Old Man Winter rolls into town, and your enthusiasm for exercising outdoors turns to ice. We’re feeling you. You could head indoors, but it just wouldn’t be the same, especially when you’re used to running and biking in the fresh air. So your options boil down to this: You can either hole up until spring and pack on some winter pudge, or you can get creative. Look at winter as an opportunity to add new twists to your regimen or hone your body for optimal performance in your chosen sport, be it basketball or skiing.
Terri Schneider, adventure racer, triathlete, ultrarunner, and a coach for endurance athletes in Aptos, Calif., advises her clients to mix things up when the temperature plummets. “Try something new that will challenge your body in ways it’s not used to,” she says. Train for a triathlon, perhaps. If you lack strong skills in running, swimming, or biking, winter is the ideal time to set up a program that will improve your weakest link.
You might also consider learning a new skill. If you haven’t mastered a winter discipline, try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. They’re two of winter’s best cardio activities, says Jason Karp, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist in Albuquerque, N.M. “Either sport would be a great way for runners and cyclists to maintain their conditioning,” he says. Even outdoor chores like chopping wood and shoveling snow can get that heart pumping. For those reluctant to change, consider moving your favorite summer sport inside. Take indoor tennis lessons, a spinning class, or try rock climbing at an indoor facility.
If you’re already a regular at the gym, try changing things up during the colder months. Hop on a cardio machine, like the elliptical, treadmill, or bike. To keep boredom at bay, split a 60-minute workout among three machines, spending 20 minutes on each. “Just when you’re starting to get bored, you’re ready to move to a new machine,” Schneider says. Or read a book magazine, tune in to your iPod, or watch TV as you sweat. (Just remember that passing your cardio time this way may not help you if you’re trying to lose weight.)
You can also use the winter to hone your technique in your favorite sport and improve your mental fi tness. Runners, for instance, should consider hiring a coach to pinpoint any quirks in form and create running-specifi c drills. Then, at least once a week, spend an entire workout highlighting technique alone, Schneider says.
You can also use the winter months to do sport-specifi c training you might otherwise have trouble doing outside because of icy terrain. “Try hill training on a treadmill,” says Brandon Elliott, R.T.S., C.P.T., a personal trainer in Chicago.
If you’re a cyclist, cart your bike to a buddy’s garage and spin together on rollers.
Whether you run or bike, you should also consider putting strength training higher on your to-do list during the winter months. After all, when the weather breaks and you can head outdoors, you’ll most likely need to go into a maintenance phase for strength, Elliott says. So you might as well use this time to maximize your muscle gains. First, determine your weaknesses—core? upper body?—then focus on those areas. If necessary, hire a personal trainer to help you identify those shortcomings, and then focus on your routine, building a strong, balanced body from head to toe.
Of course, no matter how cold it gets, some guys are hardy and will insist on heading outdoors to work up that sweat. If that’s you, at least follow precautions against the weather. Layer your clothing, keeping a moisture-wicking material closest to your skin. Carry adequate liquid to stay hydrated—a winterproof pack or bottle that will prevent the bite valve from freezing is ideal. “Even though you may not feel the need, drink as much in winter as you do in summer,” Karp says. Also, wear refl ection, especially in low-light conditions. Finally, for runners who want better traction on snow and ice, consider strapping on a pair of Yaktrax or a similar lightweight device that will wrap around your shoes to help them grip the ice better.
And don’t forget to continue your other healthy habits: Maintain your nutrient-rich diet, get plenty of sleep, and minimize stress. “During the winter months, you need to be even more focused on these lifestyle habits so your body can help fi ght any germs it encounters,” Schneider says. Don’t let winter force your fi tness into hibernation. As Karp says, “You don’t have to lose your fi tness just because it’s cold outside.” Fitness is year-round.