Aerobic or Anaerobic: The Physiology of CrossCountry Skiing

Aerobic or anaerobic exercise for cross-country skiing? The answer is both! Cross-country ski racers are endurance athletes with high aerobic power values who rely on their slow twitch muscle fibers and anaerobic thresholds to perform well. When skiing at a high intensity, the body will produce energy through both aerobic and anaerobic pathways.

Aerobic exercise generally requires oxygen to be used by the body as fuel, whereas anaerobic exercise does not. However, in certain sports requiring high power output levels, like cross-country skiing, anaerobic exercise can generate short bursts of energy.

In this article, I will look over the physiology behind cross-country skiing and how we can improve our physical capabilities on the slopes.

1. What is CrossCountry Skiing?

1. What is CrossCountry Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a sport that involves traveling across snow-covered terrain on skis. Cross-country skiing requires both speed and endurance, as racers must traverse long distances at high speeds over varied terrain.

2. What are Aerobic Exercises?

2. What are Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic exercises are endurance activities that rhythmically use large muscle groups for a sustained period. They get their name from “aerobic,” which means “with oxygen,” because these exercises need oxygen to generate energy. Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate and breathing speed to deliver more oxygen to your muscles.

Some aerobic exercises include running, cycling, swimming, and cross-country skiing. These activities can help improve your cardiovascular health and build long-lasting endurance.

3. What are Anaerobic Exercises?

3. What are Anaerobic Exercises

Anaerobic exercises require short, intense spurts of energy. These Anaerobic Exercises don’t need an increase in the transportation and absorption of oxygen because, during anaerobic exercise, the body breaks down stored glucose without oxygen which then causes lactic acid to accumulate in the muscles.

Some anaerobic exercises include sprinting, weightlifting, and cross-country skiing uphill. These workouts can help increase power output and muscular strength, benefiting cross-country skiers.

4. How does Anaerobic Exercise fit into the Cross-Country Skiing Picture?

4. How does Anaerobic Exercise fit into the Cross-Country Skiing Picture

While many aspects of cross-country skiing rely on aerobic energy production, certain parts of the race require short bursts of high-intensity energy – also known as anaerobic energy production. This type of energy production relies on stored fuel sources in your muscles to produce quick, powerful movements for a short period of time.

Of course, cross-country skiing isn’t all about anaerobic exercise. Aerobic exercises like long-distance running and cycling are also important for building endurance and improving cardiovascular health.

So whether you’re training for a race or simply looking to improve your overall fitness, incorporating both aerobic and anaerobic exercise into your workouts is key to success.

5. The Aerobic Benefits of CrossCountry Skiing

5. The Aerobic Benefits of CrossCountry Skiing

When most people think of cross-country skiing, they imagine a leisurely activity that can be enjoyed in the woods or on a gentle slope. But what many people don’t know is that cross-country skiing is an incredibly aerobic exercise. In fact, it’s one of the best exercises you can do for your heart and lungs.

Aerobic benefits of cross-country skiing:

  • improved cardiovascular health
  • improved endurance
  • improved strength and power
  • feel more accomplished after a workout#
  • feel a sense of accomplishment from completing a challenging course

6. The Anaerobic Benefits of CrossCountry Skiing

6. The Anaerobic Benefits of CrossCountry Skiing

While aerobic cross-country skiing is great for your heart and lungs, anaerobic cross-country skiing can help you build muscle and improve your overall fitness. Here are some of the benefits of anaerobic cross-country skiing.

Anaerobic benefits of cross-country skiing:

  • help you burn more fat
  • help you tone your muscles
  • improve your overall fitness level
  • increase speed and power output
  • improve muscular strength and performance
  • enhance athletic ability

7. Figure out Your Training Zones and Supercharge your Fitness

7. Figure out Your Training Zones and Supercharge your Fitness

As you can see, cross-country skiing offers a wealth of benefits – both aerobic and anaerobic. If you’re looking to improve your overall fitness level, cross-country skiing is a great option. It’s one of the most challenging sports, so you’re sure to see results.

When it comes to training for cross-country skiing, it’s essential to find the right balance between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. 

First, determine your maximum heart rate to find your correct training zone. This can be done by using a heart rate monitor or by subtracting your age from 220 (220-age=maximum heart rate). 

Once you know your maximum heart rate, use the following chart to find your training zones.

Training Zone 1

50-60% of max heart rate – this is the aerobic zone where you should spend most of your time. Zone one is the easiest level for aerobic endurance and requires 60 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate. This is a low-intensity training zone that is best for longer-duration workouts.

Training Zone 2

60-70% of max heart rate – zone two is the endurance zone in which the body’s anaerobic energy consumption gradually increases. In zone 2, the body’s energy consumption gradually increases, and the aerobic energy mode is still dominant.

Training Zone 3, 4 and 5

Zones three, four, and five cater to the anaerobic metabolism and are utilized for interval training. 80% of the total yearly volume should be devoted to endurance training, whereas 20% is attributable to intervals and strength training. However, if you do not execute the endurance training aspect correctly, then total yearly training goes wrong too. Surprisingly, training too hard during distance workouts can have a more profound negative effect on performance than training too slow during interval sessions.

8. What is VO2-max?

8. What is VO2-max

And why does it matter?

Your VO2-max is the maximum oxygen uptake rate your body can use during exercise. In order to perform well in cross-country skiing, having a high VO2 max will allow you to ski longer and faster. Having a low VO2-max, however, can make it much more difficult to cross-country ski.

