Is cross-country skiing good for weight loss?

Cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, is a fantastic aerobic exercise that engages your whole body. It works your legs, core, back, and arms as you propel yourself across snow-covered terrain using skis and poles. Many people take up cross-country skiing specifically for its calorie-burning benefits and potential to spur weight loss. But is it truly an effective approach for shedding excess pounds?

What is cross-country skiing?

Cross-country skiing involves gliding across snow while utilizing skis, poles, boots, and bindings that are designed for traversing overland rather than downhill. The goal is to travel across open spaces or trails as efficiently as possible by utilizing a specific skiing motion.

There are two main techniques in cross-country skiing:

Classic technique

The classic technique keeps the skis continuously gliding on parallel tracks. It mimics how people naturally walk or run. You propel yourself forward by pushing back with each foot in a striding motion, aided by the grip of the “kick zone” on the bottom of the skis. Poling with the arms also helps drive you along.

Skate skiing technique

Skate skiingimitates the motion of ice skating. You push yourself in a side-to-side skating movement while keeping your skis pointed forward in a V shape. It’s faster than classic skiing but also more difficult to master.

Both techniques provide an excellent workout for every major muscle group. The muscles engaged include:

  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Core
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearms

This whole-body participation is a key reason cross-country skiing can burn significant calories and contribute to fat loss.

Calorie burn from cross-country skiing

The number of calories you’ll burn cross-country skiing depends on:

  • Your weight – Heavier people burn more calories per hour
  • Intensity – Faster skiing burns more calories
  • Technique – Skate skiing has a higher calorie burn than classic
  • Terrain – Uphills require more effort and burn extra calories

According to estimates, a 155-pound (70 kg) person can expect to burn approximately:

  • 500-700 calories per hour with moderate classic skiing
  • 700-900 calories per hour with vigorous classic skiing
  • 700-1,100 calories per hour with moderate skate skiing
  • 1,100-1,400 calories per hour with vigorous skate skiing

These numbers illustrate how competitive cross-country skiing can torch calories on par with running or rowing. Even recreational skiing at a moderate pace typically burns over 500 calories per hour.

For a 180-pound (80 kg) person, the hourly estimates are:

  • 600-850 calories per hour with moderate classic skiing
  • 850-1,100 calories per hour with vigorous classic skiing
  • 850-1,300 calories per hour with moderate skate skiing
  • 1,300-1,700 calories per hour with vigorous skate skiing

And for a 200-pound (90 kg) person:

  • 700-950 calories per hour with moderate classic skiing
  • 950-1,200 calories per hour with vigorous classic skiing
  • 950-1,400 calories per hour with moderate skate skiing
  • 1,400-1,900 calories per hour with vigorous skate skiing

As these estimates illustrate, the faster and harder you ski, the more calories you’ll incinerate per hour. Intervals and hilly terrain will ramp up calorie burn more than flat cruising.

Benefits for weight loss

With the ability to burn upwards of 1000 calories per hour, cross-country skiing can definitely support weight loss efforts. Some key advantages include:

Total-body workout

As a vigorous cardio exercise, cross-country skiing works numerous large muscle groups at once. This revs metabolism and burns more calories than low-exertion activities that only engage small muscles. The harder your body has to work, the bigger the afterburn effect in your tissues.

Gets heart rate up

Cross-country skiing raises your heart rate significantly. As intensity increases, so does the rate of calorie burn. High heart rate exercise is ideal for blasting fat. You need to push into the 70-80% of max heart rate zone or higher.

Outdoor enjoyment

Cross-country skiing gets you outside into the beauty of nature. Exercising in the fresh air makes workouts more enjoyable and sustainable. You’re less likely to burn out than indoor cardio. The variety of scenery also keeps ski sessions feeling dynamic.


The gliding motion of skiing reduces impact on your joints compared to running. You can get an excellent cardio workout with less pain or injury risk to the knees, hips, and other joints. This enables longer workouts and faster post-workout recovery.

