Staying fit and enjoying the outdoors go hand-in-hand. During the warm months, the time we spend outside helps to maintain our fitness and improve our mental state by leaps and bounds. The summer allows for more outdoor activities than other seasons, and, while you may miss snow occasionally, the temperatures are ripe for intense outdoor activity. For those who do love snow, you can flip the seasonal advice below and apply it to your preferred active months.
Problems with inactivity
As we ease into fall like we would the perfect temperature hot tub or get thrust into winter like a newborn on its birthday, we often have an unconscious retraction from uncomfortable activity. Who among us doesn’t love the comfy spot on the couch with a warm blanket, a crackling fire and a favorite book or show; glancing outside every once in a while to verify our good decision to stay in?
The primary problem we see is a gentle fade of fitness and physical ability, which typically goes unnoticed until that fateful first excursion outdoors.
Humans were not meant to hibernate. We are generally designed to move and stay moving. A rule in research, specifically with looking at the effectiveness of exercise programs, is to avoid starting a study in the summer and ending in the winter (or vice versa) because we typically see very different behaviors. A study to increase fitness that runs from December to June is going to be successful, of course.
So what are our options? Well, this depends on what you do and what you want. For those of us just trying to keep some semblance of fitness, myself included, our routines don’t have much reason to change. It may be more difficult to motivate ourselves in the cold, dark, winter months, but exercise may just be business as usual. For those that change to season-specific sports, and desire a competitive edge (or at least to not be left behind) a specific goal should be the focus of your off-season training.
Finding the focus
So what can we do during these cold, dark times? Some dread the unmotivated parade to the gym where boredom and pain await. While others are glad to get out and let off some steam. Regardless of your personal preference, this provides an opportunity to truly focus on aspects of your fitness that may not get addressed in your standard gallivanting up mountains, down rivers or through the woods in the summer months.
One of the best ways to figure out how to improve your performance is to find what you are lacking or frustrated with. Do you find your bike sprints up hills set you back? Lower legs fatigue too quickly when you SUP? Arms first to fatigue when climbing?
Two important training principles to keep in mind are specificity and progressive overload. Basically, the way you train will result in benefits in that way (you can’t expect to train for a marathon using a stress ball), and as your body adapts, more is required to continue adapting. This is the process of running farther over time or lifting heavier weights as you get stronger. All types of adaptations work in a similar way. You will need to make your balancing training more complex or challenging to continue making improvements.
One primary caveat to this is that you typically don’t want to exceed a 10% increase per week. This is when we get close to injury territory, and of course, remember to listen to your body. Pain usually means something is wrong; we all know that muscle burn during the sprint is good, the sharp stab in your knee when you get off the couch is bad.
Some of the main categories of performance include your cardiovascular ability, strength, balance and coordination. Each of these has specific ways to improve, and without holding a class to teach these, you may just have to be okay with these general suggestions for now.
If you find yourself out of breath when trying to keep up with the other cyclists, in the winter try incorporating more repeated sprints on your (bicycle) trainer.
If you find yourself running out of gas on those all-day mountain biking trips, try building strength in your leg muscles (knee extensions, calf raises, and deadlifts — with good form).
If you find yourself losing your balance too often on… whichever board you find yourself on, try this progression in balance training (start where it gets difficult and remember to incorporate progressive overload): Two feet together, eyes closed; one foot, eyes closed; two feet, unstable surface like balance boards, foam blocks and grass, adding a simple manual task. For all of these, make sure you are safe from falling. Use a stable surface that you can grab on to if necessary.
In general, let the winter months be a time to focus on what is holding you back.