Muscle Groups Used in Skiing, Building a Snowman and More [+ Calories Burned!]

Getting outdoors in winter is a completely different experience than getting outdoors during months of more favorable weather. The sun is weak, you’re weighted down by extra clothing, and the cold makes you more prone to muscle injuries like tears and strains.

But, just like the rest of the year, spending time outside in the winter is good for you. Even in places that don’t provide enough winter sunlight for the skin to produce Vitamin D on its own.

Sunlight still increases serotonin levels, which has a positive impact on mood and helps stave off the winter blues.

You also burn more calories in the winter just by being cold. Though, it’s a good idea to keep warm during winter activities so you don’t deplete your energy too quickly and head inside sooner than you normally would.

The real advantage of winter, as far as getting outside and getting moving, is the opportunity to participate in activities that aren’t available the rest of the year – snow sports.

There are a lot more things to do in the snow than just downhill ski, and a lot of those things are one hell of a workout.

Muscle Groups Used in Sledding

friends sledding

It might be about the easiest activity you’ll do in the snow, but don’t discount the workout you can get by spending an hour sledding.

The bulk of sledding’s fitness benefits come from dragging the sled back up the hill once you’ve made it to the bottom, but you can use your muscles both ways.

Muscles Used Going Up the Hill in Sledding

Lower Body

Walking uphill uses more muscle groups than walking on a flat surface, and burns up to 60% more calories. The muscles that power your body up an incline are the:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves

The knee joint, where the leg muscles converge, is also engaged while hill-climbing. Though, not to a substantially greater degree than it is when walking on a flat surface.

Instead, it’s your hip flexors that get a vastly increased workout when walking uphill.

When you move up an incline, your hip joint must lift your legs higher with each step, which stretches them, increasing their strength and flexibility over time. The steeper the hill, the harder your hip flexors have to work.

The same is true for your hamstrings, glutes, and ankles. A 1996 study found that walking up a 24% grade increased the range of motion in the hips by 20% and range of motion in the ankles by 59%.

So, if you pick a steep sledding hill, which is the best sort of sledding hill, you’ll get even more of a workout.

Upper Body

While the bulk of the benefits you get from pulling a sled up a snowy hill occur in your lower half, your upper body does do some work. Upper body muscles that engage when climbing a hill with a sled include the:

  • Abs
  • Obliques
  • Trapezius
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Forearms

Walking uphill is more difficult than walking on a flat surface, but walking uphill in the snow is even more of a challenge. That’s because snow is an uneven terrain, which forces your core, especially your abs and obliques, to work harder to maintain balance.

When you swing your arms to help power you up a hill, your trapezius and shoulder muscles control the movement. And pulling even a relatively light weight, such as a sled over snow, also engages the triceps and forearms.

Muscles Used Going Downhill in Sledding

The main muscle group used in sledding downhill are the core muscles, which keep you upright on the sled.

If you grip and steer the sled with your body, you will work your core more, and can also engage your main back muscles, the lats, the trapezius, and all of the muscles in your arms from your shoulders to your hands.

For a more well-rounded workout, walk down and back up the hill a few times at the start of your sledding session. Walking downhill uses different leg muscles than walking uphill, and doing it in the snow is easier on your knees since snow provides more cushioning than solid ground.

Calories Burned in Sledding: 400+/hr (almost all of it from walking back up the hill)

Muscles Used in Snowmobiling

snowmobiling

Snowmobiling can look like a lazy activity. Compared to skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing, you really aren’t doing much from an onlooker’s perspective.

But looks can be deceiving.

While snowmobiling is one of the lower-end calorie-burners when it comes to winter sports (mostly because you’re sitting down), it requires a decent amount of core strength that takes many new riders by surprise.

Muscles used in snowmobiling include the:

  • Abs
  • Obliques
  • Lower back
  • Glutes
  • Upper leg muscles
  • Hip Flexors
  • Shoulders
  • Lats
  • Forearms

The abs and obliques are used mainly to hold you upright and keep you steady, while the shoulders and arms do all of the steering.

If you stand or kneel on a snowmobile, you can also engage your lower legs.

Calories burned in Snowmobiling: 250+/hour (sitting down)

Stand and you’ll burn more.

Muscles Used in Snowshoeing

friends snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is a heck, heck, heck of a workout. Since it’s basically just walking on snow, it’s one of the easiest snow sports for a newbie to learn, and yet provides some of the greatest physical benefits of any snow sport.

Since it is just walking, the legs do most of the work. The main muscles used to snowshoe are the:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calf muscles
  • Glutes
  • Hip flexors

Since snow is a less sturdy terrain than solid ground and you must lift your legs higher with each step when snowshoeing than when walking, though, the core (mainly the abs) engages more to help maintain your balance.

If you use poles while snowshoeing, you’ll also get an upper body workout that involves the:

  • Upper arms (biceps and triceps)
  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Lats
  • Obliques

Basically, snowshoeing is a full-body workout that works every major muscle group in your body. But it’s not only that.

