Some people look at winter as a perfectly valid reason to dispense with exercise. It’s cold, wet, and dark outside. Your social engagements dwindle to the bare minimum, especially after the holidays. And you’re definitely not showing any skin for the next few months.
We can understand the instinct to hibernate, but consider that physical activity is your best option for beating winter at its own game. Regular exercise keeps your circulation strong, your metabolism humming, and endorphins running through your veins, making you much more resistant not only to freezing temperatures but also to seasonal depression.
You may find it natural to confine your workouts to the gym. However, exercising outdoors in the winter brings a unique set of benefits that you can’t access any other time of year. Along with boosting your depleted Vitamin D levels (thanks to all the indoor hibernation), outdoor exercise during winter boosts your immunity, a big plus when the entire office comes down with the flu. There’s also the potential to get more calorie burn for your buck — a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggested that in the cold, the body creates more “brown fat” (the good kind of fat that burns the bad kind of fat) in an effort to insulate itself. Finally, not only does exercising in extreme cold strengthen the heart, lungs, and circulatory system, but it has also been shown to enhance endurance and mental edge.
With winter just around the corner, now is a great time to get a game plan set for staying active throughout the season. Here are four great workouts you can do this winter that will keep you in great shape while getting you outside. After all, beach season will be back before you know it.
Health benefits: There are many health benefits associated with Nordic, or cross-country, skiing. These include overall cardiovascular health, leg strengthening, balance and coordination, and more.
Gear: You’ll need to rent or buy skis, boots, and poles. As far as clothing, you’ll want base layer pants and some type of ski pants. For your upper body, a base layer, an insulation layer, and a shell are a typical option, though there are others as well. Of course, with any outdoor winter activity, you’ll need a hat and gloves.
Tips for the novice: The most common mistake novice or first-time cross-country skiers make is dressing for standing in the cold instead of skiing in the cold. In other words, they dress too warm, often in a thick jacket that has little to no breathability. Dress in layers. It is not uncommon to sweat while skiing, even in temps between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. So you want breathable clothing that keeps your body temperature regulated. Also, heavy gloves are a no-no unless it’s extremely cold (around 15 degrees Fahrenheit or below).
In addition to as much or as little of a workout as you want, nordic skiing gets you out into nature during arguably the most beautiful time of year: winter. There is nothing quite like skiing through the woods just before sunset when everything in sight is coated in snow. Also, flying down hills with your skis held firmly into the grooves of a Nordic trail is immensely fun.
Where to do it: Many northern states have excellent cross0country skiing areas. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula all have stellar Nordic ski areas. If you’re really zealous about Nordic skiing, take a trip to Scandinavia, where it’s more than a sport — it’s a way of life.
Health benefits: Alpine (downhill) skiing is a sport that is both extremely fun and a great workout. The parts of your body that will be the sorest on day three of a weeklong ski trip will definitely be your legs, but the health benefits don’t end below the belt. Downhill skiing is one of the best ways to work your core. It also improves flexibility throughout the body.
Gear: You need lots of gear to downhill ski. In fact, it’s quite a large up-front expense, so if you’re unsure if skiing is for you, rent as much gear as possible to start. But the basics include skis, boots, and poles. If you enjoy your brain you might consider wearing a helmet, especially if you ski in the trees a lot. Hat, gloves, jacket, ski pants and base layers will round out your basic gear.
Tips for the novice: Two words: ski school. If you’re downhill skiing for the first time, you’re not going to get very far without a lesson. Also, there is a very steep learning curve. It’s one of those sports where you can get frustrated very easy at first. But push on, because once you’re good, it’s one of the greatest sports on earth.
There’s skiing, and then there’s skiing powder (pow pow) out west. This is the Shangri La of alpine skiing. When you’re waist deep choking on snow and getting face shots with each turn, there’s no other feeling on earth. Floating down the mountain in deep powder is a very addicting activity. Let it snow.
Where to do it: States as far south as North Carolina (and beyond?) have ski mountains. There are probably at least 25 or 30 states where one can ski, but the real deal is skiing in the west. Think Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. In the lower 48, Jackson Hole, Wyoming is the steepest and the deepest (best), but it does lend itself to more advanced skiers. If you’re not quite ready for J-Hole, check out Steamboat or Breckenridge for some great runs.
Health benefits: Snowshoeing is a great leg workout and it can be a serious cardio exercise as well.
Gear: In addition to warm winter clothes, you will need a pair of snowshoes. They can be rented or bought, depending on your adventure needs. Many ski resort towns will have ski rental shops that will rent snowshoes. It’s always a good idea to bring a backpack with food, water, and extra clothes.
Tips for the novice: However far you’re trying to go on your first snowshoe adventure, cut it in half. You typically can’t go as far as you think on snowshoes, especially your first time. Snowshoes make it easier to traverse deep snow, but it’s still a relatively slow-moving activity. So start small. Do it once, then you’ll understand your limits if you want to try a longer hike.
The coolest part of snowshoeing is getting out in nature during the winter when there’s a ton of snow and enjoying the beauty of your surroundings. Snowshoeing in Grand Teton National Park is one of the most exciting, beautiful ways to see the park and spend an afternoon. Plus, there’s no shortage of wildlife and panoramic vistas — bring your camera. Anywhere with deep snow is a great place to try snowshoeing.
This is the workout that puts the “man” in The Manual. While you won’t find this one on many lists of winter sports, make no mistake, it’s one helluva workout, and it’s more essential in the winter than any other season.
Health benefits: Chopping wood is one of the greatest total body workouts you could ever do. Arms, legs, back, shoulders, core — you’re using all of them and strengthening them all at once.
Gear: Work clothes. Tough, made-to-take-a-eating work clothes. Closed-toe shoes or preferably boots (never barefoot). Most importantly, you need an axe. Some people use splitting mauls, but a good Michigan axe can be your most versatile one-quiver splitting tool.
Tips for the novice: Chopping wood can be dangerous and result in great bodily harm if mistakes are made–the least of which are back injuries if proper form is not used. For that reason, make sure to learn from someone who is experienced. One of the most important tips is to spread your legs about six inches wider than your shoulders (wide stance). The most common injury comes from a glancing blow off the log where you follow through into your leg or foot. For more tips, check out our guide on how to split wood.
Chopping wood is not so much of a destination winter workout as it is an amazing fitness byproduct of keeping your home warm and toasty. Whether you heat your home with a wood stove or just want to enjoy a fire in the hearth on a frosty night, splitting wood offers tremendous health benefits as well as a great excuse for a cozy night in.
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