Ask the Coach: Pre-Season Snowshoe Runner Training


I am now an avid snowshoe runner first and a trail runner second. I hate to see the snow begin to melt in the spring.

How can I train through the summer months to be a stronger/faster snowshoe runner in the winter? Can you please give me some workouts that might help for the next snowshoe season.

– Gilles P.


Great to hear that you’ve been fully bitten by the snowshoe racing bug!

You are very wise to look at and consider some of the things that you can do in the ‘off season’ to improve your performance during the snowshoe season. Once the snow starts to fly, it’s almost too late, or certainly puts you a little further behind than if you had done some pre-season conditioning.

Aside from regular trail running, the three main areas of off-season conditioning that will help give you a head start on the competition include strength/core training, alternative cardio training and hill training.

1. Strength and Core Training:

A strong core and good leg strength will help you make a smooth transition into snowshoe running. A basic core strengthening routine combined with bodyweight exercises for your legs done two to three times per week pre-snowshoe season will greatly reduce any initial startup fatigue (and injury potential) that can accompany the first few weeks of snowshoe running. In addition, you will find that once you do hit the snowshoe season, you’ll be able to train at a much higher intensity and more efficiently form-wise. The following exercises should be done 2-3 times per week.

  • Single leg 1/4 squats (2-3 sets of 10-15 reps)
  • Walking lunges (2-3 sets of 10-15 reps)
  • Calf raises (2-3 sets of 10-15 reps)
  • Forward plank (1 set of 30-60 seconds)
  • Side (left and right) plank (1 set of 30-60 seconds)

2. Alternative Cardio Crosstraining:

If you’re anything like me, the last thing that you want to be doing at any time of the year is working out inside in a gym. However, the benefits of using certain machines can be huge. Elliptical machines in particular mimic the motion of snowshoe running very nicely in that the positioning of your feet are very similar to that of snowshoe running. In fact, when elliptical machines were first introduced about 20 years ago, I often heard them referred to as snowshoe running machines. What could be more perfect? Hitting the elliptical one day per week is a great way to keep your snowshoe running muscles firing during the off season, and will help that much more when you are finally able to strap the real things onto your feet.

One of my favorite pre-season workouts that I recommend on the elliptical machine includes a 20 minute hard elliptical session at approximately 85-90 percent of your maximum heart rate. This should of course include both a thorough warm-up and cool-down.

While I do feel that the elliptical machine is the most specific cardio machine on the market for snowshoe running, if you don’t have access to one you could get a similar benefit from adding some mountain biking on hilly trails, or a stairmaster session.

3. Hill Training:

As with leg strength/core, hill training and the concept of working against gravity can greatly assist in preparing your body for the stress of propelling yourself over the snow. Adding one hill training session per week to your regular running routine in the final 6-8 weeks will help to jumpstart your snowshoe muscles.

Once again, you want to make sure that you have a good warm-up and cool-down. The hill doesn’t need to be very long and should take you approximately one minute of running to reach the top. For the first week you should aim to complete three to four hill repeats, followed by an easy jog recovery back to the bottom. Each week, you should look to increase the length of the hill slightly and/or increase the number of hill repeats. For advanced training, you may want to search out sand hills to train on for added resistance.

If you are unable to find a suitable hill in your area, you can always substitute by using a treadmill set at an incline.

Sample Training Week

Therefore, piecing together your training week could look something like this…

Monday – Rest day
Tuesday – Hill Training + Strength/Core
Wedesday – Easy run
Thursday – Elliptical Workout + Strength/Core
Friday – Rest day
Saturday – Easy run
Sunday – Long run

*More advanced runners could consider adding an addition run on either Monday or Friday, and possibly a third strength workout on Saturday.

If you follow these simple but effective tips, I am sure that you will find yourself in the best possible shape for those early season snowshoe races.

See you on the trails,

Derrick Spafford

man trail running in summer


About the author

Derrick Spafford

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