Winterize Your Exercise Routine

UW Health Fitness Center exercise physiologist shares how to winterize your exercise routineMadison, Wisconsin – While warm days filled with sunshine are not too distant a memory yet, winter is just around the corner.


For some the thought of sub-zero temps and icy sidewalks may be enough to disrupt your exercise routine, but a little advance planning can ensure you stay on track all season long.


Jude Sullivan, senior clinical exercise physiologist with the UW Health Sports Medicine Fitness Center, says it's important to start planning well before the snow hits the ground, and the best place to start is by deciding what it is you're trying to accomplish.


What Do You Want to Accomplish?


"You need to start planning before you wake up one morning to find snow on the ground, but remember your objective doesn't change just because you are working out indoors," he says.


Knowing your objective – for example, maintaining a cardio workout – can help you determine what types of exercise will work best for you and figure out how you need to plan to fit that exercise in during your day.


"Your heart and lungs don't really care whether you're running outside or on a treadmill. They're getting a work-out either way," says Sullivan. "You still derive health benefits by staying active."


Even while there are some similarities, there are also some key differences, like the muscles we use. Whether it's running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike, different muscles are used in different ways. You may even experience some muscle soreness and tenderness you haven't before, explains Sullivan, adding, "And, there can be a danger of doing too much too soon."


Using the example of a treadmill, Sullivan points out that it is a very different sensation when the "sidewalk" is moving under your feet compared to when you are outside walking or running. While the basic biomechanical function is the same – walking or running – your muscles and joints actually need time to adjust.


"It can be easy to over-reach and go faster than what is actually prudent. You need to learn how your body is going to respond to it before you try and put in the same miles or length of time you did outside," Sullivan says.


Find a Way to Find a Way


The impending cold weather also offers a great opportunity to add some variation to your normal routine - whether it's an aerobic video, or joining a class, or even trying an outdoor sport like ice skating, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.


"We try to coach people to "find a way to find a way"," says Sullivan, referring to the individuals he works with at the Fitness Center. "You'll have better success staying active if you have a menu of choices. Try interjecting some sort of change every six to eight weeks to help stay engaged with your exercise program."


Sullivan explains that they have found when individuals try something new on a regular basis, they are more likely to stick with their exercise in the long term. But that can be more difficult than it sounds.


"It's an investment," comments Sullivan. "You need to plan, you may feel silly but the pay-off can be significant."


Try Something New


A few ideas he offers include:

  • Find a club or store where you can rent equipment before actually purchasing, like snowshoes or skis.
  • Try a virtual fitness class.

"It really boils down to stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new," Sullivan says. "Unfortunately many people stop before they even start. It's okay to rule something out as long as you've given it a fair shake."

Date Published: 10/21/2014

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