Don’t let the snowy weather lull your commitment to staying healthy and fit into a months-long hibernation. The truth is, along with the frosty winds and shorter days, winter brings a bounty of unique, challenging and fun outdoor workout opportunities that are simply not available the rest of the year.
Ready to get that heart rate up and put a new spin on chilling out? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Get in shape before you go outside
If you’re just beginning a new fitness routine or amping up your workouts after the holidays, try to clock some time in the gym before you launch into any winter sport. Winter workouts challenge your balance, and you need good glute and ankle strength to do them safely, says Toronto-based personal trainer and Finding Your Fit author Kathleen Trotter. So prioritize multi-joint exercises such as squats, lunges and bent-over rows for functional strength, and add in planks and single-leg exercises for balance and core strength. This routine will also help you develop a sense of your own fitness levels, so you’ll be less likely to take on too much when you hit the slopes or the running path…
2. Layer up to stay warm
You may be working up a sweat, but you’ll still need equipment to protect you from the ice, snow and cold. So break out the balaclava when necessary, dress in layers and wear longer socks or tight workout pants that will keep the wind away from your ankles. “If you’re nervous about the cold, do 2 or 3 small loops around your neighbourhood instead of one big loop, so you can drop off or pick up another layer if you need to,” Trotter says.
3. Adjust your intensity for the weather
Running amidst ice and snow can challenge your muscles and balance in a new way. How much you need to adjust depends on the terrain, says Trotter. Outdoor workouts where there’s plenty of snow might require significant changes to your route, while working out on shoveled and salted paths in the city may just entail taking it a bit slower to avoid slips. Let your own fitness level and the weather conditions determine the intensity of your workout, plan for a longer-than-usual warmup, and schedule plenty of time for recovery between workouts to stay safe.
4. Go out and play
The right outdoor winter fun can count as a workout, too. “It’s always key to pepper as much movement as possible into your day,” says Trotter. “If it’s fun, you’re more likely to do it — especially in the winter when it’s cold outside.”
Head to a nearby hill for tobogganing to get the benefits of hill climbing, go skating with your friends or simply play in the yard with your children. “Making a snowperson or a snow fort doesn’t sound like hard work, but it really is!” says Trotter. And if your family is fairly active, set a goal of consistently trying a new activity — cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, perhaps — to get your exercise and have fun together.
5. Take extra safety precautions
Winter workouts can be refreshing and rewarding, but they come with some pitfalls — namely, the risk of slipping or falling, or of your workout turning into more intense exercise than you intended. “You have to think things through in a way you don’t always need to in the summer,” says Trotter. Take $20 cash or a credit card with you when you work out outdoors, she recommends, and always carry a cell phone. Stick to daytime workouts so you can more easily watch for ice. Also, consider leaving the headphones at home so you can listen for cars on snow-muffled streets.
And if the winter chill is too much, don’t beat yourself up about staying indoors. “If you’re worried about slipping, stay inside and get on the treadmill,” says Trotter. “If you don’t need to be working outside and you hate the cold, don’t do it. The most important thing is that you keep moving.”