Keeping Your Fitness Plan Through The Colder Months and Holidays

Words: Vanessa Salvia

Words: Vanessa Salvia
Photos: AndreyPopov

If there's one thing, actually make that two things that derail a fitness plan faster than any other, it's cold weather and the holidays. When we enjoy getting outdoors for a brisk walk or bike ride and it's freezing cold and snowing, that's just definitely not as enjoyable or easy to do. The holiday season brings its own challenges of extra commitments, late nights, more food and drinks, and travel plans.  

Most of the time, winter weather is the first thing fitness enthusiasts have to contend with. Waiting until spring to get moving again is a bad idea — not only are you likely to gain a few pounds from overindulging in eggnog and cookies left out for Santa, you also stand to lose a good bit of your muscle conditioning over time off. Exercise helps keep your mood stable, boost energy, and even help prevent the common cold — all things we can use more of during the winter.

According to Forbes, your body starts to notice the lack of exercise after just a few days. Some athletes lose 6% of their muscle after just three weeks of not working out. Powerlifters have seen losses of 35% of their muscle power after seven months. Even if you're not a professional athlete, that loss of muscle will set you back, and the longer you go without training the more you'll lose. Not only that but if you keep eating the same amount of calories as you did when you were working out, most of that will turn to fat because you'll be consuming more than you need. 

Avoid Cotton Workout Clothes

Before winter really hits in your area, invest in workout clothes that are not made of cotton. You'll quickly lose body heat if you sweat and then your cotton shirt and sweatpants soak it up. Opt instead for layers close to your body that is made of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, nylon, and polypropylene. Look for fabrics labeled "quick dry." These will wick away moisture and keep you warmer, so you can keep your workout lasting longer before heading inside.

Wear Effective Layers 

Wearing moisture-wicking clothes is only part of the key to being comfortable as you workout outdoors. Wearing layers traps warm air next to your body to keep you warmer. Your first base layer should be something thin and made of synthetic fabric (as discussed above). Then, wear something like polar fleece. Then, a windbreaker or waterproof shell goes on the outside to keep out the wind, snow, and rain.

Wear layers of clothing to start your workout, then remove them as you heat up. A waterproof outer shell will keep your layers from releasing the moisture, so you may end up feeling sweaty if you keep your outer shell on, even if you're wearing the right base layers. 

Get Waterproof Shoes With Good Traction

A shoe with good traction will prevent you from slipping and sliding on rain, snow, or ice. And a good waterproof shoe will prevent uncomfortable soggy socks. Depending on your winter workout and where you go, for instance, if you're on outdoor running trails, consider attaching snow or ice spikes to your running shoes. These will help you maintain traction to reduce the risk of falls, but they can be an impediment to the pavement.

Burn More Calories

Men's Journal explains that training in the cold helps your body burn slightly more fat. Your body can regulate its temperature better in cold than in hot, so you can likely exercise farther or longer than you would during the hot summer months, meaning you can burn more calories.

Do Short Bursts of Exercise

If all you can fit in is 20 minutes as opposed to your normal hour and a half routine, do the 20 minutes. Don't think that your winter or holiday fitness routine has to be all or nothing. A few frequent, short, intense workouts can keep your body in the same shape as fewer longer routines. If you know you're going to have a busy week and you normally work out six days a week, aim instead for four shorter but just-as-intense workouts. 

For instance, try 20 minutes of Tabata training before you go down to the hotel breakfast, and then another 20 minutes before dinner. No one will notice that you're gone, and you can still get your workout in. Another tip is to do workouts you don't usually do. This will kickstart your body because you'll be using muscles in an unfamiliar way, plus it's a good way to avoid burnout. 

Keep your heart rate up when you workout, and you'll get more out of it. Cardio endurance declines faster than strength. Shape magazine explains that maintaining cardio fitness requires a minimum of three days per week of vigorous training, while muscular strength can be maintained in just one day a week if that's all you have to throw at it. 

If You're Traveling, Plan Ahead

If you know you're going to be in a hotel somewhere, plan ahead and research walking or running trails nearby. Better yet, choose a hotel with a robust fitness room. If you're going home for the holidays, let everyone know that you want to stick to your exercise routine as much as you can — filling people in ahead of time can prevent them from feeling like you don't want to participate, or you from feeling left out. 

Look for a nearby gym and arrange ahead of time for a guest pass. Pack along with resistance bands, or weights that you can deflate and fill with water. These take up minimal space in your luggage but can still give you an effective workout. If this is the equipment you don't normally use, write out a workout plan before you go. This could be as simple as just writing out a list of 10 activities that you can do in your hotel room for one minute each — squats, lunges, pushups, jumping jacks, bicep curls, etc.

If you're packing along with your computer, also pack a fitness DVD (rent some from your public library if you don't own any). If you have streaming TV services, see if you can download any to your iPad, or purchase an app for your phone. Many fitness apps have robust programs that are free, as long as you don't mind watching a few ads. 

Squeeze in activity at every opportunity. Walk to that restaurant rather than calling an Uber. Play some Wii Sports games after dinner, or invite everyone along for a stroll around the neighborhood. Shovel snow, rake leaves, or just get up and do some dishes rather than sitting around watching TV. You'll feel better, and your muscles will thank you for the next time you go to use them.

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