As fall approaches, there are numerous things you can do to physically prepare yourself for the unique demands of snowshoeing, even if you do not have access to snow. You can also use these training methods with low snow or if you do not have regular access to snow.
Preparing to snowshoe when the weather is sunny and dry may seem ridiculous. However, the things you do in advance of the cold weather will help you make the transition to snowshoeing easier. It will also help you enjoy your snowshoeing outing more.
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Options for Warm Weather Preparation
Some people might lump any snowshoeing they do as cross-training for other activities, like cycling, running, hiking, etc. As a result, only a select few might use the summer activities for cross-training and preparing for snowshoeing. However, that doesn’t need to be the case.
You can continue to improve your snowshoe-specific fitness year-round. Noting what athlete-level snowshoers do in the off-season, and imitating it to a limited extent in the fall, will benefit snowshoers at all levels.
Use Your Snowshoes
Aside from following the snow to the opposite hemisphere, it is entirely possible to snowshoe year-round in the right conditions and with the proper preparation.
First, use an older pair of snowshoes and/or protect the bottom with a layer of duct tape or a liquid rubber shoe repair product like Shoe Goo. Then, find a soft and non-abrasive surface, like thick grass, pine needles, forest duff, and/or soft sand, and go at it. If possible, consider removing the traction claws or installing a shorter or worn set.
When used with a bit of care, most snowshoes are not damaged as much as you might think by such use. You can add hills, dunes, and or try moving through four to 12-inch deep water for short periods at a sandy beach to get the same feel as snowshoeing in untracked snow (but beware of the corrosive effects of salt water).
Such strange activities might draw stares and comments from others. However, other sports use alternative means to train (Nordic skiers on roller skis, runners on roads, and/or cyclists on stationary trainers). You cannot beat the specificity of this type of training for snowshoeing, and you might even meet some other fellow snowshoers or introduce someone new to the sport.
Read More: Using Your Snowshoes on the Sand for Fitness
Modify Your Regular Aerobic Activity
A more conventional way to train for snowshoeing without snow is to continue regular aerobic activity with some modifications. Given that the limiting factor in almost all snowshoeing is your aerobic endurance, every snowshoer can work to maintain and improve their aerobic fitness year round with regular hiking, cycling, swimming, running, etc.
Here are a few ways to modify your regular activities.
Mimic Upcoming Outings
Weight-bearing exercises (walking/running) that emphasize leg endurance will mimic snowshoeing better than the others.
Trying to mimic the expected intensity, duration, terrain, altitude, etc., of your expected upcoming snowshoe outings in the fall during your hikes or runs will help. Or, if you anticipate snowshoeing at an 8,000-foot elevation for three hours over hills, try to duplicate this occasionally in the fall during hikes and runs.
Add Resistance To Build Strength
However, the resistance of soft snow and the added weight of snowshoes will require added strength and power above and beyond walking and running alone.
Going up and down hills when walking, running, and cycling will help your strength development. Cyclists can push slightly bigger gears to build strength and emphasize pulling up on the pedals and riding out of the saddle to mimic snowshoeing movements better. Runners can seek out softer surfaces such as trails and sand. Wearing heavy training shoes or leather backpacking boots while out will also add resistance, building strength.
Read More: Ask the Coach: Tips for Running Downhill
Add Specific Strength Exercises
One can also add specific strength work with weights and gym work. Exercises that target the hip flexors and quads are particularly beneficial to snowshoers. However, working the calf, butt, and hamstring muscles will help also.
These can be specific movements with weights that target individual muscles or groups. Or you can do exercises without weights like squats or lunges that target groups of muscles and help build balance. For example, you can effectively build strength for snowshoeing using your body weight as resistance with movements like one-legged squats, calf raises, and lunges.
Build Your Upper Body
Snowshoeing requires added upper body, core strength, and endurance to counteract the extra weight of the snowshoes and provide added drive and propulsion, whether you use poles or not. Therefore, any regular program involving the upper body will benefit your snowshoeing, be it swimming, weights, or even the tried and true pushups, dips, pull-ups, or shoveling snow or dirt.
For the upper body and core, the emphasis should be mainly on lighter weights and endurance, with some strength work thrown in. Core exercises like sit-ups, crunches, back extensions, etc., are particularly beneficial to all snowshoers.
If you plan on snowshoeing with poles, frequently walking or running with them in advance is a good idea. Even simple things like occasionally picking up and carrying a tennis ball-sized rock in each hand while walking or running can help your upper body for snowshoeing.
Improve Your Balance
The uneven nature of snow requires a bit more balance to snowshoe over than regular movement over smooth terrain. By seeking out uneven trails while out on foot, it will improve your balance. You can also do a few simple drills at home, like standing on one leg with eyes both open and closed, to improve your balance for snowshoeing.
Snowshoeing may occasionally require more flexibility than your normal range of motion, especially if you are older, stiff, or have some tight joints. Flexibility is generally decreased in the colder ambient temperatures encountered while snowshoeing.
A regular stretching routine can help maintain and enhance flexibility. Emphasis should be placed on the legs, hips, and torso, and particular attention should be paid to the Achilles tendons and low back. Maintaining flexibility will help prevent injury and may increase your performance and enjoyment.
Read More: Don’t Forget To Stretch for Snowshoeing
Start Training for Snowshoeing
You can do quite a bit to prepare yourself physically during the “off” season to get ready to snowshoe, even without snow. Also, given the briefness of winter in some areas, what you do off the snow may have more influence over your snowshoeing than the snowshoeing you actually get to do.
Remember that it generally takes about six weeks for any physiological changes to occur, so start early and keep at it. It would be best to spend at least 80 to 90 percent of your time working on basic aerobic conditioning, with the remaining time spent on the other components of strength, balance, flexibility, etc.
Everyone is different, so tailor your program to maintain your strong areas and improve your weak ones. Time spent planning and preparing while it is warm will help you enjoy your snowshoeing even more when the snow finally arrives.
How do you train for snowshoeing? Have you completed any of the recommendations above? Please share your experiences with us in the comments below.
This article was first published on September 20, 2004, and most recently updated on August 22, 2022.
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