Take it outside

By: Alison Dunn Jan 29, 2010
winter exercise, winter workouts, skating, snowshoeing, skiing

Want to work out outdoors this winter? Follow these tips to dress for success

Canadian winters aren’t always fun. Snow, ice, freezing rain, searing cold – it makes us want to bundle up by the fire, not head outside for a workout. But if you’re only working out inside during the winter, you could be missing out.

“There’s something to be said for getting out and using the fresh air to clear your head,” says Sue Abell, a personal trainer and creator of the Tread Powerfully fitness concept. “I also think that with every changing season, there is a different physical challenge to overcome that brings different physical benefits.”

Winter is a great time to get outside and strengthen those legs walking or running on the snow and ice. You may not reach the speeds you do in the summer, but you work your legs differently to keep you stable in all that snow. You can also get a great workout by cross-country skiing, skating or even snowshoeing.

But it isn’t always easy getting out when the weather outside is frightful. Abell offers these tips to help you make the most of your winter workout:

Dress in layers. The best way to combat the cold is to dress in several layers that you can remove if you start getting hot. Abell recommends the first layer be a moisture-wicking layer to get the sweat away from your body and prevent you from getting too cold. Add one to two more layers depending on the temperature, then ensure your top layer keeps out the wind. The key thing to remember is that, when you first step outside, you should feel a bit chilled. “If you don’t feel chilly, when you’re 10 minutes into your workout, you’re going to be perspiring heavily and ripping off layers,” Abell says.

Remember your extremities. Your hands, feet, head and even butt will feel the cold quicker than other areas, so keep them warm. Abell says anything that’s away from the body will get cold, so get the right gloves/mittens, socks and hats to keep those extremities warm.

Vests are not your friend. The point of layering is to be able to remove layers as you get too hot. For most people, the easiest thing to do is tie that outer layer around the waist. The problem with vests, Abell points out, is that you’re unable to do that. And, unless you’re willing to throw your vest on the ground and leave it there, you’re stuck carrying it for the rest of your workout. “I’ve seen people sling vests through their arms like a purse to try and carry them along,” Abell says. Not the most effective when you’re trying to work out.

But zippers are. You also want your outer layer to be easily accessible, since you will most likely have to remove it when you start perspiring. “If you have your hair in a ponytail or a big hat, you don’t want to take off a layer which only has a half-zipper,” Abell says. You certainly don’t want to waste time pulling it over your head, so she recommends using full-zip jackets that are easy to get off and tie around your waist as your outer wear.

Start reflecting. Let’s face it: there aren’t a lot of daylight hours in a Canadian winter, and odds are that at least sometimes, you’ll have to be outside when it’s dark. That’s why it’s important to have reflective gear on your outer layers to ensure you’re easy to see. You may also want to buy a bike light or a flashing light to help light your own way and make you more visible to motorists.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.