Building and Maintaining Endurance For Snowshoeing

View NW from summit of Mt Kintla

View NW from the summit of Mt. Kintla in Glacier National Park, Sept 2019. The use of ski poles during much of the climb provided extra support along with cross-training for winter sports such as XC skiing and snowshoeing. Photo by Steven Gaskill.

By achieving a high level of endurance, you’ll be able to go stronger and longer on your snowshoes. Pack your thermos or water bottle and some food and be on your way, right? Well, there’s a little more to it than that.

Steven Gaskill, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Montana, who just back from a sojourn in the mountains, shares some invaluable advice to help you build and maintain endurance. His recommendations below focus on what the sport requires, not only in season but off-season as well, with some competition tips thrown in.


Going to the doctor is a good health practice, and you might catch something early. A simple thing like low hemoglobin could wipe you out. Ditto the existence of low or high blood sugar or carrying 20 extra pounds.  Also, take into account knee issues, deformed feet, or ankle concerns. Depending on the doctor’s recommendation, you may need to alter your snowshoeing activities and training methods to make it work for you.


There is something about keeping an exercise or activity log that inspires a person to stay with the program. Identify what it is you love about snowshoeing. “The silence of the winter outdoors? The beauty of sun reflecting off fresh snow?” asks Dr. Gaskill. Maybe your inspiration is the places you can get to on those snowshoes or just winter fitness. Perhaps you’ve got a season of competition coming up.

Make Sure Your Goals Are SMART

Wherever you are on the fitness scale for your sport, keep your snowshoeing goals SMART, or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Below are some suggestions for setting your goals, whatever your present level of conditioning. And remember, recommendations are just that, recommendations, not rules. If you can only manage to supplement resistance work or an off-trail endurance session once a week, do that.

Keep your goals SMART for making some tracks in the snow. Image by Christophe Schindler from Pixabay

  • Specific – Choose a specific activity as a cross-training option, that’s at your current fitness level. Add that activity to your routine once weekly, like a half-hour fast walk. When you feel ready to advance, add Nordic poles and some varied terrain to up your endurance.
  • Measurable – Are you new to snowshoeing? When you can’t be out on the trail, try a measured distance, like ten blocks, and alternate walking and easy jogging.
  • Achievable – Gaskill’s resistance and endurance recommendations are for goals you can strive for now. If your fitness level is not great at this point, start with one resistance workout a week at the gym or a park. You will still benefit from this work even if you can’t manage the resistance more than once weekly.
  • Relevant – Face it. If you live in the flatlands and don’t get to the mountains except on your snowshoes, you’ll need to choose cross-training activities you can do where you live. An elliptical cross-trainer at your gym or in your basement can give you a quality workout, especially if you set a little incline or a program that alternates pace.
  • Time-Based – Whatever your present level of fitness, there are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, etc. Be realistic and set workout goals that will fit that time. Two half-hour workouts, whatever type you choose, may work better for you than trying to find a whole hour. Work with the time you have.


Steve on top of Mt. Princeton

Steven Gaskill on the summit of Colorado’s 14,000+ Mt. Princeton, Sept, 2019. Using poles on this day hike of 5,000+ vertical feet was great cross-training for endurance winter sports requiring poles such as snowshoeing and XC skiing. Photo by Steven Gaskill.

Motivation is a powerful factor when working toward a goal. However, we all know it is not as simple as waking up one day and saying you are going to snowshoe five miles into the wilderness. It takes work to get there. Cross-training between sports and other types of workouts, which should be part of your SMART goals, can help you avoid boredom as well as injury. You need both resistance (muscles) and endurance (cardio) work in cross-training, and Gaskill has specific advice on both listed below.


If you only get out snowshoeing on weekends, keep the following in mind. Snowshoeing is similar to hiking, only with poles, heavier boots, and a slightly wider stance. Gaskill recommends a walk or a hike with poles mid-week, if possible, to supplement your snowshoeing outings.

To maintain general fitness when recreational snowshoeing, the following is a recommended workout. When you’re in the gym, add some lat pulldowns and triceps extensions for arm endurance 2-3 times per week, 2-3 sets of high repetitions (12- 20 reps, working to fatigue). These two exercises will target your poling muscles specifically. Alternatively, stair climbing, uphill hiking, elliptical machines, and jogging are great for the legs.

If you’re looking for higher achievement or competition, you can alter the routine above with the additional winter resistance and endurance training below:

Winter Resistance Training

man ascending a hill in snowshoes

Snowshoeing regularly is a great way to maintain fitness and build endurance during the season.  Image by Gianni Crestani from Pixabay

Resistance training in the winter can include the gym once or twice a week with high reps (20-30 to failure), focusing on exercises to help with using poles and running. Twice a week is ideal for the highly conditioned individual, and once weekly if still building your fitness levels.

Winter Endurance Training
Winter training helps maintain your strength and endurance. Since winter is high season, don’t overdo your activities off-trail. Gaskill suggests 1-2 slow long-distance workouts each week, which can be on your snowshoes, and 1-2 speed training intervals as needed. If you are competing, be sure to get adequate rest and nutrition. Again, once a week for any of the above activities is okay, twice is for the highly conditioned individual.


As with winter training, training depends on your snowshoe goals as well as your general level of fitness. If you are aiming at higher achievement or competition, cross-training on hikes with poles on hills to work the arms and legs in the off-season is a helpful strategy. You can increase both distance and terrain slowly to the level you want to hit in the season. A terrific prep workout for competitors is to run hilly terrain with the poles, instead of walking. See the following suggestions for summer and fall resistance and endurance training. Spring training would be similar to the winter training listed above, depending on the weather conditions.

Summer Resistance Training

Work up to training three times a week, and with three sets in a circuit format. Start with light weights, gradually increasing to only 8-12 reps until you can’t continue, up to 10 weeks. Some possible exercises could include squats, triceps extensions, lat pulldowns, some leg adduction, and abduction. Balance this training by adding bicep curls, overhead press, and hip and knee flexion.

Summer Endurance Training

Steve on Kintla NE ridge w poles

E ridge of Mt. Kintla Sept 2019. Poles helped with the steep scree, grass, and slopes while also helping cross-train for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Photo by Steven Gaskill.

Endurance training in the summer should be slow and easy, concentrating on the heavier summer resistance work (mentioned above) to build strength. Moderate distance hiking or running with poles 2-3 times per week continues, including one longer workout. Your longer workout should be longer than your usual outing to build endurance, but do not work to exhaustion.

Keep it slow and easy. Include some fartlek training (alternating fast and slow segments in the same workout) once a week if you feel up to it. Remember, the whole point of this summer work is to maintain endurance and strength, so you start the snowshoeing season in good shape.

Fall Resistance Training
Resistance training in the fall utilizes similar exercises as summer resistance training. You’ll want to do 2-3 sets, 2-3 times weekly, but reduce resistance (weight) and increase reps to 12-20, focusing on higher speed. Don’t neglect your core! Yoga, Pilates, or other core-focused exercises will make a big difference in your condition as you approach winter.

Fall Endurance Training

Fall endurance training should feature increased intensity during hiking or running with poles for your 2-3 weekly workouts, with increasing intervals or fartlek durations. Plan on one long-distance, but slower pace workout each week

Read More: The Snowshoer’s Guide To Staying Fit In The Off-Season


While completing any endurance activities, remember to stay hydrated and bring food along on your outings. Add a thermos of hot soup or coffee, maybe some hot cocoa for a quick pickup along the trail. Enjoy!


1. American College of Sports Medicine
2. Steven Gaskill, Ph.D. –, 406-214-6698

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