Don’t ditch fitness during winter

Putting workouts in deep freeze is not optimal for your health

It started somewhere in April, when the air gained whispers of heat, suggesting summer’s upcoming grand entrance. By the time the season dropped over the Front Range – temperature-wise, somewhere in May – you were out there most mornings, tossing back 5-mile runs like fistfuls of popcorn, racing along those bike lanes for hours at a time, swimming lap after lap in the outdoor pool.

And now it all comes skidding, sliding and shivering to a conclusion. The temperatures are in the 30s in the morning, and it’s dark. It’s nearly as cold just after work, and it’s dark. And things will grow only more trying. Single digits. Ice. Snow. Dark, dark, dark.

Time to hit the gym, except for the part where you don’t like grunting away in a sweat farm, and so you avoid it.

Time to stop? Not a good option, say area jocks.

Winter workouts are among the most stirring and atmospheric of the year – without crowds (you will have many trails to yourself). And bailing on the aerobic stuff not only sets back your health, it also can be dangerous. By the time you start revving your engines again in the spring, you are far behind where you were. If you push it, you set yourself up for injury.

Skipping winter workouts also increases the chances you will stop staying in shape altogether, said Allison Westfahl, a Boulder trainer and author who writes about fitness. When you return to those running shoes or cycling helmets in the spring, it might feel like rust invaded your joints during the long winter and some sort of acid ate your muscles.

“You will be prone to disappointment,” Westfahl said. “You will not perform the way you did six months before. Disappointment is the main thing that will stop people from pursuing a training regimen.”

So keep it up despite the cold, the wet, the dark, dark, dark.

One huge component is equipment. Michelle Grainger, a personal trainer and professional athlete, tells her clients they need a solid winter wardrobe before they start messing with cold-weather workouts. Don’t even look at cotton. Grainger shoots for as many layers of wool and fabrics like Lycra as necessary; the colder the temperature, the more layers.

She likes wool “buffs,” which are like headbands that can cover the head (instead of just ring the scalp), for beneath bike helmets. She wears wool socks, and when it is really cold, she has a trick: She tugs knee-high pantyhose over the socks. The combination, something she learned from hockey players, keeps toes toasty.

She also encourages winter-wannabe athletes to persuade a friend to hit the trails or the streets with them.

“If it’s a dismal day to start or you know it’s going to turn into a dismal day, then you have somebody else to commiserate with,” she said. “And also to motivate you.”

Westfahl doesn’t go nuts for training outdoors in the winter – she spends a lot of her time, as a trainer, in gyms – but for those who shun gyms, she thinks it is important they move around outside. Even if it’s just a long walk during a lunch break.

Snow getting you down? Invest in Yaktrax, or a similar product. They slip over sneakers, placing grippy metal tracks on the soles – between the shoe and the slippery stuff.

Depressed by the very idea of that first step into the frigid morning? Then engage in some dynamic stretching, Westfahl said. Do some jumping jacks, some walking lunges. Swing your arms like windmills. Anything to “excite the muscle fibers and increase your heart rate, and your core temperature.”

“That way,” she said, “you aren’t going from a nice, toasty 73-degree house to the frozen outdoors.”

Distributed by The Associated Press.

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