation. If you have not yet been doing any strength training, a suitable beginning program that targets the entire body is available at Starting an Exercise Program. Add sport-specific strength exercises below and you have a complete full-body program to help you prepare.
Snowshoe-specific Exercises: To increase strength and balance in the calves and muscles around the ankles, see Calves and Mountaineering for Angled Board Walk, 1-Leg Deadlifts and Calf Raises; on Targeting the Gluteus Medius include Hip Hike, Bridges and Forward Straight Leg Raise for the hips; and for an overview for snow sports training. To strengthen the hip flexors to be prepared for high steps in snowshoes laden with wet snow, wear ankle weights (anywhere from 3-10 pounds) around each ankle and do high marches for anywhere from 30-120 seconds (increase weight by 1-2 pounds or time by 10 seconds each workout).
Putting it all together: Phase I of this program will be strength base-building (first 2-3 weeks), and Phase II will focus on sport-specific training including longer endurance and interval training (second 2-3 weeks). Phase I includes training 4 days a week; Phase II, 5 days a week. Build on the suggested baseline mentioned in the first paragraph.
Days 1/4: CARDIO: 45-60 minutes of medium intensity endurance training, as sport-specific as possible. Ease into the workout for the first 5 minutes and include stretches for at least 5 minutes afterward.
Days 2/5: STRENGTH: Full body sport-specific strength training 30-40 minutes each. Always include at least 5 minutes of general warmup before starting your strength training and stretch for at least 5 minutes afterward. Weeks 2 and 3, on one of the 2 strength days, include a 20-30 minute higher intensity aerobic workout (to 80% MHR) following your strength workout.
In Week 2 (of 4 week program) or 3 (of 6 week program), add a pack walk or hike with a 10 pound backpack. Load a pack with water or essential gear you will need on your snowshoe outing rather than rocks or iron plates as they degrade your pack quickly and put too much of the load on your shoulders and trapezius muscles.
Day 1: CARDIO: 45-60 minutes of low intensity (unweighted) recovery training, usually following a weekend pack workout. Ease into the workout for the first 5 minutes and include stretches for at least 5 minutes afterward.
Day 2: STRENGTH / INT: Full body sport-specific strength training 45 minutes. Include a 20-30 minute high intensity anaerobic workout (to 90% MHR) following your strength workout or you probably will not have enough energy to keep good form on the strength exercises.
Day 3: OFF
Day 4: CARDIO: 60+ minutes of moderate intensity endurance training (75% MHR) Ease into the workout for the first 5 minutes and include stretches for at least 5 minutes afterward.
Day 5: STRENGTH / TEMPO: Full body sport-specific strength training 45 minutes, followed by a 20-30 minute sustained medium intensity aerobic workout (to 80% MHR) and stretches.
Day 6 or 7: In Weeks 3-4 (of 4 week program) or 4-6 (of a 6 week program), increase walking or hiking mileage by .5-1 mile per outing and 2-3# per hike. By the end of the program you should be comfortable walking 5-6 miles with a 15-20# pack and feel like you are more physically prepared for your snowshoe trip. Enjoy the powder!