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Winter's A Great Time to Shake Up Your Training Routine

By Bill Radford - The Gazette

It's tempting to hibernate in winter, to throw those running shoes under your bed or stow your bike in the garage until spring.

After all, it's cold and dark when you get up, cold and dark when you get home from work. Sitting in front of the TV or fireplace sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

If winter is putting a chill on your favorite sport, this is the perfect time to spice up your fitness routine by cross-training.

"Think of the wintertime as a healing time where you begin to recover and work on things like strength and flexibility, things that once you're out and enjoying your sport in the summer, you'll probably neglect," says Gregory Florez, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise and president of First Fitness Inc., a Utah-based personal coaching and training company.

Cross-training — varying your fitness routine with different activities — is a good idea any time of the year. It improves overall fitness and reduces the risk of injury because you're not using the same set of muscles in the same way every time. And it makes workouts more fun so you don't risk burnout from doing the same old thing.

Winter sports offer natural opportunities for runners, cyclists and others to cross-train. Instead of hitting the pavement, hit the slopes.

Kelly Calabrese, a personal trainer in Colorado Springs, Colo., stays active in many ways, from bicycling to climbing mountains to kickboxing. Tennis in the summer and skiing in the winter work the body in similar ways, so each activity helps keep her conditioned for the other.

"By staying fit for your winter sports, you stay fit for your summer sports, and vice versa," she says. "It's an all-year-round conditioning program."

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing offer great winter workouts, Florez says.

"Snowshoeing is becoming wildly popular. It's a wonderful calorie burner."

For those who want to move their workouts indoors, there are any number of ways to maintain cardiovascular conditioning. A runner can keep running, of course, by getting on a treadmill, just as cyclists can keep pedaling on a stationary bike or wind trainer. But there also are swimming, skating, aerobics classes, elliptical trainers, dance classes and much more.

Aerobic conditioning, however, is only one element of a well-rounded fitness routine. Strength training and flexibility should be included as well.

"As a general approach to health and fitness, balancing your program is really the way to go," says Michael Barnes, education director for the Colorado Springs-based National Strength and Conditioning Association.

And winter is the perfect time to seek that balance.

"You don't have to be outside to work on flexibility," Barnes says.

"And you don't have to be outside to work on your strength training."

You can incorporate flexibility into your routine on your own with some simple stretching exercises. Or you could join the growing number of people who are taking up yoga and Pilates.

For strength training, pick calisthenics, free weights or weight machines.

Keep your sport in mind when tailoring your program, Barnes advises. Golfers, for example, should focus on hips, lower back, shoulders and stomach.

Florez recommends working on flexibility four or five days a week and strength training — "done with quality and intensity" — two or three days a week. If you don't know where to start, get help, he says.

"The best thing someone can do is enlist a certified personal trainer for at least two to three sessions to give them a basic program geared toward their sport and their specific needs."

Weekend warriors often want to pick up in the spring where they left off the summer before. To avoid injury, it's important to stay conditioned during the winter.

"It's tough to do, especially over the holidays," Barnes acknowledges. The trick is to not fight winter but embrace it. If there's bitter cold, put on the proper apparel and brave the elements or stay inside and enjoy something new: a dance class, perhaps. If there's snow, strap on the snowshoes.

"You go with what you're presented," Barnes says. "I think it's more of a mental state than it is anything else."

Tips on choosing a personal trainer

If you're confused about the ins and outs of a well-rounded fitness program, consider enlisting the help of a personal trainer. Here are tips from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American Council on Exercise on choosing a trainer:

  • Look for a trainer who can assist you with your needs. A personal trainer always should have you fill out a health history questionnaire to determine your needs or limitations and tailor your program.

  • Ask for the names and phone numbers of other clients with goals similar to yours. See if they were pleased with their workouts, if their needs were addressed and whether the trainer was punctual and prepared.

  • Make sure this is someone you can work with. Will the personal trainer you're talking to accommodate your schedule? What about the trainer's gender? Some people do better working with a trainer of the same sex; others prefer the opposite sex.

  • Look for someone certified by a nationally recognized organization such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American Council on Exercise or the American College of Sports Medicine. Ask about experience.

  • Find out what the trainer charges. Request a written copy of all policies on billing, cancellations and other issues.

    Avoiding hypothermia

    Devoted runners, cyclists and the like don't let winter's icy sting keep them from their passions. Outdoor athletes, however, should be aware of the danger of hypothermia.

    When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure eventually uses up your body's stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Symptoms include shivering, numbness, fatigue, poor coordination, slurred speech, blueness or puffiness of the skin and disorientation.

    To avoid hypothermia, dress in layers and wear gloves and a hat when outdoors. And be aware that the weather can change in an instant in many places.

    Joining a health club is one way to move your workout indoors and enjoy a variety of activities. Some questions to answer when choosing a club:

    Choosing a health club

  • Is the location convenient for you?

  • Do the club's hours meet your needs? Visit the club at the times you would be using it. Are there long lines at the equipment? Are classes full?

  • Are staff members friendly and helpful? Is the club clean and well-maintained? Is the music too loud?

  • Do fitness-staff members have appropriate educational backgrounds and/or certification from such national agencies as the American Council on Exercise or the American College of Sports Medicine?

  • Are new members provided with a club orientation and instruction on how to use equipment?

  • Does the club have the variety of equipment and classes you want and need to achieve fitness goals?

  • Is child care available if you need it?

  • Can you afford it? Is there a payment schedule that meets your needs?

Sources: International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, American Council on Exercise International

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