Winter is coming, and with it arrives the usual set of roadblocks that conspire to keep you from reaching your fitness goals. The wind, the snow, the cold – my God, the cold! It’s hard enough to muster up the motivation to walk to the corner store once the mercury drops, never mind making the long march to that overcrowded and germ-infested gym. The lures of a comfy couch and good book become all the more appealing once the sky falls dark during the after-work rush hour.
But here’s the thing. Unless you’re a lifelong resident of an equatorial paradise or a newly settled immigrant who has yet to experience a Canadian winter, none of this should come as a surprise. Last I looked, winter happens every year. Yet, as is evidenced by the swarms of idiot drivers who speed through snow storms on threadbare all-season tires, people love putting things off until the last minute. If you’re the sort who waits until we’re knee-deep in snow before digging out (or buying) insulated boots, you still have time to get your act together and make a few simple preparations in order to keep the fitness gains coming during the long, hard months that lie ahead.
Establish a nearby base
When I moved to Toronto 10 years ago, I was deep into mixed martial arts. I had been training at a gym in the suburbs four days a week for more than a year and assumed I could keep up with this schedule relying on public transit. It took around two weeks before I gave up and found a new gym that wasn’t a 60-minute subway ride away.
The No. 1 determinant to keeping a consistent fitness routine is your proximity to the gym. This is true throughout the year, but becomes even more of a factor in the winter. If you can’t walk to your current gym in less than 30 minutes, consider finding a new training space closer to home. There are plenty of budget-friendly options in every major city, such as Hone Fitness in Toronto and Fit4Less, which has locations in seven provinces.
Or, why not just train at home? I’ve talked before about how easy it is to set-up a basic home gym. All it takes is a few key pieces of equipment – a pull-up bar or suspension system, some resistance bands, maybe even some dumbbells or kettlebells – and you’re set.
Dress for success
Every serious athlete needs to spend some time lifting weights, but the best way to get good at a sport is to actually do the sport. If you’re a runner, skater, skier or climber, this means training outside, weather be damned.
Bryan Nahrgang is the recreation programmer for the town of Moosonee, Ont. Located less than 20 kilometers from the southern edge of James Bay, it gets mighty cold in “Ontario’s gateway to the Arctic.” I figured, who better to ask for advice on outdoor training?
“You can still train outside in the winter. You just need to understand your body, understand the weather and know your limits,” Nahrgang said. “Even when it’s 40 below, you’ll still break a sweat. You want to wear clothes that don’t restrict movement but also allow your body to breathe so that sweat doesn’t increase the effects of the cold.”
Some essentials for outdoor winter training include compression leggings, such as the Performance Range from Kapow Meggings, and Under Armour’s complete line of quick-dry, sweat-wicking thermal shirts.
At the gym
Congratulations, you made it to the to the gym! Now, before you race to the squat rack, there’s still some preparatory work to be done. Warming up before lifting is always a good idea, although I’d be lying if I said I spent a full 10-15 minutes doing so each and every session. On days when I’m strapped for time, I’ll cut my warm-up in half. Not so in the winter.
When it’s cold, joints get stiff and blood flow to the muscles decreases. It doesn’t take a degree in exercise science to know that this scenario has the potential for disaster. Taking the time to properly warm-up will serve to minimize nasty injuries as well as increase your performance by delivering more oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. You can never go wrong by focusing on your knees, hips, spine and shoulders with simple drills such as lunges, bridges and band pull aparts. Add in five minutes on a treadmill or bike and you’re good to go.
Training goals often change once the opportunities for showing off your chiseled bod decrease. Many lifters, myself included, use the winter months to bulk up. This means eating more (yay!) and lifting heavier, emphasizing compound lifts such as barbell squats and bench presses in multiple sets of four to eight repetitions. Then, once the snow begins to melt, you have more mass to sculpt into shape in time for beach season. Just don’t use “bulking” as an excuse to eat garbage and skip out on the cardio.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator at the Toronto West End College Street YMCA. Follow him on Twitter @mrpaullandini.