Snowshoeing is also a great cardio workout. You get the same aerobic and cardio benefits you get from hiking or running, but with far less impact on your joints.

The more difficult the path, especially if it includes a lot of hills, the more of a workout you’ll get.

Calories Burned in Snowshoeing: 500+/hr (highly dependent upon terrain and snow-depth)

Carry a pack and you’ll burn even more calories.

Muscles Used in Winter Hiking

snow hiking

Very similar to snowshoeing with its emphasis on the legs and use of poles, the only thing that really sets winter hiking apart is the footwear. Though, that can have a surprising impact on which muscles do most of the work.

Winter hiking allows you to go up or down steeper grades than snowshoeing (generally speaking), which requires more effort from the core muscles.

However, you don’t have to lift your legs as high in hiking boots as you do in snow shoes, which reduces the work to your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors.

Unless you’re really climbing. That changes everything.

The main muscles used in winter hiking are the:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calf muscles
  • Hip flexors
  • Ankles
  • Abs
  • Obliques

Add poles and you’ll also work the:

  • Upper arms (biceps and triceps)
  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Lats
Calories Burned in Winter Hiking: 500+/hr (dependent on terrain and effort)

In general, you can expect to burn a few less calories winter hiking than snowshoeing. But, like with snowshoeing, make your winter hike a backpacking excursion and you’ll increase your calorie-burn.

And the more hills the better.

Muscles Used in Downhill Skiing

downhill skiing

Any skier will tell you that downhill (or alpine) skiing is a lot more than just sliding down a slope. Skiing engages a lot of major muscle groups.

Since it’s an upright endeavor, your legs do much of the work, but balancing on skis requires a good deal of core engagement as well.

And since downhill skiing movements are so specific to the sport, you use most of your muscles in ways that are uncommon in other sports. This makes it an excellent activity to incorporate into your winter exercise regimen.

Muscles used in alpine skiing include the:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calf muscles
  • Hip flexors
  • Abs
  • Obliques

Unlike hiking or snowshoeing, which engages these muscles only when taking an actual step, a downhill run on a ski slope forces your glutes, hips, and leg muscles to work constantly.

This is due to the slightly back-leaning squat-like position that helps you balance and turn on skis, a position which also engages the pelvic floor.

The glutes and hip flexors see unique action due the way the upper legs twist to perform a ski turn.

And the ankles also get a good workout while skiing due to this constant turning. This is a great reason to start ankle-strengthening exercises weeks or months before ski season.

Or, better yet, to keep them up all year round.

Calories Burned in Skiing (Downhill): 300+/hr (assuming you’re not waiting in long lift lines between runs)

The better of a skier you are, the more calories you can burn. The faster you go down a hill, the closer you’ll get to achieving HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

Though, even high-intensity alpine skiing is nothing compared to its companion – cross-country skiing – if you’re looking for pure calorie-burn.

Muscles Used in Cross-Country Skiing

xc skiing

Cross-country skiing is not only an exercise powerhouse (much like snowshoeing), it’s also a bit different than other sports because there are so many commonly-used techniques.

How you choose to move your legs and arms can change which muscles do the majority of the work. But for the sake of simplicity, cross-country skiing does use most of the same muscles regardless of the technique you use.

Lower body muscles used are the:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calf muscles
  • Glutes
  • Abs
  • Obliques

The kick motion in the classic technique uses the lower legs and the outside of the thigh more.

Skate technique keeps your quadriceps constantly engaged and incorporates your glutes and hamstrings more.

Learning both techniques can provide a well-rounded lower body workout and allow some muscles to rest when one technique becomes too tiring.

Upper Body

If you want to give your upper body a serious workout, you can use the double polling technique.

Double polling is a form of cross-country skiing that keeps both skis on the ground while the arms propel you forward. It requires both arm and core strength.

Even with classic or skate techniques, though, the arms do some of the work.

Both poles typically help propel each step when using the skate technique, while the arms alternate in classic technique.

Upper body muscles used regardless of cross-country technique include the:

  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Lower back
  • Chest
  • Trapezius
  • Lats
  • Shoulders

Classic technique provides one main advantage over both double-polling and the skate technique when it comes to the core muscles. In the classic technique, the arms and legs move opposite each other, which makes the body twist, increasing the effort of the abs and obliques.

Calories Burned in Skiing (Cross-country): 400+/hr (but closer to 1000+/hr for trained skiers moving at high intensity)

If your main interest is calorie-burn, you can generally go faster with the skate technique, giving it a boost when it comes to cardio.

Muscles Used in Snowboarding

snowboarder in mountains

Of all the snow sports, snowboarding is the one that is  most demanding of your core.

Not only does snowboarding require great balance, but the core muscles are engaged far more during a snowboard turn than when turning on skis. This means the abs and obliques are constantly working during a downhill run.

Snowboarding is also super demanding of your feet and especially your ankles. Your ankles do a lot of the work in keeping you upright and turning.

