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Getting Started With Sledding (For Fitness!)

Did you know not all exercise has to feel like a chore?

Probably. But every once in a while, it’s good to stop and recognize the fact.

A fitness routine doesn’t have be made up of 5-mile runs and hundreds of push-ups.

Not that there’s anything wrong with those things. A lot of people really like them!

But we realize running and bodyweight exercises and yoga are not for everyone, and sticking to a fitness routine that feels like nothing but work can be hard for a lot of people.

The good news is, quite often, there is a fair amount of exercise in any physical activity you might do, and sledding is an excellent example of that.

No, we’re not talking about those massive metal things you drop weight on and push and pull around at the gym.

We’re talking about old-school sledding, that thing you loved to do as a kid that provided a surprisingly good snow-day workout.

You’ve probably even felt it, if you think back, that burn in your calves when you finally came in to shed your wet clothes and get your hot cocoa from Mom.

And that’s because sledding is actually really good exercise.

But, not only is sledding a good workout, it also has built-in motivation, because getting back up that hill means you get to go down it again.

Are we really talking about “sledding” sledding?

woman sledding down hill

Yup. We’re talking about that fun winter activity where you sit on a flat-bottomed piece of plastic or wood and go careening down a hill.

Is sledding a sport? Really?

Well, the International Olympic Committee sure seems to think so.

They might be faster-paced and on insane tracks, but the Olympic events of bobsledding, luge, and skeleton are all sledding at their cores.

Benefits of Sledding

The benefits of sledding are more varied than you might think.

If you stay out there for a while and do multiple runs, some benefits include:

  • Improved posterior chain strength (spine, glutes, hamstrings, calves)
  • Improved flexibility (especially in the ankles and core)
  • Improved balance (due to stronger calves and ankles)
  • Improved endurance
  • Improved heart health (including lower blood pressure)
  • Improved sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Pain relief (over time, especially leg and lower back pain)
  • Pure joy, which:
    • Lowers stress
    • Boosts immune system
    • Increases life expectancy

Most importantly, incorporating fun physical activities into your workout routine (or building an entire routine around fun) helps you stick with it.

Research has shown, people who enjoy exercising have an easier time turning fitness into a lifestyle.

Can you lose weight sledding?

Anything that increases your level of physical activity will help you lose weight.

But sledding is an especially good calorie-burner.

Walking back uphill between runs (with only short breaks in between) burns 7-8 calories per minute for average adults, while the ride down offers only a temporary reprieve.

It’s almost like doing HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

You also burn more calories in the cold, which gives you another small bump in calorie expenditure.

If you’re sledding at a good pace, with only short rests at the bottom of the hill, you can absolutely keep your heart rate at fat-burn/cardio levels the entire time.

Can you build muscles sledding?

You will certainly build the muscles in your legs while you sled, as long as you are powering your own way back up the hill. I

n fact, most of the work with sledding comes from the walk back up, and the steeper the hill the better.

the trudge
That familiar trudge.

But you use other muscles in your body while sledding as well.

Sledding downhill, you must engage your core to stay upright on the sled and keep heading straight downward. (If you’ve ever rolled your sled by shifting your weight the wrong way, you know you’re controlling its trajectory more than you think.)

You also use the muscles in your arms, shoulders, and back when gripping a sled or carrying it back uphill.

If you want more muscle involvement, you can attempt to steer the sled as you descend.

One way to steer a sled is to gently lean from side to side and let your weight pull the sled in one direction or the other, engaging your core.

A second way to steer a sled (on top-sit sleds like toboggans and sleds with runners) is to put one foot out in the snow, engaging both your core and legs and creating a bit of a skid on one side that gives you a deeper turn that direction.

You can use your hands the same way (drag your right hand in the snow to turn right, your left hand to turn left), which gives your upper body more of a workout.

Doing either of these things will make a downhill run more active, involve more of your muscles, and help you burn more calories.

Knowing how to steer also makes sledding safer, and allows you to do it in more places.

If you can steer around trees and other obstacles, you won’t need entirely wide-open hills.

Is sledding really good enough exercise?

Sledding is a great workout for the legs (though it focuses mostly on the backs of the legs, so adding in some downhill walking can help even things out a bit).

You can also get a pretty decent core workout if you’re active about it.

But mostly sledding is a hardcore calorie-burner (well, those uphill walks between runs are).

If you’re doing it at a good clip, you can burn almost as many calories as you would running.

