This winter has been brutal. Long and cold and necessitating lots of time indoors and lots of comfort food. I know I’m not the only one who has found the pounds creeping in the face of unrelenting cold; it’s frustrating but it is, after all, what our bodies are intended to do. For thousands of years, cold temperatures have triggered survival mode that makes us want to eat more. What can we do when “it’s cold out” is such a perfect excuse for staying in on the couch?
Fight back. Though winter leaves us sluggish, it’s more important than ever to keep up with an exercise routine, even if every fiber of our beings is saying cuddle under a blanket and binge Netflix and cookies. And, as always, the trick is to minimize damage, so that when the warm weather hits, your shorts still fit. Here’s how:
If you get your exercise from walking, hiking, biking, and running in fair weather, winter cold can put a damper on your regular calorie burn, especially if using indoor cardio machines is less than appealing. If this is you, get strong this winter by starting a three-month weight rotation to take you from the new year through March.
Cyclists and triathletes in particular like to build leg muscle during the cold months to help them gain speed when the ground is dry and bikeable again. I have my own reasons for liking a winter emphasis on weights: 1) even though I work up a sweat lifting weights, there are more breaks and it just doesn’t feel as hard somehow 2) working upper body muscles helps counteract the increased amount of sitting (and computer hunching) that happens in winter 3) concrete goals help both the workouts and the days go faster 4) the change in routine makes the workouts feel new 5) tank top season is coming.
If you don’t belong to a gym with a trainer who can help you with a routine, get ideas at livestrong.com or weighttraining.com. And if weights aren’t your thing, try power yoga, which will also increase lean muscle and flexibility, but also shape your body. Rent some DVDs from Netflix, pick up some used from Amazon, or stream YouTube, grab a mat, and see how good you feel by April!
HIIT, which stands for High Intensity Interval Training, is a way to get the most bang for your buck with cardio, and makes a great companion to weight training when used on alternate days. If your body is used to longer, slower cardio sessions outside, HIIT will shake up your metabolism and help keep your internal furnace as stoked as the one in your house. Find terrific at-home workouts on fitnessblender.com or just search HITT or Tabata on YouTube and take your pick. You’ll spend less time on cardio and still reap big benefits.
Forget the plow contract
I’ll concede right up front that if you have to be at work early, this might not be feasible, but, if not, shoveling snow is an amazing cardio workout that burns 300-500 calories per hour, all while doing something that has to be done anyway. I might regret not getting the plow contract as the snow comes down, but I love saving money and getting a functional workout at the same time. (Building a snowman also works.) Tip: with shoveling or any outdoor workout you want to attempt—even walking—it helps to warm up indoors with some light jogging so that when hit the brisk air, you’re already warm. And for safety’s sake, dress properly in layers, know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia, and stay inside if the temp is fewer than five degrees or has a wind chill of negative eighteen or colder.
Don’t worry if you miss a few days
The key to winter workouts is maintaining consistency until you can return to your spring/summer groove, and losing a few days here and there—even one or two a week—for several months isn’t going to reduce your aerobic or strength capacity. Maintenance is the goal; there’s plenty of time to work hard and increase your fitness level when the snow melts.
Use media of all kinds for motivation
I see all kinds of fitness updates on Facebook in the warmer months; they disappear in winter, but they don’t have to. Grab that same running partner who meets you in Delaware Park and go ice skating, or walking through snow (remember to warm up indoors first!), and then post about it.
Make yourself a new playlist to use for walking, treadmilling, or weightlifting. Reward your goals with new song purchases.
If you do use cardio equipment at home, start a new TV series that you’re only allowed to watch while you’re on the equipment. The year I did Sex and the City, I never ran better or more consistently; desire to see the next episode got me on that treadmill every day.
Keep a food journal
All the attention to maintaining a fitness routine will pay off much better if you’re maintaining a healthy diet as well. Because we tend to eat more in cold weather without even realizing it, keeping a food journal can help keep it in check. I’m not even talking about dieting, just making sure you’re not going off the rails because the temperature dropped. Adding some veggie-heavy crockpot meals to your weekly lineup will also help balance out your food intake.