November 9, 2009 / 11:10 AM / 9 years ago

Fitness when the weather outside is frightful

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Baby, it’s cold outside.

Bob Radocy of TRS Inc. uses a grip prehensor hand replacement to do pull-ups at a gym in Boulder, Colorado August 21, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Or, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, it soon will be. And that means ‘tis the season when extra pounds can pile up faster than frost on a pumpkin.

But fitness experts say that with a little extra effort you can successfully bring your workout in from the cold.

“The real key is to stick with it. Stay motivated and don’t let the winter get the best of you,” said Kerri O’Brien, an exercise physiologist with Life Fitness, which designs and manufactures exercise equipment.

“In winter we cover up a lot more and we don’t have the threat of the dreaded bikinis, so we negotiate with ourselves,” she said. “The average American gains eight pounds over the holidays.”

And then they hit the gym.

Keith Worts, chief operating officer of the Crunch national health club chain, says attendance always spikes in winter.

“We have about 25 percent more members joining,” Worts said. “People can’t go outside to run and bike.”

Worts said as the seasons change, so do the fitness classes. A summer workout geared to getting clientele ready for their bikinis will likely give way to a winter “pre-ski” class that strengthens leg muscles for the slopes.

He said the economic downturn has even more people flocking to clubs as the thermometer plunges.

“It helps your mind cope with stress and anxiety. The days are shorter. You get cooped up, especially in New York apartments. And it’s a place to go.”

David Harris of the Equinox fitness chain urges the would-be winter warrior to ask an expert how to safely warm up those cold weather muscles and joints.

“Consult a floor trainer who can demonstrate a dynamic warm up,” he explained, “rather than a generalized warm up on a fixed path like a treadmill, which is just one direction.”

He added that callisthenic-based low impact movements increase the elasticity of muscles.

Pete McCall, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, says winter can be perilous for stiff muscles.

“As the temperature drops your muscles are very elastic. Like a rubber band, if you put them in the freezer, they’ll probably snap,” he said.

“In cooler weather muscles just aren’t as pliable, so the likelihood of injury is greater,” he said.

McCall also recommends adding more hip work, core and balance exercises in cold months to increase stability in snow and ice.

He also stresses the importance of staying hydrated.

“In winter the body can spend a lot of energy trying to stay warm, so one might not feel as thirsty because of the cooler hair.”

McCall recommends eight to 16 ounces of fluid before exercise, a few ounces every 15 minutes while working out, and 16-24 ounces to rehydrate afterwards.

If the expense or inconvenience keeps you from the gym, there’s always the shopping mall.

“Health clubs during the winter are great because you don’t have to feel the environmental factors,” McCall said. “But another option is to go to malls, or other areas with controlled climates, and use that to walk, stay fit without a health club membership.”

“Of course, stay away from the food court,” he cautions. “And leave the wallet at home.”

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