While winter can be a time of rest, being cooped up inside month after month can get old. Many people crave a way to get exercise and fresh air during the winter. In this blog post, we’ll go over what types of exercise skiing is, the muscles used, and the differences between different kinds of skiing. 

What Type of Exercise is Skiing?

Physical exercise is anything that requires physical effort, usually to impact your health and/or fitness positively. While there aren’t official categories of exercise types, there are four main types of exercise that people refer to. 

  • Strength Training
  • Cardio/Aerobic/Endurance Training
  • Flexibility Training
  • Balance Training

Strength training or resistance training are exercises that strengthen your muscles by contracting against an outside resistance. Strength training can result in increased muscle mass, stronger bones, joint mobility & flexibility, weight loss & control, and balance, along with many other positive benefits. Cardio training increases your heart rate and can help lower your blood pressure, control your blood sugar, and keep your arteries functioning well, among other benefits. Flexibility training can improve your range of motion, decrease your risk of injury, improve your posture, and more. Balance training can help you prevent falls & injuries and move more efficiently.

As you can imagine, these different types of exercise can happen synonymously depending on the activity you do. For example, in yoga, you’ll probably experience strength training, flexibility training, and balance training. The same is true for skiing, and it varies even more depending on the type of skiing you’re doing. When skiing, you’ll most likely experience varying degrees of strength training, cardio training, and balance training. 

Portrait of young woman skier in a bright jacket and blue helmet.

What Muscles Does Skiing Use?

Skiing is a full-body workout that uses different muscles at different times in a dynamic way. The main muscles that skiing uses are your abdominal muscles, glutes, quads, hamstrings, adductors, feet/ankles, biceps, and triceps. If you’re new to skiing, you can expect to be more tired than a seasoned skier because of a lack of technique. “Snowploughing” and doing the “pizza” can be extremely demanding on your quads, hamstrings, adductors, and calves. 

Gluteus Maximus

When you ski on a downhill slope, your glutes stabilize your body as you are in a hip hinge position, similar to a squat or chair/utkatasana pose in yoga. Your knees are at a slight bend, and your glutes are working hard to stabilize you and maintain balance.  


Your hamstrings are also used to stabilize your body as you lean forward, hinging at the hips. This hip hinge movement causes the glutes to be pushed backward and will engage the glutes and hamstrings too as they assist your glutes. As you rise up and down to maintain balance, your hamstrings will contract and work against resistance to extend your hips from the hinge. 


Similarly to your glutes, your quads also work hard when you’re skiing downhill and are balancing to stay upright. They are also engaged during a downhill stance with a slight hip hinge. When you are turning parallel and using the inside and outside edges of your ski, your quads are working to apply force for carving. 

Feet and Ankles

If you’re a seasoned skier, you may have heard of the Clendenin Method, which emphasizes connecting with your feet in order to maintain better balance. Your feet apply force when edging your skis during parallel turns. Flexing your ankles brings your shin to the front of your ski boot when you are in a hip hinge. 

Abdominal Muscles

Your abdominal muscles are used in skiing to keep an upright posture and maintain balance. These muscles work together to stabilize your pelvis and spine. 

What is the Difference in Muscle Use Between Downhill Skiing, XC Skiing, and Backcountry Skiing?

The muscles above were primarily described in the context of downhill skiing, where your body is hinging at the hips and carving side to side. In cross-country (xc) skiing, you rely on your own strength to move across, up, and down terrain. The heels of your boots are not fastened to your skis, which allows you to glide across the snow. In cross-country skiing, you also rely on your arm strength (biceps and triceps) and calves to propel you forward and uphill. Backcountry skiing involves muscles used in downhill and cross-country skiing, but this type of skiing is usually even more extreme. Skiers can put in thousands of vertical feet per day when touring in the backcountry. Similar to ascending uphill vs. walking on flat ground , touring can be much more difficult and strenuous on the muscles.

Did you find this interesting? If so, check out our post on common ski knee injuries

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Lim SB, Horslen BC, Davis JR, Allum JH, Carpenter MG. Benefits of multi-session balance and gait training with multi-modal biofeedback in healthy older adults. Gait Posture. 2016 Jun;47:10-7. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2016.03.017. Epub 2016 Mar 30. PMID: 27264396.

*Please always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.