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White-Hot Winter Workouts

Keeping fit is a blast with cold-weather sports

Dress for Workout Success

All revved up to get out and brave the chill? First, there are a few vital safety tips you should keep in mind:

  • Stay hydrated. People are subject to dehydration in colder environments, says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. Drinking plenty of water "allows our thermoregulatory systems to operate optimally, keeping us warm." Forgot your water bottle? Don't be tempted by that wonderland of snow. Aside from its questionable cleanliness, "drinking" snow can lower your core body temperature, possibly causing hypothermia. 
  • Artificial fibers are best when bundling up. There's an old saying, "Cotton kills." That's because it "acts like a sponge, absorbing moisture from the snow" says Frado, and instead of wicking the moisture away, it holds it close to the body. Stick to synthetic microfibers ("wonder fabrics," Frado calls them) next to your skin. Add a second layer of a lightweight material like fleece, then top it all off with a windproof, waterproof outer shell and you're ready to roll -- or run, sled, or shovel!
  • Skip the drink -- if it's alcohol, that is. Whether you're going for a wobbly walk across a frozen lake or a swoop down a favorite sledding hill, leave the alcoholic for later. Alcohol dilates blood vessels, rushing blood to the surface of your skin -- and dissipating heat instead of holding it inside, close to your core. It can also be a diuretic, robbing you of fluids. Instead, stick to the winter fitness drink of choice: water.
  • Warm up thoroughly, and take it easy. When it's really cold out, it can be harder to breathe, which puts us at risk of bronchial spasms, says Comana. "Give yourself a slightly longer warm-up because of colder, drier weather. Taper down your exercise just a little and put a guard over your mouth, so that air is pre-warmed as it comes through." Remember, if you think you're too tired to ski that last run, sled that last hill, or go that final mile, then you are, says Herrig. "Don't get talked into something you're too worn out to do."
  • When starting a new sport, get a lesson. "Sometimes your natural instincts will take you away from what is the most stable thing," says Cristy Harvey, ski instructor at Mt. Bachelor's Nordic Center in Bend, Ore. "And go out with people who are at your own speed -- have a relaxed, fun time."

When You Stay In

When it's raining buckets or sleet's pinging off the roof, that's a perfect time for an indoor workout to complement what you're doing outdoors.

Cross-training is the way to go, says Bryant Stamford, PhD, professor of exercise physiology at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.

"We have a tendency to gravitate toward one activity," which can lead to overuse injuries, he says. "Cross-training can give your body a break" but still keep your fitness level up.

Whether you choose power-walking around a track, lifting weights, or riding a stationary bike, the goal is to use your muscles in ways different from your primary sport.

If you want your indoor workout to enhance that outdoor sport, try matching the motions. Love running outdoors? Try a treadmill. Happy to hike when the weather's good? Get on the stepper at the gym when the weather's bad.

Or if you tried cross-country skiing but found yourself falling down even when you were standing still, try fine-tuning your equilibrium with yoga. Yoga not only aids balance, but it can increase breathing capacity, strength, and flexibility, says Sandra Moen, an Oregon yoga instructor and downhill skier.

So as the mercury drops, don't hibernate -- try something new. Bundle up right, stay hydrated and safe, then let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

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Reviewed on January 21, 2005

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