Pros Cons
  • Burns a high number of calories per hour
  • Engages nearly all major muscle groups
  • Gets heart rate into fat burning zone
  • Outdoor nature provides enjoyment
  • Low-impact on joints
  • Not as convenient as gym cardio machines
  • Requires access to snowy areas and equipment
  • Higher learning curve than straightforward exercises like running
  • Weather dependent

Is cross-country skiing enough for weight loss?

While the calorie burn from cross-country skiing can certainly contribute to weight loss, it likely won’t suffice as your sole activity.

For substantial fat loss, many experts recommend doing 300 minutes or more of moderate cardio per week. You’d need to ski roughly 5-6 hours weekly to reach this target. Factor in drive time to suitable ski locations, time gearing up, etc. and suddenly it becomes difficult to fit in that much cross-country skiing within busy schedules.

Combining 2-3 hours of Nordic skiing workouts with other calorie-burning exercises will make for a better balanced program. Other fat-blasting options include:

  • Running
  • Hiking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Jumping rope
  • Aerobics classes

Strength training is also key for transforming body composition. Adding muscle elevates your resting metabolism so you burn calories faster. 2-3 resistance workouts weekly will provide excellent fat-burning synergy with the cardio from cross-country skiing.

Watching your nutrition is arguably the most critical component for shedding pounds. You simply can’t out-exercise a poor diet overloaded with calories, processed carbs, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Adjust your eating habits to create a daily calorie deficit so your body taps into fat stores for energy.

Ideal cross-country skiing workout plan

Here is a sample cross-country skiing plan for effective weight loss:


  • 45-60 minutes classic skiing

Target heart rate zone: 70-80% of max


  • 30-45 minutes strength training

Focus on compound lifts plus core exercises


  • 45-60 minutes skate skiing

Target heart rate zone: 70-80% of max


  • 30 minutes cycling or running

Keep in 70-80% heart rate zone


  • 45-60 minutes classic skiing

Target heart rate zone: 70-80% of max


  • 30-45 minutes strength training

Focus on compound lifts plus core exercises


Rest day or optional active recovery (light hiking, yoga, etc.)

This balanced routine hits 300+ minutes of cardio along with 2 strength sessions. The ski sessions keep your heart rate elevated to spur fat burning. Cycling, running or swimming on non-skiing days adds cardio variety. Prioritize nutritious low-calorie eating for optimal fat loss.

Nutritional considerations

Fueling properly helps ensure you get the most out of cross-country ski sessions while supporting sustainable weight loss. Key diet tips include:

Hydrate well

Drink plenty of water before, during and after skiing to prevent dehydration. Carry water in an insulated bottle to sip. Dehydration drags down performance and can prompt overeating later.

Eat energizing pre-exercise meals

Fuel up with nutrient-dense meals 2-3 hours pre-skiing. Good options include oatmeal with fruit, yogurt with granola, turkey sandwiches, or banana with peanut butter. These provide carbohydrates for energy along with protein for muscle repair.

Snack mid-workout if needed

For ski sessions lasting over 60 minutes, bring small snacks like energy chews, granola bars or banana chips. They provide a carbohydrate boost when your body starts running low on fuel.

Refuel post-workout

Eating a mix of carbohydrates and protein within an hour after skiing helps recovery. This also curbs excessive hunger that can spur overeating later on. Good choices are turkey sandwiches, eggs with vegetables, smoothies, or Greek yogurt with berries.

Stay consistent with healthy eating

To lose weight, focus on getting ample protein, fiber-rich complex carbs and healthy fats from whole foods. Avoid added sugar and refined flour products. Portion control is key for maintaining a calorie deficit.

The bottom line on cross-country skiing for weight loss

Cross-country skiing provides an extremely vigorous cardio workout that torches calories and helps build lean muscle mass. While skiing alone likely won’t be sufficient, it can be a valuable component of a comprehensive fat loss plan. Combine Nordic ski sessions a few times weekly with other cardio, strength training and a solid reduced-calorie nutrition plan for optimal weight loss results. Monitoring your heart rate while skiing helps ensure your intensity is high enough to burn maximum fat.

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