There are several factors that can interact to make us less fit during the winter months; there are high-calorie, but delicious foods constantly available over the holidays, making it easy to put on pounds if we are not careful. For many of us, it’s also just easier to get out and exercise when the weather is nice. For those who participate in outdoor sports, self-motivation occurs naturally when it is sunny and 75 degrees
As most exercisers are aware, you can get out of shape quickly if you get out of the habit of physical activity. The cardiovascular training effect from aerobic exercise begins to decrease within 1 to 2 weeks, and the strength benefits gained from resistance exercise start to wane just as quickly. Fortunately, exercise is beneficial regardless of the season. The decrease in risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, and the elevating effect on mood that exercise exerts are all just as real in the winter as in the summer. The trick is to find activities that can be done throughout winter months to maintain a training effect so you are ready to go (or hopefully even in better shape) when the weather allows you to get outside.
Here are some recommendations for an winter fitness program that can help you “train” for increased exercise in better weather:
– Exercise at least three times a week for half an hour at a level of intensity where you work up a sweat. This is essentially the minimal amount of activity to maintain cardiovascular training. In general, benefits increase with greater duration and frequency of exercise. For most exercisers this is true up to a duration of one hour of exercise done on 6 days per week.
– Think of your winter workout routine as a means to an end. Waking up early to get on the stationary bike may seem like drudgery, but if you frame it up as allowing you to be ready for that first long Sunday morning ride in the Spring, it can make the process easier.
– Don’t abstain from holiday snacks. That’s more likely to result in binging on them at some point because they are so readily available. Eat them in moderation, and consider using them as a reward after completion of a workout. Additionally, most people’s appetite usually is decreased following exercise.
– Use the same muscles that you will use in your outdoor sport, and use them in a similar manner. This is the principle of specificity. For most sports this involves treadmill running. A soccer player, for instance, may want to do interval training on the treadmill.
– Off-season is the time for strength training. Consider what your strength goals are. If you have a strength deficit that is detracting from your performance, this is the time to address that, perhaps with the help of a personal trainer. A volleyball player may want to work on her leg press to improve her vertical jump.
– If you have had an injury during a warm-weather sport, add your rehabilitation exercises to your regular exercise regimen. Stretching and strengthening exercises can usually be incorporated into the warm-up phase of a workout. This will hopefully allow you to get through your sport pain free when the season starts again. So an athlete with patellofemoral kneecap pain should incorporate their wall slides and band exercises from physical therapy into their winter program.
– In order to get the most benefit from your cold weather workout time, consider a circuit workout. For instance, over the space of 40 minutes, move quickly between sets of strength training interspersed with 5 minute bouts of aerobic work on the stepper.
Dr. William W. Briner is a primary care sports medicine physician specializing in the non-surgical treatment of acute and overuse injuries in active patients. Dr. Briner has served as a team physician for the WNBA Chicago Sky, US National Soccer Teams, and several high school and college teams as well. He is currently the Head Team Physician for the US National Volleyball Teams, in addition to chairing the Sports Medicine and Performance Commission for USA Volleyball.