You have the hockey skates. Snowshoes. Nordic skis. All the appropriate winter accessories. And you dig the idea of getting out and using all that cool gear. On a regular basis. Yet it often seems like such an undertaking to layer up, decide which gear you want to use, then grab it, go somewhere and lace up or step into the bindings. Once you're out there, it sometimes feels kind of old hat. Obligatory. Like tundra duty.
Lighten up, Björn-Olaf. You have such an acute case of seasonal-activity disorder that you can be diagnosed from all the way across the vast frozen expanse of Lake Mendota.
Here's the cure: Introduce a little imagination into your winter workout routine to make it a) less routine and b) more fun. Your prescription is to get back to playing. Outside. In the snow.
Start with post-holing. Strike that. Start by consulting your physician to make sure you don't have any underlying medical conditions that might put you at heightened risk of injury, death or other calamity that may befall you. Going out to play in the snow implies your tacit assumption of these risks.
Now go post-holing. This refers to the way one's foot plunges through the snow's surface and sinks until the snow has compressed enough to support your weight. Inadvisable in deep snow (where your entire leg may plunge through the surface until you find yourself up to your hips, waist or even deeper misfortune), it's the sort of experience that, when done inadvertently, can inspire exclamations such as "Help!" or "D'oh!"
But doing it on purpose, in snow somewhere between shin- and knee-deep, at your favorite neighborhood park, renders anything between strolling and sprinting that much more of a workout. Forced into an exaggerated march-like gait, you'll engage your abs and hip flexors as well as your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes and lower back. A sturdy pair of heavy calf-high winter boots (such as rubbery pac boots with cozy felt liners) can further increase the workload on your cardiovascular system. Depending on snow depth and quality, you may find yourself flailing your arms to maintain balance. Passersby may shoo away their children, but your heart rate will climb in a hurry. As a point of etiquette, avoid tromping over any existing cross-country ski tracks.
Cross-country snowboarding is next. A brief mockumentary about this purported sport was uploaded to YouTube last winter, showing enthusiasts hopping their planks across flat ground instead of traversing steep terrain parks. It looks goofy, but once you stop laughing, it hits you: Between the leg thrusts, the flapping arms and the engagement of many muscle groups, this is a great full-body training regimen for days when you can't get to a hill or a half-pipe.
Third exercise: moving snow. For those with a clean bill of health, shoveling the white stuff may be the best single all-around full-body strength and cardiovascular conditioning activity ever conceived - provided you maintain strict form to protect your lower back and other parts of your physique that may be most vulnerable to injury, including your heart. People are always dropping dead of heart attacks while shoveling snow, so start easy, pace yourself, take frequent breaks and dial back to a smaller shovel.
If the moisture content is high enough, rolling snow into a big ball can start as an aerobic activity but end with anaerobic gasping. Whether you build a snowman, snow fort or some great lone glacial erratic, this is another activity you can really put your back into - along with everything else. And if your ambitions aren't quite so big, you can shape the snow into something like a medicine ball and export that part of your indoor fitness routine to the great outdoors.
Exercise four: snow lunges. The cushioning properties of snow make this cornerstone of core conditioning a great candidate to move outdoors. Start by dialing back the number of reps and sets, slow down the motion, adhere to strict form, and build from there. Once you gain proficiency at both forward and side lunges, break out your snowshoes or cross-country skis to introduce an added degree of difficulty - and humility.
Exercise five: Take your summer game out into the snow. Badminton, volleyball, softball, soccer and Ultimate all become different sports in the snow. Fresh powder adds extra resistance for running and jumping, but also affords a softer landing when you sacrifice yourself by launching into full horizontal layout to make a play. As with the previous exercises, start slow, know your limits, stay within easy hailing distance of help, and respect the wintry conditions. Bring plenty of fuel to replace the extra calories your body burns to stay warm in cold weather, and an ample supply of water or your favorite sports beverage to stay hydrated in winter's low humidity. Also pack extra moisture-wicking layers so you can stay in the comfort zone between hypothermia and hyperthermia.
Finally, follow these five exercises back to your winter sport of choice with revived appreciation for playing in the cold. Lace up your skates or step into your bindings and transfer your renewed sense of fun to those activities you love most - the more traditional cold-weather sports that make winters such a pleasure here in the Scandinavia of south central Wisconsin.