Is Sledding Good Exercise? (Pros and Cons Explained)

Everyone has fond memories of zipping down snow-covered hills on a sled during winter – I know I certainly do.

But, is sledding good exercise?

Sledding is good exercise when engaging in regular descents and hill climbs. It provides cardiovascular benefits, muscle strengthening, calorie burn, balance enhancement, and mental health boosts. However, intensity varies, with kick sledding and skijoring offering more rigorous workouts.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about sledding and exercise.

Pros of Sledding as Exercise

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Let’s start with the positives of incorporating sledding into our exercise routine.

1. Cardiovascular Benefits

Sledding provides a natural and engaging cardiovascular workout, often without you even realizing it.

Every climb back up the hill serves as a form of cardiovascular exercise similar to hiking or brisk walking.

Regular exposure to such activities can contribute to a stronger heart.

Moreover, cardiovascular exercises like sledding improve lung efficiency.

Stronger lungs have huge benefits for your daily activities and can improve your endurance in other physical tasks.

2. Muscle Strengthening

The act of sledding engages multiple muscle groups.

When pushing off at the beginning of a sled run, the leg muscles, particularly the quads and calves, are engaged.

There is even an entire workout regimen called “sledding.”

Steering and balancing the sled also bring into play the core muscles, while dragging the sled uphill can offer a light upper body workout.

As a result, repeated sledding sessions can lead to muscle toning and strength improvements.

3. Burns Calories

The unique combination of thrill and exertion in sledding makes it an effective calorie-burning activity.

Depending on factors like body weight, effort, and snow resistance, an hour of sledding can burn anywhere from 250 to 500 calories.

It’s especially effective when considering the dual aspect of the activity.

The thrill of going downhill complemented by the exertion of climbing back up, ensuring that one remains active throughout.

Imagine hiking back up this snowy part of the Swiss Alps:

YouTube Short Video by @vemosa5933 – Is Sledding Good Exercise?

4. Improves Balance and Coordination

Navigating a sled, especially when trying to avoid obstacles or steer through a particular path, requires considerable skill.

Regular sledding can enhance one’s balance and coordination skills, benefiting not just the activity itself but also aiding in other tasks and sports that require precision and equilibrium.

Over time, consistent sledding can lead to improved reflexes and spatial awareness.

As you might know, these are essential skills in many physical activities.

5. Mental Health Benefits

Engaging in outdoor activities like sledding can be a tremendous mood booster.

The combination of fresh air, physical exertion, and the exhilaration of speeding downhill can make the body produce “happy” chemicals (endorphins).

Beyond the immediate rush, being outdoors and in nature has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.

This makes sledding not just a physical, but also a mental health-enhancing activity.

Cons of Sledding as Exercise

When asking, “Is sledding good exercise?” it’s helpful to also look at the potential downsides.

We’ll turn to these “cons” next.

1. Risk of Injury

While sledding brings much joy and excitement, it is not without its dangers.

Hitting obstacles, trees, or other sledders can can cause small injuries like cuts or big ones like broken bones and head injuries.

Also, incorrect postures or sudden twists during sledding can lead to strains or sprains.

It’s crucial, therefore, to always ensure that the sledding environment is safe and that one is familiar with basic sledding safety guidelines.

2. Weather Dependent

One of the more obvious limitations of sledding as a regular exercise is its reliance on the weather.

You need adequate snow for sledding, making it a seasonal and location-dependent activity.

For many, especially those living in regions with mild winters or no snow, this restricts sledding’s feasibility as a regular form of exercise.

Even in snowy areas, unpredictable weather patterns can limit the number of days suitable for sledding.

Growing up, I always hated the days when my friends and I couldn’t go sledding.

3. May Not Provide Consistent Intensity

While sledding can be exhausting, especially when done repeatedly, its intensity as a workout can be inconsistent.

Factors like the steepness of the hill, the smoothness of the snow surface, and the weight of the sled can all influence the effort required.

In some instances, you might get a rigorous workout, while in others, it might be too leisurely to offer substantial fitness benefits.

4. Cold Weather Concerns

Extended exposure to cold weather, especially if you are not adequately dressed, carries health risks.

Prolonged exposure can lead to conditions like frostbite or hypothermia.

You don’t want to play around with those serious conditions.

Also, inhaling very cold air can be challenging for those with respiratory issues.

Therefore, it’s paramount to wear appropriate winter clothing and take frequent breaks indoors when temperatures are particularly low.

How to Make Sledding Better for Exercise

There are a few ways that you can make sledding even better as a source of fitness and exercise.

