Winter is coming whether you like it or not. For many folks, this winter will be the first time they’ve considered exercising outdoors…gyms, yoga and spin classes closed or restricted, pools with COVID restrictions and everyone with apprehension about exercising indoors close to others. With that in mind, I have some tips for winter exercising!
- Make it three. Find two other friends or family members preferably in your bubble to exercise with. Three is important because many times, one of you may have a conflict or a delay and you will be more likely to get out if you still have one person to exercise with. This also ensures that you are safer, and you will enjoy the time exercising more with someone to chat with.
- Have fun! Your heart doesn’t know what you are doing, only that you are doing something active to make it work harder. For competition, specificity is important to refine your skills and to train at a higher level, but for overall physical and mental health getting outdoors and being active is the priority.
- Conversational pace. Keep your exercise at a pace easy enough that you can carry on a conversation without…having…to…take…more…heavy…breaths! At this pace, your activity remains aerobic, your main fuel source being the oxygen you take in with each breath. You don’t work hard enough to move into an anaerobic state, when you can’t get enough oxygen, resulting in lactic acid inhibiting how your muscles perform.
- Mix it up! There are so many activities you can do in the winter – skating, skiing, snowshoeing, running, walking, snowboarding – all are great fun outdoors, all are social and all are naturally distancing.
- Grips. While the sidewalks in some areas are well maintained in the winter, often there is ice under the snow so you will need to get detachable ice grips for your exercise and your regular shoes or boots to make sure you don’t slip and fall. You can also insert small set screws into your regular shoes (4 in the front 2 in the heel) but make sure you don’t wear these indoors as they are slippery on hard surfaces and make a mess of hardwood floors!
- Hydration and nutrition. If you’re going to be out for more than 30 minutes, make sure you carry water! Winter makes it easy to see that you are losing moisture with every breath and from sweat and vapours coming off your body. If you will be out more than an hour, you should also be taking in some nutrition every 45 minutes to keep your blood sugar stable and to ensure you have fuel for your exercise. Gels, Clif Bars, Chews…there are countless sports nutrients, or you can make your own.
- Bring a mask and toilet paper! Lessons learned from the pandemic – you can’t simply run into Tim Horton’s or the closest retail store to use their washrooms when you have an emergency (you can come into the Running Room but you need a mask). Bring a mask when you exercise as well, keep it in your pocket along with toilet paper (in case you just can’t reach an indoor washroom) and some identification and put them in a small ziploc baggie. Trust me…you will thank me for the TP tip the most!
- Progression and patience. Try and be active at least three times a week for 20 minutes minimum. The 10,000-step goal is a great one for walking, but if you can be active 3-5 times a week for 20 minutes minimum you will see and feel the difference. For women not only is there a metabolic and aerobic benefit but the bone loading can help fend off osteoporosis by building bone density. If you decide to do more, don’t increase by more than 10 per cent each week and you should have at least 1 complete day off without impact exercise.
- Five minutes out the door. This is a tip from John Stanton, founder of the Running Room. On days you just don’t feel like going or when the weather isn’t perfect, get dressed and get out the door for five minutes. If at that point you are miserable, then go home, but you will usually decide to continue once you are outside.
- Stretch and core strength. Once you finish exercising, find a spot on the floor to stretch lightly for 5-10 minutes. It’s a great way to get more flexible and minimize soreness the following day. Flexibility is always good for you, and exercise makes it easier. After you stretch, spend 5-10 minutes doing some core strength exercises. There are amazing routines online that are safe and easy to follow but anything you do to strengthen your core will have the added benefit of keeping you out of physio/chiro/massage therapy as you will develop better posture and more efficient technique for your activity! Best of all, you will be ready for bathing suit season in the spring!
Bottom line is that exercising outside is safe, fun and rewarding. Take your camera and post pictures and share your experiences because it will motivate others who maybe are nervous about taking those first fitness steps outdoors instead of the comfy warmth of their gyms!
Phil Marsh is a running coach, fitness guru and regional manager of Running Room.