Staying Healthy while Staying Active in the Winter
Courtney Dynes, DPT
For many, the winter months are a time to relax and enjoy the holidays with family and friends. It is a time to hibernate under the covers and eat some comfort foods. But for endurance and outdoor summer/spring athletes, the winter can be utilized as a time to recover, recharge and train in a more unstructured way in order to be ready to start strong next competitive season. By focusing on strength, flexibility and cross-training, off-season training can really pay off come race season. Here are some fun activities to consider in order to maintain fitness during the winter!
Cross-country skiing: Cross-country skiing is a great outdoor activity that can challenge cardiovascular and muscular endurance while strengthening your core, hips and arms. It is also a low-impact activity, which will help reduce stress onto joints. If you need to take some time off of the pounding and stress to the knees, ankles and hips, this is a great alternative to keep aerobic capacity high and have fun! The lateral muscle strength that it demands from the hips and gluteals also gives new challenge to triathletes and runners who are used to just moving forward in that plane of motion!
Downhill skiing or Snowboarding: Breathe in the fresh air at the top of the mountain or local Midwestern hill and take a moment to reflect and refresh. These sports offer a great opportunity to strengthening the legs and core while cutting through the snow. In order to maximize your performance and remain safe, consider preparing for these sports by performing strengthening, flexibility and balance exercises. The most important prep includes isometric quad and gluteal exercises such as squat holds and Olympic lifts, lateral stability in the hips with Airex pad and Bosu balancing, as well as side stepping with band exercise to engage the glutes and hips.
Hiking: Hiking is another fun outdoor activity that can help maintain fitness. Vigorous hikes can help increase your heart rate to challenge cardiovascular fitness. For more of a challenge, try carrying a backpack! It is also great training for hill running, without all of the joint stress. Excessive work on the hamstrings transfers to more efficient running as well as increased hamstring activation. Just make sure you stretch and roll those hammies after to avoid overuse in your new activity!
Weight training: As hours on the bike, trails and pool increase during training season, it is typical for time spent strengthening to decrease. The off-season is a perfect time to hit the weights at the gym. If you are sore, recovery time can be taken since performance is not an issue. Weight training - whether with dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, cables, or one’s own body weight - can improve the ability to recruit more muscle fibers for any activity to improve power and muscular endurance. It is a good time to rebalance the quad/hamstring ratio, work on the gluteals if your Achilles is a consistent issue, and stabilize the spine.
Indoor Sports: During the winter, it is a good time to get involved in indoor sports such as rock climbing, hockey, tennis, racquetball, soccer, and basketball. Not only will these sports allow you to challenge multiple components related to coordination, strength, endurance and skill, they are also social events which helps beat the “winter time blues!”
Paddle Tennis. Consider trying to play a different sport all together! Paddle tennis is a mix of tennis and racquetball, in an outdoor, heated floor, caged-in contained court. Intricate lateral movements, agility and core activation play a huge part in success. With most endurance sports such as running, swimming, and cycling, lateral strength is not demanded on a regular training basis, but definitely needed for speed, foot placement, and trail adjustments while racing and training. The largest benefit of paddle is lateral biomechanics introduction to hips, stomach, gluteals and core, balance improvement, and overall fun!
Yoga or Pilates: Participation in yoga or Pilates classes has many benefits. In addition to promoting relaxation, these activities can help improve strength, balance and flexibility which is important for injury prevention and enhancing performance. In season, there is often not enough time to add this to your routine, as everyone is miles and heart-rate-elevation focused. Well, now is the time!
Rolling. Get down on the ground with your TP roller, wood wheel, foam roller, lacrosse ball and so many more options. Make it a challenge to roll your entire body 2-3x week, making a chart, and notice the discomfort decreasing dramatically as the days and weeks go by. Thirty days is a goal for this challenge, as it will also help with your Yoga and stretching routine. As well, notice posture improvements and use rolling as recovery from some of the heavier strength training that you will be doing. Always remember to apologize in advance to your body and it will treat you well!