Surviving Summit: Top 5 calorie-burning mountain sports (backpacking anyone?)
Beautiful scenery — check. Fun hobby — check. Escaping the masses — check. Hell of a workout — check.
We do these activities because we love them, not just to get in shape (but it’s certainly an extra bonus). When you’re happy in nature and truly enjoying the sport in all its elements, you can forget how hard you’re actually working.
The American College of Sports Medicine has data on calories burned during various exercises, found online at Nutristrategy.com/caloriesburned.htm. Each sport is based on a 155-pound person exercising for one hour.
Listed there are the top-5 calorie-crusher mountain sports: Rock climbing (ascending rock) burns 774 calories. Backpacking while carrying 30 pounds is at 585 calories. Cross-country skiing varies from moderate at 563 calories to skiing uphill at 1,161 calories. Trail running burns on average 633 calories, but running uphill is at 1,056 calories. Cross-country mountain biking averages at 598, with vigorous effort at 844 calories.
The intense physical and mental challenges make it an adrenaline rush like no other, and rock climbers enjoy pushing themselves to the limit. But, as much as courage and willpower come into play, strength and endurance are vital. Holding onto tiny ledges with only your fingers and doing a pull-up to grab the next one takes all your strength. You need endurance to push your limits and see how long you can hold on until your grip gives out.
Any form of climbing (bouldering and roped) is an intense full-body workout focusing mostly on your legs, glutes, back and lats, arms, forearms, and hands. Need proof? Just look at a rock climber — they’re long, lean and very defined.
Most people don’t backpack — and there’s a reason. It can be grueling: lugging 25-plus pounds of gear, food and water on your back is no joke. Backpacking or climbing peaks is not a quick outing, as both require a significant amount of time. That makes the calorie burn substantial.
Hiking on arduous off-road trails and high-alpine terrain also entails much focus and determination, which can test your limits. From climbing 14ers to multi-day trips, mountaineering and backpacking are mental and physical drains.
But, it turns out there is a benefit to hauling around tons of stuff. Your upper body is engaged in carrying a pack, scrambling and/or using trekking poles. All your lower-body muscles are working, in particular your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding are great workouts, without a doubt. Add powder, and they’re even better. But nothing provides the same holistic and balanced winter workout as cross-country skiing.
Vigorous backcountry XC skiing utilizes every major muscle group simultaneously, which requires a great deal of energy — and that means an immense calorie burn. XC skiing is an excellent aerobic workout, and, because no single muscle group is overstressed, the activity can be sustained for hours on end. As a result, you sustain a high heart rate for a long duration, thus strengthening your heart and lungs.
Unlike downhill skiing and riding, which are damaging to joints and ligaments, XC is one of the lowest-impact winter sports. That makes it perfect for aging skiers, as there is very little shock to the feet, knees and hips thanks to the traditional gliding motion. (Note to self: Change up the winter routine and burn some mega calories!)
Running cross-country in the outdoors beats running on a treadmill any day! Most trail running here involves lots of hills, and running uphill builds much more strength. It makes flat-surface runs a cinch, as you’ve built strength from the resistance of running uphill.
The nature of navigating uneven surfaces also requires you to engage your core for stability. It also takes strong hips, calves and ankles for balance. Your quads are engaged on the downhill, your glutes and hamstrings predominantly on the uphill and the constant need for stability works your stabilizing muscles and the connective tissue in your ankles, knees and hips.
An unexpected benefit: Softer terrain on dirt is safer for your joints than concrete, as it has more give. Running on uneven terrain also causes you to take shorter, quicker strides. This helps you land mid-foot, where longer strides lead to heel-toe running.
Oh, and the best part: Furry friends are welcome almost anywhere.
Mountain biking is quite popular and for very good reasons. Just look around: The mountainous terrain and challenging elevation in Summit County pushes biking to that extra level of calorie burn.
Trail riding is a great way to improve stamina and coordination since you are using numerous parts of your body on the bike. Although your legs and lower body muscles are the obvious, your core strength and stability are also in check when standing on your bike to navigate rocky terrain. Mountain biking has cardiovascular benefits similar to running but without as much impact to your joints.
Then, there’s the feeling. The natural high you get from a good bike ride on the trail is second to none, and these sensations are not forgotten, leaving you wanting that ride again.
Now get outside and burn some calories.
Julie Wilson is an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist based in Dillon. She loves to be active in the mountains and help others with their health and fitness goals.
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