OK, so for those of us living in the northern hemisphere winter is fast approaching. The nights are drawing in, the evenings are cold, the mornings crisp, and a chill wind is blowing from the north.
For many people that rely on outdoor activities to keep fit, these are the hardest months. There is just too much temptation to stay at home and eat, drink and be merry, and forget all about exercise. Well, for those in this predicament, here are some tips for staying (or getting) fit this winter.
Exercising Outdoors is Safe and Can Be Fun in the Winter
Firstly, remember that you can still exercise outdoors safely and comfortably even in the coldest conditions, so long as it remains dry. For runners, it becomes treacherous when there is sleet, ice and snow on the pavement, but so long as it is dry, running is still possible.
It is essential to invest in some good quality thermal clothing and breathable and wicking clothes. Wicking refers to the mechanism in some fabrics whereby moisture (i.e. sweat) is transferred away from the body to the outer layers of clothing. This means that the sweat does not stick to your skin, and then cool you down.
Winter Fitness Clothing is Essential
Layering is important for running in cold conditions. It is recommended to wear three layers of clothing, as this help to trap heat between the layers, and also increases the flow of moisture away from the body via the wicking process. The first layer should be a lightweight wicking material, which should be a snug fit (i.e. not loose) and the second layer a similar long sleeved shirt. The top layer should be a breathable, wind proof and waterproof layer. If you are planning a short run, and conditions are dry, then waterproof is not essential.
On the legs it is a good idea to wear a pair of thermal long Johns, ideally wicking ones) under a pair of light waterproof tracksuit bottoms. When the temperature really drops, hats and gloves are required. Fleece hats and gloves are best, as fleece is breathable, often water resistant, and holds the heat well. Finally, clothing with reflective strips and bands on is a good idea if you are going to be running in the dark, which is likely around midwinter.
Exercise Indoors During the Winter
Of course, when the weather becomes very cold and wet, it is really best to stay indoors – unless you live close to a ski resort, in which case you should head out to the slopes every weekend for some healthy outdoor exercise. If you do not live near a ski resort, then the best options are really to either join a fitness club / gym, or join an exercise class near your home.
Martial arts classes are often overlooked by the average person looking to get fit. Most martial arts classes involve a good variation of cardio fitness, such as classic circuit training exercises, strength work, and core conditioning. But if martial arts does not tickle your fancy, then most towns have an aerobics class, yoga workouts, circuit training, or even public swimming baths, which are all ideal for the cold winter months.
Build a Home Gym
An alternative solution is to invest in some home gym equipment. A simple weight training bench with free weights (i.e. barbell and dumbbells) will allow you to work your whole body, and is excellent for fat loss and toning.
Many people purchase exercise bikes, rowing machines, treadmills, and more recently cross trainers, but these take up a lot of space, and are often discarded after a few months. If you are determined to develop a winter training routine, and plan to return to it each year, then buying some weights and an aerobic exerciser would be a good idea.
Really the most difficult part of staying fit during the winter is staying focused and motivated. Having a training partner that you can rely on can be beneficial, as you can encourage each other to get our running in the cold weather, or even share the costs of some home gym equipment. However, be wary of relying on training partners, as sometimes you may find that their excuses rub of on you.
Nutrition – Fuel Yourself to Keep Energy Levels Up
Finally, do not forget about nutrition. If you are training throughout the winter, especially doing long distance running outside, then you will need to fuel yourself more than usual. Filling up on carbs before a long run is essential, as during the cold weather your body may quickly become sapped of energy otherwise. Also remember to drink plenty of fluids to stay well hydrated, as dehydration can occur in cold weather as well as hot weather when doing intensive exercise.
Keep Warm After Exercise
Also remember that when you have finished exercising, do not remove your clothing immediately, especially if you have been sweating heavily. Post exercise hypothermia may occur, as this happens when your body rapidly loses heat.
Staying fit throughout the winter is possible for everyone – otherwise professional athletes would all be overweight in the Spring! All you really need is to have the willpower and determination to continue to exercise, and stick you your diet, even when the weather is cold and miserable.
Invest in some winter clothes, join a fitness club, buy a new multi-gym – do whatever it takes to keep working out. When Spring arrives, you will be ready for your favorite outdoor activities, and leave friends and team mates standing.