Climbing is a high-intensity exercise that strengthens all of the major muscles of the body, with extra focus on the back, shoulders, arms and core.

Winter fitness: go in, go out, but go!

In part I of this series, we discussed the importance of maintaining fitness throughout the winter months. Benefits include maintaining a healthy weight, keeping immunity buoyed, avoiding injury and keeping your fitness routine fresh.

So, now that you’re on board with staying fit, how do you do it? Well, you have options. There are two types of people when it comes to winter fitness: those willing to go outside and those who aren’t. Which school you’re in likely depends on where you live, what activities you enjoy and what kind of winter weather you experience — after all, no one needs to run in -15˚ weather (although we’ve seen it).

Get out and get active

Yay winter! Colder temps and snow mean you can do all kinds of things to stay fit that you can’t do in the warmer months, namely: snow sports. With the Winter Olympics upon us, you‘ll be reminded of many of these sports and their physical demands when done intensely. Here is a list of snow sports and what makes them awesome for your fitness:

Cross country (Nordic) skiing: This aerobic activity gives your cardiovascular system a great workout, plus it works your glutes, hamstrings, quads, core and shoulders and triceps through poling. It’s a full body, calorie-burning, low-impact sport. You can choose classic skiing or skate skiing, which require different equipment and different conditions (you can do classic about anywhere there is snow, skating requires groomed trails). If you have any illusions about how demanding the sport is, just watch these Olympic racers collapse at the finish line.

Downhill (Alpine) skiing/snowboarding: While not quite as demanding of the cardiovascular system as cross country, downhill skiing will get your heart rate up. It’s also a great lower body strength workout that challenges a much wider range of lower-body muscles than most other forms of exercise. Unless you plan on some backcountry trekking (in which case you get all the cardio benefits and the full body strength workout), downhill skiing requires resort access, which can get expensive.

Snowshoeing: There’s a much lower barrier to entry for snowshoeing than skiing. The equipment is less expensive, it doesn’t require special training, and you can do it anywhere there’s snow. Depending on the terrain (flat? steep?), and depth of snow, a snowshoe outing will challenge your cardiovascular system, while incorporating both lower (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves) and upper body (shoulders, triceps) strength training, as well as core.

Ice skating: While you can just glide around, you can also work hard on ice skates burning calories and working your cardiovascular system. Legs and calves get a workout along with the core muscles that help stabilize you. Plus, the equipment is almost always rentable, so you don’t have to make a big investment 

Sledding: Not only is it family-friendly, but sledding can be a great workout. You have to get to the top of the hill, right? That’s hiking in snow. And depending on how small/tired your companions are, you may be doing some dragging or carrying uphill too — that’s basically CrossFit. It’s a great aerobic workout that challenges glutes and calves on the way up and core stability on the way down.

What to wear to play outside

For any aerobic, outdoor winter activity, it’s essential to dress in layers. Your body is going to get warm as you get moving and removable outer layers will keep you from getting too warm and thus sweating too much. The problem with sweat: as soon as you stop moving it will make you quite chilly in winter weather. Breathable materials that wick sweat away from your body are vital.

Downhill skiers may unzip jackets for the downhill run where they’re working turns hard, then zip up for the chairlift ride back up. Cross country skiers and snowshoers may start their day with a shell that gets removed (and tied around the waist) as they get into their workout and their body temp rises.

Staying in to stay fit

If you’re the burrow-in-for-the-season type, you’ll be seeking your winter fitness opportunities in year-round workout spots— warm gyms, indoor pools or yoga studios. However, a change of season is a great excuse to change up what you’re doing. Below are some suggestions for alternative indoor winter fitness activities. Choose one or two that are new to you and your body and see the benefits of balanced fitness.

Indoor rock climbing: There has been a surge in recent years of indoor climbing facilities, making the sport much more accessible for a wider range of people. Most indoor facilities offer rope climbing and bouldering, both which offer great fitness benefits. Climbing is a high-intensity exercise that strengthens all of the major muscles of the body, with extra focus on the back, shoulders, arms and core.  

Dance: There’s a reason dance clubs tend to be hot, sweaty places — dancing is a workout! No matter what style of dance you prefer, you can burn some serious calories working your cardiovascular system while doing something fun with others. You can find a gym or studio that offers dance/fitness classes or you can just go dancing at a club or concert. The start and stop of most dance styles works like interval cardio training and dancing also engages core muscles. Dancing is good for your mood, too, especially helpful in places where the sun doesn’t shine much in winter. For a little less wiggle and swing with lots of muscle work, try a Barre class. Inspired by ballet and Pilates, Barre focuses on isometric strength training combined with high reps of small range-of-motion movements.

Yoga: While it’s not the most calorie-burning of exercises, research shows, yoga can help you keep the weight off. It has multiple other health benefits too, including lowering the risk of heart disease and hypertension, lessening symptoms of depression, headaches, diabetes, some forms of cancer and pain-related diseases like arthritis. On the fitness side, it is a boon to your flexibility and core strength. And if you like to really sweat from your workout, try a hot vinyasa or Bikram class.

Swimming: Swimming is a great off-season or “other” season sport as it offers great cardio and both an upper and lower body strength workout with zero impact — that means it’s gentle on bones and joints. Swimming will work your core, shoulders, legs and glutes and is accessible to all age groups.

CrossFit: These fast, intense, ever-changing fitness programs are all the rage right now. They offer a mix of bodyweight challenges, heavy weights, and bursts of intense cardio. The best CrossFit workouts address the full body, as well as strength, flexibility, balance, speed, power and stamina. Because of their intensity, they can serve to kick start weight loss and improve fitness quickly.

Martial Arts: While you might associate the martial arts with certain action movie stars, it can be a great form of exercise for average Joes and Janes, too. Martial arts classes at studios and gyms offer an intense combination of free weight and bodyweight exercises, calisthenics, light sparring, grappling and hitting various bags or pads. It’s quite aerobic and works a variety of body parts and the core. It can also be quite useful for releasing stress and aggression!

No matter which fitness route you choose this winter, be sure to get out there regularly to keep your body fit. And remember to go at your own speed as you’re learning new types of exercises. If you do experience a bone or joint injury in pursuit of fitness, put yourself in good hands, see an expert at Great Basin Orthopaedics. Our surgeons and physical therapists have the skill and understanding to get you back to exercise and doing what you love quickly.