There are a few different factors that can influence your VO2-max, including genetics and body composition. However, there are also several ways to improve your VO2 max through exercise. To reach your maximum potential in cross-country skiing is important to focus on training techniques that will increase your VO2-max. Some strategies include interval training, hill training, and strength training.

What is ml/kg/min?

In order to understand VO2 max, it is important to understand what ml/kg/min means. This is the unit of measurement that is used to calculate VO2 max. It stands for milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. This is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise.

An easy way to understand ml/kg/min is to consider the number of breaths you take per minute. Your VO2 max is the maximum number of breaths you can take per minute. This is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise.

On average, an untrained healthy male has a V̇O2 max of 35-40 mL/kg/min. An untrained healthy female’s VO2 max is typically 27-31 mL/(kg·min). With training and practice, these scores can improve for both genders, though the degree to which they improve varies widely from person to person. Additionally, age plays a role in diminishing these numbers.

9.  World Record VO2 max Scores

9.  World Record VO2 max Scores


96.7 ml/kg/min  |  Oskar Svendsen

In August 2012, Svendsen tested the highest VO2 Max measurement in recorded history before the 2012 Junior World Time Trial Championships. 


78.6 ml/kg/min  |   Joan Benoit

The first women’s Olympic Games marathon champion, winning the Gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Las Angeles. 

10. The Physiology of CrossCountry Skiing

10. The Physiology of CrossCountry Skiing

So, what’s the psychology of CrossCountry skiing?

Well, to understand your performance on the slopes, it’s essential to take a closer look at the physiology of cross-country skiing.

Your body uses two different kinds of energy systems while you’re skiing: aerobic and anaerobic. These systems work together to produce energy for the muscles during exercise.

Your aerobic system is responsible for long-term energy production, using oxygen to create the molecules your body needs to produce energy. So, when you’re skiing for long periods of time–like during a marathon or cross-country race–your aerobic system plays a key role in keeping you energized and moving forward.

On the other hand, your anaerobic system is responsible for short-term explosive energy production. This means that it helps fuel our body during quick bursts of movement, like the start of a race or sprinting up a hill.

Although both systems are important for cross-country skiing performance, athletes who have high scores for their VO2 max are typically better suited for endurance challenges. This is because their aerobic system is more developed, giving them the ability to produce energy for longer.

11. Cross-Country Skiing – The Most Physically Demanding Sport

11. Cross-Country Skiing - The Most Physically Demanding Sport

The athletes with the highest VO2-max are cross-country skiers who have been recorded as high as 96 ml/kg/min. What makes them so fit? The Olympics cross-country events are long, up to 50 kilometers (31 miles), and include difficult obstacles such as steep climbs.

Cross-country skiing requires multiple muscle groups compared to other sports focusing on one area. For example, swimming mainly uses upper-body muscles, while cycling works the lower body without much engagement from the upper half.

Running also relies heavily on the lower body, with arms swinging freely. However, cross-country skiers must actively use their upper-body muscles to pole up hills and in flats while still needing solid hips and legs to move skiis

Because they use both the upper- and lower body in unison, they also engage some of the largest core muscles in the human body located in the abdomen and lower back.

12. How to Recover After An Exhausting Cross-Country Ski Workout

12. How to Recover After An Exhausting Cross-Country Ski Workout

If you have just finished an intense workout, your body may feel sore and tired. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or just starting out, it can be difficult to know how to recover after such a strenuous exercise session. Luckily, there are some simple strategies that you can follow to rejuvenate your body and get back to full strength.

1. Drink plenty of fluids. It’s essential to replace the fluids that you lose when you sweat. Drink water or sports drinks before, during, and after your workout.

2. Eat a healthy snack. One key factor to consider when recovering from a workout is nutrition. Your body needs nutrients to repair itself and rebuild its energy stores, so it is essential to ensure that you eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In addition to your regular diet, consuming a post-workout recovery shake or smoothie packed with protein and other key nutrients can also be beneficial.

3. Get Enough Sleep. Another important factor to consider when recovering from an exhausting workout is adequate sleep. Your body needs time to rest and recharge, so make sure you get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. This may mean adjusting your schedule or avoiding heavy workouts in the evenings to ensure you get enough rest.

4. Do some light physical activity. If you have a challenging workout, engaging in light physical activity can also be helpful. This could include taking a short walk, doing some gentle stretching and yoga, or even going for a leisurely swim or bike ride. This can help to get your blood flowing and increase circulation, allowing your body to recover more quickly from the physical strain of a tough workout.

5. Get a massage. A professional massage can help relax tight muscles and improve blood circulation. If you don’t have time for a professional massage, try using a foam roller or tennis ball to self-massage sore areas.

6. Take a warm bath or shower. The heat can help soothe sore muscles. Avoid hot tubs or saunas, as the heat can make inflammation worse.

13. Conclusion

13. Conclusion

Cross-country skiing is a physically demanding sport that requires the use of multiple muscle groups. Compared to other sports, cross-country skiing engages some of the largest core muscles in the human body, making it one of the most exhausting sports out there.

And before we calculate our VO2 max, let’s take some time to enjoy this beautiful sport and get out on the trails. Who knows, you may just find that you are good at cross-country skiing and decide to make it your new favorite hobby!

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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