How to arm yourself for cross country skiing

Dear Marilynn: I love to ski cross country and have been out quite a few times this year. My problem is sore arms. My upper arms and shoulders ache for days after. What can I do?


Cross country skiing is a marvelous winter fitness sport. It’s pretty easy to learn and great fun to do. It helps build muscle, boosts endurance and is a supercharged calorie burner, devouring up to 900 calories an hour, depending on your weight, performance level and the ski conditions.

Cross country (a.k.a. Nordic) skiing is also a low-injury sport because the gliding action puts very little stress on the legs.

Skate-skiing the newer variation on the traditional stride is a little more likely to cause problems because the motion is continuous and any sort of misalignment can add up to trouble.

Here’s what to do about the soreness you’re experiencing with your arms:

Get strong

If your upper body is strong and flexible, you’ll be able to use and control your ski poles with grace and efficiency and no annoying soreness the next day.

So get involved in a weight-training program that strengthens the muscles of the back, shoulders, arm and abdominals. (Actually, you want a balanced program to strengthen upper and lower body, but for now, let’s concentrate on your skiing situation.)

There are many excellent exercises you can do, including bench presses, military presses, lat pull-downs, curls, tricep dips, etc. You can do them using resistance machines or free weights, but both require proper training and good technique, so get some help from a trainer or read a good book.

Don’t ski tense

Another reason for experiencing soreness in your upper body is because you’re skiing on muscles that are tense instead of relaxed. Very common mistake. So shake out (relax) your shoulders from time to time.

Hold your ski pole in two hands and gently swing it up, over and around your head, stretching your shoulders and upper back as you go. Also, be aware of not skiing with your neck and shoulders scrunched up around your ears.

Ski relaxed and you’ll go a long way toward easing muscle pain the next day.

Cool down

After a day or even an hour of skiing, don’t just quit and come in.

Instead, to prevent muscle soreness, gradually reduce your efforts and wind up cooling your muscles down with some simple walking or stretching.

Take a lesson

A final suggestion is to take a ski lesson and check your technique.

You should not be muscling your way along the snow, using your arms.

Cross country skiing is all about using the strength and momentum of your legs, not your arms.

You may simply be putting too much pressure on your arms and the pain you feel is your body telling you there’s something wrong with your technique.

Always listen when your body speaks.

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