Cardio, like war, is hell. But because it is — for most of us mere mortals — a prerequisite for a lean, fit physique, you still dutifully hit the treadmill a few days per week. However, for those who keep themselves sane by doing their cardio outdoors, there is another consideration: weather. The bite of the winter air can make outdoor activities downright unbearable. Chapped lips and achy, slow-to-warm joints are the last thing you want to worry about during a marathon cardio session. Still, there are benefits: Studies show that cold-weather training forces your body to burn through glycogen and fat faster. For that reason, and others, there’s never a reason to skip your workout, says Taylor Simon, a Canada-based strength-and-conditioning specialist.
“Training in a climate as variable as Canada’s, we are forced to work out in all weather conditions,” he says. “When it turns cold and snowy, this means we have to make the best of what we have. Working out in the cold won’t decrease your results or the exercise effectiveness, but you do have to be more conscious of your safety. Dress in layers, and remember that just because you feel warm doesn’t mean your extremities are getting the circulation they need. I recommend shortening workouts and making them a little higher intensity to minimize exposure to the cold.”
Here’s how to get your cardio in during the cold winter months.
1 DON’T CHANGE A THING
If running is your typical choice of cardio, lace up and hit the pavement. “Just because the weather gets a little cooler doesn’t mean you have to forgo your favorite outdoor cardio options,” Simon says. “A little more preparation is all that is required. Waterproof shoes, good socks, gloves, and a face shield are necessary to protect your extremities.”
2 EXPAND YOUR OPTIONS
If the weather outside is unreasonably cold — think blizzard — then it’s probably best to improvise with a solid home workout. “There are so many effective and moderately priced options for home equipment,” Simon says. “I recommend the TRX or a set of kettlebells. This equipment offers full-body functional training and provides some of the benefits of strength training while also targeting your cardio requirements.”
3 TURN BACK THE CLOCK
Simon points out that a little creativity can go far in the absence of home equipment. High-rep, low-rest work with some old-school bodyweight moves can be effective for your ticker and your waistline. “Remember elementary school? Think jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, push-ups, jump squats and jumping lunges,” he says.
Resistance training for cardio (see No. 2) paired with high-intensity bodyweight work (see No. 3) can provide a fast, effective home workout. “The best part is that you can create an endless combination of activities so boredom is never a problem,” Simon says. “Move from exercise to exercise in 30-second bursts for a five-minute circuit to get a lung-burning cardio blast.”
5 JOIN A CLASS
Getting out and about when it’s so cold outside that your face hurts doesn’t sound appealing, but if you can muster the walk to the car for a short ride, some group activity is an excellent winter option. “During those really cold winter months,” Simon says, “a spin class or masters swimming program at a gym is a great way to keep your workout intensity high and boredom at bay.”