Let’s hope Wiarton Willie was right. As some Canadians continue to dig their way out from February’s record-setting snowfall, many of us have an optimistic eye on the early spring predicted by one of our national weather-reporting rodents.
My adult relationship with winter has been free of the standard stresses with which most people must contend. For the last three years, I’ve lived across the street from my place of employment. I’ve never had to navigate through a slush-soaked morning commute on an overcrowded streetcar, never had to dig a car out of a mound of snow only to discover the battery is frozen. Hell, up until this year I’ve never even had a driveway to shovel.
That all changed in August, when my wife and I moved into a lovely little apartment 20 minutes down the road, an apartment inside an old house with a long, shared driveway. My morning walk to work is now a hike up a rising street, a street with sidewalks that are too narrow and never free of ice and snow. And after work, there’s that driveway to shovel.
Given my profession, I scoff at the notion of snowblowers. My motto this winter has been simple: Give me a shovel or give me death! I treat these wintry tasks as challenges akin to Rocky Balboa’s training in the frigid Russian mountains before his battle with Ivan Drago – only for me the training happens in the gym. My enemy in this case is the great Canadian winter, an enemy whose best I’ve handled with ease.
Want to say the same next year? Training camp starts now. Use this advice to plan your workouts and you’ll have a body that can take anything winter throws your way. Body weight is more than sufficient for the leg exercises, especially if you’re just getting started. If you’re adding resistance, choose a weight that’s heavy enough to make the exercise challenging. If you can hit the top end of the rep range with ease, grab a heavier weight.
Build your back
Your back has some of the largest and most important muscles in the body, and just about all of them take a beating when you shovel snow. Some of that is because of poor technique. Some is because of a lack of strength. Lifting weights will help fix both of those factors.
Deadlifts are the centrepiece of any back-building regimen. By now, regular readers are probably sick of hearing me extol the virtues of deadlifts, but I can’t help it! No other exercise can compete with the deadlift’s mix of functionality and effectiveness. Partner it with an upper-back exercise, such as the face pull, and you’ll soon be kissing any postural pains goodbye.
One-Arm Dumbbell Row: 2-4 sets, 6-10 reps
Face Pull : 2-3 sets, 10-15 reps
Single out the legs
Slips and falls are the most common cause of injuries in Canada. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2016-17 nearly 9,000 of those injuries came as a result of icy sidewalks and roads. Now I know it’s not the sexiest fitness quality, but when you consider those numbers – and the impact a broken hip will have on your life – the importance of balance training becomes apparent.
I’ve had a bunch of close calls over the years, near-wipeouts that could have spelled disaster, were it not for my ability to gracelessly pirouette out of trouble. I give full credit for this to a steady diet of single-leg training. Along with improving balance and proprioception (i.e., your body’s sense of awareness and control as it moves through space), single-leg training corrects strength and size asymmetries between limbs. Strong legs are stable legs, and two strong, stable legs are better than one.
Split Squats: 2-3 sets, 6-12 reps for each leg
Reverse Lunges: 2-3 sets, 6-12 reps for each leg
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL): 2-3 sets, 6-10 reps for each leg
Know your core
The core is the most misunderstood – and thus improperly trained – muscle group of them all. Yes, your abs are a component of the core, but so is your lower back, your intercostals (the tiny muscles between your ribs), your obliques, and your multifidus (spinal stabilizers) among others. This is why we need to do more than just crunches to build a strong, functional core. The right exercises will teach all of these muscles to work in harmony, leading to improved balance and stability, as well as enhanced posture and the ability to generate more power with your limbs.
So, what are the “right exercises?" A well-rounded core routine should consist of movements that flex the hips (leg raises and crunches), rotate the torso (Russian twist and wood choppers), and stabilize the torso to prevent any spinal movement at all (planks and farmer’s walks). By ensuring that each of these elements gets trained at least once a week, you’ll ward off the crippling back pain that so often develops as people age. And hey, if your diet’s right, you might even get that six-pack you’ve always wanted.
Stability Ball Crunch: 2-3 sets, 10-12 reps
Slow Suitcase Carry: 2-4 sets, 25-45 seconds for each side
Half Kneeling Reverse Wood Chop: 2-3 sets, 8-12 reps for each side
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator at the Toronto West End College Street YMCA. Follow him on Twitter @mrpaullandini.
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.