Snowboarders suffer fewer knee injuries than skiers, but more ankle injuries. So, getting the ankles primed for the season is absolutely essential.

Muscles used in snowboarding are the:

  • Abs
  • Obliques
  • Ankle muscles
  • Calf muscles
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

While the calves are nearly constantly engaged when snowboarding, the front lower leg muscles get very little action. This can lead to an imbalance of muscle mass and instability of the ankles.

The same goes for the hamstrings, which get less use than the quadriceps. The imbalance in these muscles can cause knee and hip injuries.

To protect the joints of the legs, regular snowboarders should do weight work on the lower front leg and upper back leg when they’re not on the slopes.

Calories Burned in Snowboarding: 300+/hr (more if you’re moving it)

Muscles Used in Snowbiking

snowbike

Snowbiking can be a confusing term. Mainly because there are two very distinct types of “snowbike.”

One type of snowbike is a hybrid of a motocross bike and a snowmobile. You might have seen it on the X Games.

The second type of snowbike is basically a bicycle on one long ski. Riders wear foot skis and keep their feet on the ground, making it sort of like alpine skiing sitting down.

Since the first type of snowbike is controlled much like a snowmobile (with a good deal more core strength required), we’ll focus on the second type of snowbike – the downhill skiing type.

Muscles used in snowbiking:

  • Obliques
  • Obliques
  • Obliques

Okay, so you use some other muscles too. Namely the:

  • Lower back
  • Abs
  • Glutes
  • Hip flexors
  • Trapezius
  • Lats
  • Shoulders
  • Quadriceps
  • Calf muscles
  • Ankles

But, seriously, the constant shifting of your weight from side to side while seated works those obliques, so if you go in unprepared your sides are going to be sore.

Since snowbiking eliminates standing, it doesn’t provide the lower body workout that downhill skiing provides. It does, however, use the muscles in a similar way, with a twist to the glutes and hip flexors.

Calories Burned in Snowbiking: 300+/hr

Like downhill skiing, the faster you go the more you’ll burn.

Muscles Used in Fat Biking

fat biking

Just to create further confusion, there is yet a third form of biking on the snow – fat biking.

Fat biking is basically just mountain biking, but on big tires. These larger tires give riders better balance and more traction on uneven and slick surfaces.

Due to their weight, fat bikes are typically harder to pedal than road bikes, providing more muscle engagement and calorie burn. And that’s before adding in the uneven terrain.

Muscles used in fat biking are the:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calf muscles
  • Abs
  • Obliques
  • Lower Back
  • Trapezius
  • Lats
  • Shoulders

When heading downhill these muscles also get considerable engagement to help stabilize you:

  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Wrists

Unlike road cycling, during which you can stop and coast for seconds at a time, biking on flat ground in the snow requires constant pedaling.

When going downhill, the uneven and slippery terrain demands nonstop engagement of your core. Loss of traction and skids are also common on a fat bike, making core strength even more of a must to prevent falls.

This unceasing effort makes fat biking an incredible cardio workout and a calorie-scorcher.

Calories Burned in Fat Biking: 600+/hr (1000+/hr possible)

Due to the constant motion and tension, calorie burn in fat biking is more on par with racing a regular bicycle than with moderate bicycle riding.

Muscles Used in Building a Snowman or a Snowball Fight

snowball fight

A snowy activity doesn’t have to be recognized as a sport to offer health benefits. According to Harvard Health, playing with kids burns between 300 and 400 calories an hour, depending on the activity and your level of effort.

Of course, you don’t have to recruit kids to engage in a fun snowy activity.

Building a Snowman

Since building a snowman doesn’t require continuous effort (unless you’re making it huge and roll a giant snowball for several minutes at a time), you can expect your muscle work to come in spurts.

Muscles used to build a snowman include the:

  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Hip flexors

Snowman building largely consists of bending and packing snow.

If you want to up your workout quotient, try squatting or kneeling to work with snow instead.

Squatting will work your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, abs, calf muscles and ankles. Just be sure to use proper squatting technique and be mindful of your knees.

Kneeling will work the hip flexors, lower back, and stretch the hamstrings.

Calories Burned in Building a Snowman: an extra 50+/hr

Standing and fidgeting burns more calories than sitting still. Just getting to your feet and moving around loosens up muscles and burns extra calories.

Snowball Fighting

Competitive? In it to win it? If you’re truly in the fight, you can get a really good workout from a snowball fight.

Not only will you be using your throwing arm (try using your non-dominant arm occasionally to even things out), but you’ll be running, ducking, and diving to avoid getting hit.

Muscles used in snowball fighting:

All of them

If you’re using every technique mentioned above to avoid getting walloped, you will engage every major muscle group and get in some serious cardio to boot.

Calories Burned in a Snowball Fight: 400+/hr (if you really go for it)

While spring through fall may offer the greatest number of outdoor activities, the arrival of winter is no reason to go into hibernation. Snow offers some of the most fun, most calorie-burning sports and activities you can do.

Just make sure to dress in layers, and don’t forget to hydrate!

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top