  1. Choose a Larger Hill: Opting for a longer and steeper hill naturally requires more effort to climb back up, providing a more intense workout. The longer descent increases the duration of each sled run, providing a balanced mix of exertion and enjoyment. Researching local parks or natural areas can help identify the best spots for an enhanced sledding workout.
  2. Increase Your Climbing Speed: To ramp up the exercise intensity, consider increasing your speed as you ascend the hill. Transitioning from a casual walk to a brisk pace or even a jog can significantly boost the heart rate. Over time, this not only strengthens the cardiovascular system but also improves overall leg strength and endurance.
  3. Add Weight to Your Sled: Adding weight to the sled can be a game-changer for those looking for a more strenuous workout. The added weight increases resistance during the initial push-off and makes the climb uphill more challenging. Using weighted bags or vests ensures the weight distribution remains even, but always ensure the total weight (including your weight) remains safe for the sled’s capacity.
  4. Engage in Interval Training: Sledding can be combined with elements of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for a comprehensive workout. One could sled down, sprint back up, rest for a minute, and repeat the process. Such intervals can significantly increase calorie burn and enhance cardiovascular strength. Additionally, the brief rest periods help in muscle recovery, making the workout more sustainable.
  5. Incorporate Exercises Between Runs: To ensure a full-body workout, consider adding different exercises between sled runs. After each descent, you could perform sets of squats, lunges, or push-ups. This not only increases muscle engagement but also ensures that the heart rate remains elevated, maximizing the workout’s effectiveness.
  6. Stay Hydrated and Dress in Layers: Cold weather can be deceptive when it comes to hydration. Even if someone doesn’t feel particularly thirsty, the physical exertion requires replenishment. Carrying a thermos with warm water or a hydrating drink can be beneficial. Dressing in breathable layers helps in regulating body temperature. As you exercise, you can shed layers to prevent overheating, ensuring a comfortable and safe sledding experience.

Is All Sledding Good Exercise?

While the general act of sledding offers fitness benefits, not all forms of sledding are created equal in terms of exercise intensity and engagement.

Different types of sledding bring distinct challenges and engage various muscle groups.

The location, equipment, and even the animals or mechanisms involved can affect the type and intensity of the workout.

Understanding these differences can help you select the type of sledding that best aligns with your fitness goals.

Is Kick Sledding Good Exercise?

Kick sledding, or using a kicksled, is reminiscent of a scooter but designed for snowy conditions.

Typically, the user stands on the runners and propels the sled forward using a kicking motion. This activity heavily engages the leg muscles, particularly the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

The continuous motion offers cardiovascular benefits similar to brisk walking or jogging.

Moreover, maintaining balance on the kicksled requires core engagement, adding an element of stability training to the workout.

Is Dog Skijoring Good Exercise?

Dog skijoring involves a person on skis being pulled by one or more dogs.

It’s a dynamic sport that requires coordination, strength, and stamina.

The skier isn’t just passively being pulled – they actively ski, assisting the dog and navigating the terrain.

This activity offers a full-body workout, with the legs powering the skiing motion and the upper body working to maintain the connection with the dog and guide its direction.

Additionally, the bond and communication between the skier and dog add a unique mental and emotional dimension.

Is Horse Skijoring Good Exercise?

Horse skijoring takes the concept of dog skijoring and amplifies it.

In this variant, a person on skis is towed by a horse. Given the power and speed of a horse, this activity demands heightened strength, balance, and reflexes.

The skier must coordinate with the horse, often at higher speeds than dog skijoring, making it a thrilling yet challenging workout.

Core strength is paramount to maintain balance, while arm strength is crucial for holding onto the tow rope and signaling the horse.

The legs, meanwhile, continuously work to power the skiing motion.

Which makes horse skijoring an intense full-body exercise.

What Type of Sledding Is the Best Exercise?

Determining the “best” type of sledding for exercise depends largely on individual goals and preferences.

If someone is looking for an intense full-body workout that also strengthens the bond between them and their animal companions, dog or horse skijoring might be ideal.

However, these require a specific skill set, equipment, and trained animals.

For those seeking a more accessible yet effective workout, kick sledding offers a great balance.

It engages multiple muscle groups without the need for specialized training.

Traditional sledding, with its combination of downhill thrills and uphill climbs, remains a viable option for those seeking a mix of cardio and muscle strengthening in a fun, winter setting.

Ultimately, the best exercise is the one that aligns with your fitness goals while also being enjoyable and sustainable.

Final Thoughts: Is Sledding Good Exercise?

While sledding is first and foremost a delightful winter pastime, its potential as an effective workout should not be underestimated.

Adopting some of the strategies listed can transform this seasonal activity into a fitness regimen, offering both physical and mental health benefits.

Always prioritize safety, adjust the intensity based on one’s fitness level, and, most importantly, enjoy the snow!

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