• Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing or indoor cycling – what is best? A study took a look.


    Yesterday I revealed my list of 15 Winter Fitness Secrets. Today I'll touch on items 1) Alpine skiing, 4) indoor cycling and 9) Nordic skiing. If you've followed my blogs and Facebook, in the past few years I've posted heart rate profiles for all of the activities mentioned. Before launching into my own analysis of the activities, I wanted you to know a recent study looked at these three activities.

    A study titled, "A Comparison between Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing and Indoor Cycling on Cardiorespiratory and Metabolic Response" was published by the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine just this week. The study compared metabolic and cardiorespiratory responses for all three activities, with the goal of indentifying alternatives to indoor cycling during winter months.

    Scientists measured oxygen uptake (VO2max), total energy expenditure, heart rate, lactate, blood glucose and rate of perceived exertion during three 4-minute stages of low, moderate and high intensity in each activity. As you might expect, VO2max and energy expenditures were higher for Nordic skiing and indoor cycling, than for Alpine skiing. The researchers concluded that participants needed to Alpine ski for 2.5 hours to reach the same total energy expenditure as one hour of Nordic skiing or indoor cycling.

    Nordic skiing produced the highest heart rate, VO2max, lactate and perceived exertion for the arms. Perceived exertion for the whole body was similar for Nordic and Alpine skiing. However, Alpine skiing was deemed the most demanding activity for the legs. Researchers also noted that by varying Alpine skiing (differing turns and likely different terrain), metabolic and cardiorespiratory responses can be increased.

    Watching my own heart rate responses, I did see that Alpine skiing is more cardiovascular than I expected when I first began collecting data. My heart rate response is directly correlated to the difficulty of the terrain. Difficult terrain burns up my legs and drives high heart rate spikes. To me, it feels more like a strength training session with balance and quick course decision making added (good to have for mountain biking).

    Nordic skiing will drive high heart rates for me and I must be focused on good technique, otherwise I can easily waste a ton of energy. This is due to the sport itself and the fact that I'm at altitude.

    I think the fact that I am at altitude skiing every three weeks or so during winter months helps me keep some level of altitude acclimatization for high altitude mountain bike racing in the summer.

    Oh yeah, one more thing – being outside playing in the snow is more fun that sitting on an indoor trainer for days on end.

    Takeaway: If you live in a location that is close to skiing, use playing in the snow as an option – and a strategy – to maintain winter fitness. If you live in a mountain town, I think you still need to do some indoor cycling to maintain cycling-specific fitness. Skiing can help you keep fitness, but it will not replace cycling. What I mean by that is if you plan to race bikes, don't expect to come off of the ski season with fantastic cycling fitness. Do expect to come off of the ski season with great fitness that is easy to use as a spring board into the cycling season – and you'll be eager to get back on your bike.

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