Outdoor Exercise as the Seasons Change

Alpine downhill skiing on sunny dayRunners and cyclists always have the option to take the easy way out when winter months make regular routes cold and wet. That’s one of the ways health clubs stay in business. But if you still appreciate the flexibility and experience of exercising outdoors, changing weather doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Just keep in mind these dos and don’ts to maximize effectiveness and minimize injuries.

1. Do schedule your workouts earlier in the day if possible. Shorter days and the holiday craziness at the beginning of the season can get you in the habit of skipping sessions. That’s a hard habit to break after the new year.

2. Don’t skimp on your wardrobe. Instead, buy the exercise wear you need to maintain a safe temperature throughout your workout. This usually means wearing layers in winter, so you can strip some off as you warm up.

3. Do contact a training partner if you don’t already have one. Low temperatures and rainy days can be a real motivation drainer. Having a buddy will help you get out there when your warm, comfy couch is calling too loudly. This is especially important if you’re one of the 1.5 million Americans who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This technique also helps you stay safe from crime, and gives you a partner to assist you if you fall and become injured.

4. Don’t jump unprepared into winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. One reason these sports have high rates of injury is that people attempt them without proper physical training. A broken ankle from a bad day on the slopes will derail your winter exercise plan completely. If you want to take up a winter sport, spring for a training program to build the skills and conditioning you’ll need to do it safety. Most local clubs and facilities will offer one.

5. Do buy a headlamp and reflective vest. With fewer hours of daylight, you’ll find yourself on the road before dawn, at dusk and perhaps at night more often. Even if you set out before the streetlights go on, wear your safety gear in case your route takes longer than you anticipate.

6. Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Thirst isn’t as oppressive in colder weather, and your layered clothes make it harder to realize how much you’re sweating — but that doesn’t mean you’re not losing water at a potentially dangerous rate.

7. Do stay alert for slippery terrain. Ice and snow can make for treacherous conditions, and often collect on the roadsides and trails outdoor exercisers use. The last thing you want is a ski-slope injury you sustained in your own neighborhood. If you live in an area that regularly gets snow and ice, you can buy shoe traction devices that act like snow chains for your feet.

8. Don’t forget to protect your hands and face. The Mayo Clinic warns that these body parts are particularly susceptible to frostbite, especially when you factor in the wind chill you generate while moving at a cardio pace. Wear gloves and a balaklava as the temperature begins to demand them.

9. Do be alert for signs of hypothermia. This may seem counter-intuitive as your body warms up with exercise, but it’s more common than you might expect. Protect yourself by scheduling breaks in areas with heat, and by keeping your sessions short enough to get in before the cold starts really taking effect. If you’re going long, consider running laps on a shorter course so you can get inside easily, or at least packing a fresh, dry shirt.

Go for a Spin

If you’re in the market for a challenging workout, or a cyclist looking for a way to escape Mother Nature’s bad days, indoor cycling may be for you.

Group indoor cycling, or “spinning,” is a fast-paced workout on a stationary bike led by a fitness instructor. This popular fitness trend has stood the test of time; indoor cycling has been around for over 30 years. Spinning classes are available at nearly every gym that offers group fitness, and studios dedicated to indoor cycling are popping up across the country.

Is this fitness phenomenon for you? Here’s what you need to know before you hop on a bike.

Indoor Cycling Basics

Indoor cycling classes are intense, and challenge even hardcore fitness buffs. The workout leaves your heart pumping, legs burning and body dripping with sweat. In a 45 minute class, you’ll burn anywhere from 350 to over 600 calories, depending on your build and how hard you work.

If you’re a fitness newbie, though, don’t let the high intensity of group cycling scare you off. Many gyms offer beginner cycling classes. Keep in mind, too, that you control the speed of your pedal stroke and the resistance on your bike, so you can back off whenever you need a break. Cycling is also non-impact, meaning it won’t harm your knees or other joints.

What to Expect in Class

Most indoor cycling classes last between 45 and 60 minutes, but they can be shorter or longer. Your instructor may dim the lights and crank up the music to create a fun atmosphere. In some classes, a large screen displays a video of a bike course to simulate the feeling of riding on the road.

First, you’ll pedal slowly to warm-up. After that, most of the class will likely be in an interval format. Your instructor will yell out commands or give cues so you know when to switch up your workout. You’ll be asked to pick up or slow down the pace, adjust your resistance (to make it feel like you’re climbing a hill) or come out of the saddle and pedal while standing. You’ll end with a cool-down and stretching session.

Tips for a Smooth Ride

· Tell the instructor before class starts if you are new to cycling. He or she will help you set up your bike, give you tips on technique and summarize what to expect during class.

· Wear proper shoes. Any pair of athletic shoes will work. You can strap your feet into the pedals so you won’t slip mid-ride. If you have special shoes you clip to your road bike, they may also fit certain spinning bikes.

· Invest in bike shorts. Choose a padded pair to reduce the chance of chafing or discomfort during your ride.

· Bring a water bottle. You will sweat a lot during a group cycling class. Drinking plenty of water before, during and after your workout will help you stay properly hydrated.

· Don’t forget a hand towel. Use a hand towel to dry your face or hands throughout the ride and keep yourself more comfortable.

· Consider investing in your own indoor exercise bike to get a great workout in the comfort of your living room.

Have you tried indoor cycling? I remember the first time I took a class. I was expecting an easy ride, but I got an exhilarating — and exhausting — workout!