So, the short answer is yes, if you’re putting the effort in, sledding is good enough exercise to replace a moderate workout.

For more on the benefits of sledding and other winter sports, check out Muscle Groups Used in Skiing, Building a Snowman and More.

Sledding for Beginners

Perhaps the best thing about basic sledding is that there is absolutely no learning curve.

You really do just sit on the sled and let gravity carry you downward.

However, it can spare you a lot of anxiety (and possibly a tumbly crash) if you do know how to steer the sled, at least to some degree.

To steer, you can simply use the lean or foot-turn/hand-turn method.

If you’ve never been on a sled before, if it’s been years, or if you (like me) went sledding all the time as a kid and never learned to steer, you should take some time to get comfortable with your sled’s movement and practice steering before you hit any big hills.

Then, once you’re comfortable with how the sled handles and how to guide it, the mountain’s the limit.

Snow Sleds for Adults

Other than some warm, water-resistant clothing (and a helmet in some cases), the only thing you’ll need to hit (small) hills during bountiful winter snows is a sled.

If you go looking around at local stores, you’ll probably find most sleds are geared toward kids.

But there are plenty of snow sleds made for adults.

Here are a few sleds for full-size humans we really like:

1. L.L. Bean Dash Runnered Sled

Dash Runnered Sled

Why we like it: Quality construction makes this sled built to last.

It’s also a top-sit toboggan, which makes it easy to use your feet/legs to steer and stop.

Plus, at 11 lbs. for the classic or 13.5 lbs. for the long, it’s got some weight, requiring extra effort on your way back up the hill.

2. L.L. Bean Sonic Slider Sled

Sonic Slider Sled

Why we like it: There isn’t much to this sled, which means you’ll have to use your own power to keep your legs up and most of the balance comes from you (or, more specifically, your core).

While you won’t exert much extra effort carrying it back uphill, your runs will be fast and furious, so it all evens out.

3. Yukon Hammerhead Pro HD Steerable Snow Sled

Yukon Hammerhead Pro HD Steerable Snow Sled with Aluminum Frame
image via Amazon

Why we like it: This sled is designed largely for head-first, belly-flop runs. (Though, you can sit on it like any toboggan. You just have to tie some rope to the front for handholds.)

As such, it’s got versatility.

Headfirst, you’ll do a lot of the steering with your arms.

Sitting, you’ll do most of the steering with your legs. This makes it easy to change things up between runs.

This sled is also sturdily-built, so will last you a good long time.

(WARNING: It should be noted most health organizations are firmly against sledding downhill headfirst. You greatly increase your risk of head injury by riding this way.

So, if you’re going to do belly runs, make sure you do them where the hill is manageable and the way is clear.)

Do I need a helmet for sledding?

Sledding may be simpler than a lot of winter sports, but that doesn’t make it inherently safer.

When you go downhill at high speeds (especially headfirst), any accident has the potential for injury, and head injuries are one of the most common types of serious injury in sledding accidents.

If you are going to be sledding down anything bigger or steeper than your standard backyard hill, you should seriously consider a helmet. (And all kids under the age of 6 should wear one).

The best helmets for sledding are snow sport helmets.

For help choosing a first-time helmet, check out Buying Your First Ski or Snowboard Helmet For Beginners Adventures.

Sledding as Exercise? Really?

It sounds too good to be true, I know, but sometimes the most fun activities are actually some of the best exercise.

Anything that gets your heart pumping and your muscles working is a good fit for your fitness routine.

So, don’t be afraid to change it up every once in a while to keep your exercise regimen fresh and fun, which will help you stick with it for the long run.

No snow where you are?

Try one of these things instead.

Downhill Slip and Slide: Very similar to sledding in that you make a short run downhill, then have to hike back up. Decent leg/core work if you’re on a steep-ish incline. Just keep in mind that putting a slip and slide on a hill makes it more dangerous, so use caution.

Fair/Amusement Park Slide: Again, very similar. You use your core to stay upright as you ride down and it’s a lot of stairs back to the top. (You don’t get exactly the same leg work, but you still get leg work). If you can keep up the pace, it’s possible to get a decent workout in.

Regular Slide: Same deal with your standard playground slide. With its short runs and stairs to the top, you can get your heart pounding and work up quite a sweat if you keep it quick. Just don’t go so fast you make yourself sick!

Looking for some inspiration to jump on a sled and zip down a hill at top speed? Check out Sledding Quotes for Inspiration.

Want your sledding content with some yuks? Check out Sledding Puns.

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