Get a better winter workout

Published: January 2009

The short days of winter have sidetracked many an outdoor walking or jogging routine. But even in regions with biting winds and freezing cold, you can keep chugging along if you take precautions and make adjustments. You may even discover a new winter sport.

Be visible. If you're working out on roads before sunrise or after sunset, you should make yourself visible to drivers. Wear white or bright outer layers, or consider buying a reflective vest or a small, battery-powered flashing red light that you can clip to your jacket or bike. And try to work out in well-lighted areas. You'll be less likely to trip and fall, and you'll feel safer all-around.

Get a group together. In the interest of safety, two or more is better than one. Find a buddy to run or walk with. You'll be that much more obvious in your reflective gear and you'll feel less vulnerable being out in the dark. A workout buddy will also motivate you on those cold, dark mornings when staying in bed seems so much more appealing.

Wear layers. Cold-weather exercise clothes should keep you warm and allow sweat to escape. Layers work best because you can put them on or take them off as needed to stay comfortable. Start with underwear and socks made of a synthetic fabric that wicks moisture away from the skin. Avoid cotton, which retains sweat and doesn't have insulating power. Wool or lightweight synthetic fleece works well as a middle layer because it also allows moisture to escape, but it isn't ideal for direct contact with the skin. Add a wind- and water-resistant jacket made of nylon or a breathable synthetic such as Gore-Tex. A full-front zipper and a vent flap across the back will help release excess heat and sweat. Wear a stocking cap and gloves or mittens for protection.

Warm up. Cold muscles are tight and vulnerable to strains. Moreover, sudden exertion in cold air can cause a sharp rise in blood pressure or trigger asthma attacks. To avoid such problems, spend a few minutes walking, jogging in place, or otherwise working muscles and joints through the movements you'll be doing more vigorously outdoors, gradually increasing the intensity. Consider a 5-minute warm-up walk once outside before you step up the pace. Similarly, after working out, cool down by walking slowly until your heartbeat drops close to its resting rate to prevent sudden, potentially dangerous drops in blood pressure.

Stay hydrated. You might feel less thirsty in cold weather, but it's still easy to become dehydrated, which can impair your body's ability to regulate heat. As a general rule, drink about one or two glasses of water before exercising. During the workout-or right after a short one-you should take in as much fluid as you've lost in perspiration. For example, drink about one glass of water every 20 minutes if you're sweating a lot.

People with certain health conditions, such as asthma, coronary heart disease, or diabetes, should check with a doctor for more specific directions before exercising strenuously outdoors, even if they've been working out regularly in warm weather.

Try something new

You may be missing your regular tennis or golf game, or those vigorous warm-weather hikes, but there are some great winter sports you can explore without investing a lot of money and still get a great workout.

Snowshoeing: If you can walk, you can snowshoe. And snowshoes won't cost you much more than a pair of running shoes. The advantage? You get to go for beautiful winter walks and hikes in the snow without sinking in and getting your feet wet. And you get a great workout in the process. Snowshoeing can burn up to twice the amount of calories as walking at the same speed. To learn more about snowshoeing, go to

Cross-country skiing:
Although it isn't as easy as snowshoeing, you can pick it up quickly with a little instruction. With more than 350 cross-country ski areas in the U.S. and Canada, and with an average fee of $12 to use a trail and $35 to rent equipment, you'll have easier access and spend a lot less money than you would going downhill skiing. You'll also take in some beautiful scenery and get a great workout. Like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing can burn more than 500 calories per hour depending on your weight and how hard you're working. The Cross Country Ski Areas Association provides information on where to ski and what you'll need to get started.

Take it inside

Sometimes it's just too cold or wet to head outside. When that's the case, a gym or your home can be a good place to exercise and keep up muscle strength for your favorite warm-weather sports.

If you belong to a gym or health club
, try something new to spice up your winter workout. Many of them offer such classes as spinning and kickboxing along with jazz and hip-hop dancing. And if you're lucky enough to belong to a gym with a pool, or if you have access to a YMCA with one, consider swimming. It provides a good cardio workout, and it's easy on your joints and bones while still building muscle.

If you work out at home, try dumbbells, resistance bands, and stability balls to keep your workout interesting while building strength, especially in your core (the muscles in your abdomen, back, hip, and pelvic areas). You can create your own mini-gym for less than $100.

The latest home workout device infomercial may tempt you by promising weight loss and a buff body with little effort, but many don't live up to the claims. Take a look at our recent findings (available to subscribers) before parting with your money.

If you can afford more substantial home exercise equipment, consider buying a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine. Our latest test results and Ratings will help you make the best purchase based on your needs and budget.

Workout videos and DVDs aren't new but there's a lot of new content out there. From yoga and Pilates to strength training and body sculpting, you can choose from hundreds of titles to keep yourself motivated and entertained.

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