By Nicole Maier
It's cold, it's windy and you know you should go for your regular evening jog, but honestly, you rather stay curled up in your Snuggie. It's the start of your annual hibernation: You spend all summer sweating to get that svelte beach body, but as soon as the frost sets in, the workouts become fewer -- and your muscles as soft as the couch you're parked on. This year, instead of hiding that growing muffin top under a baggy sweater, make it the season to get in the best shape of your life.
To help, we've talked to the experts for their top advice to stay fit, motivated -- and warm.
Dressing for the weather is an art. Wear too little, and you'll be too cold to even make it down the block. Don your winter jacket, and you feel like your working out in a toaster oven. The key is to follow two simple rules: dress like it's 20 degrees warmer than what your thermometer reads and wear layers. "Layering allows you to add or remove clothing to better regulate your body temperature," says Karen Buxton author of Off-Season Training for Triathletes.
The first layer, the layer closest to the skin, should be made of a sweat-wicking material, like polypropylene, says Buxton. This keeps moisture from sitting on the body and causing a chill. The second layer is your warming layer - materials like fleece and wool work best for trapping in heat. Finally, the top layer is your protection against the elements. Look for a jacket that is wind and waterproof, like Gore-tex.
The biggest mistake people make when exercising in the cold is not sufficiently prepping their bodies for movement. "In the winter, you want to double your warm-up time," says Tina Vindum author of Outdoor Fitness. "It doesn't matter if you're skiing, snowboarding, hiking or running, a good warm up is your best friend."
Start with stretching, transition to slow walking and build your pace from there. "This awakens your muscles and gets Synovial fluid, which is a natural lubricant, to your joints," says Vindum. As a result, you'll be able to workout harder, burn more fat, and avoid injury.
Let's face it, there are going to be days that it is just too freezing, snowy, or icy to realistically exercise outside. But instead of playing hooky on your workout, use it as an opportunity to add some variety-and some fun-to your routine.
"You're going to get really bored doing the same thing on a treadmill for 45 minutes," says Eric Wise owner of Premier Athlete Training Center in Wyomissing, PA. "Instead, try circuit training to build both your strength and cardio endurance." Circuit training is when you move from one resistance exercise (like bicep curls) to another exercise that works a different body part (like squats), with little to no rest between moves. This keeps the intensity and your heart rate up. As a result, you'll fry more calories in half the time.
When it's cold, you tend not to feel as thirsty, but drinking water is just as important as it is in the summer. "Dehydration increases the risk of frostbite and affects your body's ability to regulate its temperature," says Buxton. To stay hydrated, drink 8 to 12 ounces of water 15 to 30 minutes before your workout - trade water for a sports drink if you're working out longer than 60 minutes. As you exercise, sip 4 to 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.
The hardest part of exercise is making that initial step out the door. Don't deter yourself by over-committing. "Just go for 10 minutes, and you'll be blown away that you'll probably actually end up going for 15," says Vindum. "Next time aim for a few minutes more." Soon exercise will become an exhilarating part of your winter lifestyle.
If exercising outdoors, you'll be dealing with a whole different set of conditions. The daylight hours are shorter and the weather is harsher, so play it safe. Always tell someone what route you're taking, carry a cell phone and ID, or even better workout with a friend. If exercising in the or AM or late PM hours, be sure to wear reflective clothing, says Buxton. Also, pick shoes that have enough traction to keep from slipping on snow- or ice-covered paths.
The best way to stay motivated is to keep things fresh. "Go out and make little adventures in your life," says Vindum. "Explore different parts of your neighborhood, go for a hike on a new trail, try pull ups on an old tree limb or do some squats on a hillside overlooking some great vista." Make it exciting so it is not drudgery, and exercise will become something you look forward to every day.
Nicole Maier is a freelance health and fitness writer in New York.