Staying Active in the Deep-Freeze!

by Michelle McGrath

We have been plunged into the wintery deep-freeze for 2 weeks now. Being stuck indoors, it can become all too easy to trade our regular fitness routine in for excuses to over-indulge in the sweet treats and libations of the Holiday season. “Hey it’s only once a year – I’ll get back on the horse after New Years! Besides, it’s waaayyy too cold out there!” Wishful thinking – it will be hell trying to make up for all this damage when the dreaded time arrives!

There ARE some actions you can take that will keep you ON that horse, not to mention save you from the harshness of reality after the party is over!

Outdoor Adventures

For the robust, adventurous types who relish the challenge of the elements, get out to the mountains on your cross-country skis or strap on snow-shoes. Before bounding in the fluffy white stuff or swooshing away on the trails, give yourself adequate time to gently warm-up your joints, tendons and ligaments, as well as gradually raise your pulse. What would be appropriate for an indoor work-out or in warm weather, won’t cut it out in the frigid extremes of winter! This means, DOUBLE your warm-up time ( intensity of 60 % max heart rate) to 15-20 minutes. Pulling a muscle or tearing a ligament will take you out of the game for weeks. Be sure to add in dynamic, full-range stretches once you are warm, to prepare your joints for the intense action ahead! Rotate the arms/ shoulders, perform front to back and lateral leg swings, windmill your arms and add side to side lunges, light squats and torso rotations are some suggestions.

DRESS appropriately: a breathable base layer of merino wool, an insulating layer of fleece and down, and a wind/water resistant outer shell of Gortex are all necessary.

Stay hydrated with a warm thermos of herbal tea. Sip often- at least every 15 minutes. If you are thirsty you are already de-hydrated. Staying hydrated in the cold is essential to your circulation. Efficient circulation keeps you warm, lessening the risk of hypothermia.

As you heat up and the sweat begins to saturate your clothing, the natural response is to begin stripping off the layers…that is fine- until you stop for a rest! When you take a break, you must, layer up again. Perhaps even ADD another layer, such as a down vest. Wear your outer shell to keep the wind off. Do not allow your sweat to freeze on your skin, as this will suck your body heat away. Only begin removing layers again once you’ve become mobile and are actively sweating.

Take a first aid/emergency kit with you supplied with mole skin. An unattended blister can be fatal if you are a long distance from your car-it can slow you down considerably, thus increasing your risk of being beat by the elements. A sling, absorbent pads, matches/fire-starting kit, headlamp, jackknife, small collapse-able shovel, sugar cubes, compass and map of the area are all items that could make the difference between tragedy or making it out safely.

Be aware of avalanche danger! Consult the ranger stations ( is a great place for Canadians) for up-to-date information on the snow conditions in the area you will be. If in doubt-choose another location! Let others back home know where you will be and when you expect to return home. If you don’t they will know to start searching for you.

Take breaks for high carbohydrate snacks such as whole-grain bars, bananas, dried fruits, granola, and pumpernickel bread with almond butter. Your muscles need glycogen (stored sugar fuel) to perform optimally. High cardiac-output activities that utilize your aerobic (“with oxygen” system), over an extended duration of time, requires that you continually supply your muscles with the RIGHT fuel. Another note: shivering uses up vast amounts of muscle glycogen, so if you DO get cold, having the extra energy is vital!

These are all simple precautions to take seriously, as being prepared for the worst case scenario will take little effort compared to the dire consequences of being ignorantly ill-prepared. This is a matter of being SMART when you plan ahead. The journey becomes stress-free because you KNOW you have the ability to respond to any situation that may come up.

Indoor Fun

If you absolutely cannot handle the -30C degrees out there (I don’t blame you), then get ready to sweat indoors! This is going to take some motivation, so get out your big, pumping tunes and prepare to blast yourself into action! Music can be an amazing motivator for getting the heart rate up and for lightening up the spirit.

If at first you just feel like dancing then go for it! Bounce around with the wild abandon of a child on chocolate! That in itself will get a rolling sweat going! Roll around on the floor, skip yourself into frenzy, spin in circles on the linoleum until your dizzy, toss your legs overhead into a hand-stand (make sure all the furniture, expensive ornaments and Christmas tree is out of the way!)…

Act on your instinctual impulses and let yourself go! Remember the 80’s aerobics craze? Get those knees up, twist and jump and swivel…

A set of stairs can also be a life-saver. Experiment with all of the different kinds of step-ups you can do: lateral, fast, double, hop-ups to the front and side. Mix it up!

No need for fancy work-out equipment- use your own body resistance: push-ups, crunches, back extensions, lunges, squats, wall sits, dips, planks and bridges! The combinations of sets, repetitions, isometric holds, and speeds which you can perform all of these exercises is endless.

If you are more the social type, call up a friend and make a date to hit the gym or the racket court together. Challenge one another with some healthy competition and keep yourselves on your toes!

Or, contact your personal trainer (or myself) to come to your home. This is absolutely stress-free on your part, convenient and a guarantee you’ll stay on track through-out the holiday season!

  • Staying Active in the Deep-Freeze!
  • by Michelle McGrath
  • Published on December 22nd, 2008

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