Maintain fitness (sans frostbite) by transitioning your walking, running or cycling routine to the gym during cold and snowy months.
If you happen to live in a part of the country that’s blanketed by snow between January and April, it can feel nearly impossible to stick to a year-round outdoor exercise routine. There are benefits to working out in the cold, blustery air but treacherous icy pavement can make working out inside a lot more appealing. To help you make the most of your indoor exercise, we talked to fitness experts about how to use your gym’s cardio equipment to mimic outdoor conditions for fitness walking, running and cycling. Here, what you need to know about treadmill settings, injury prevention and beating the winter blahs.
Walking can be one of the easiest ways to stay active, but if your favorite route is buried in snow, you won’t be getting far without a pair of snowshoes. Instead, take a detour to the nearest treadmill and follow these tips for a warm and toasty indoor walking workout.
Make it feel real. Whether you log miles in the park, on city streets, or up and down the beach during warm weather months, take into consideration the type of terrain you are accustomed to walking on and try to mimic that flat or hilly terrain on the treadmill.
“You can do this by increasing the incline to a point at which it’s challenging but not to so tough that you have to hold to the hand rails, as this leads to improper form,” says Melissa Paris, a personal trainer in New York City. “Find your comfortable walking pace and then transition back and forth between incline levels to mimic an outdoor program.”
Keep up your frequency. Continue with the same number of indoor walking workouts per week that you were performing outdoors, advises Paris.
Don’t go below baseline. Set the treadmill at an incline no lower than a 1.0, as a 1 to 2 percent gradient is the ideal setting to mimic flat outdoor terrain.
Listen to your body. An advantage of treadmill walking is that you have more of an opportunity to focus on form as you’ll be less distracted by the scenery around you. Listen to how your feet are landing.
“If you hear pounding, you may be going too fast and may need to slow the pace,” says Paris.
Expect a little soreness. Any time you switch up your fitness routine and introduce your body to something new, you’re bound to be a little sore. Pay attention to how your body feels, concentrating on your joints and any areas that are quick to tighten up, like your hamstrings and lower back, and don’t forget to stretch before your indoor workout, says Paris.
Don’t get lazy.
“People tend to push themselves more outdoors,” says Jason Machowsky, owner of JM Wellness, author of the Savor Fitness and Nutrition wellness blog, and chief education officer of MyBodyTutor. “Maybe it’s the scenery and no controlled pace.”
To keep your indoor walking workouts challenging (and to beat boredom), Machowsky recommends performing intervals, increasing speed or incline every 20 or 30 seconds, returning to your starting intensity once that time has passed.
If you’ve ever found that after months of training on the treadmill, you log fewer miles at a slower pace once you hit the pavement, you understand that there are major differences between treadmill and road running when it comes to miles and speed. Use these tips to help make your indoor workouts feel like the real thing so you can hit the ground running come spring.
Add incline. Since the treadmill belt assists with leg turnover rate, treadmill running feels a lot easier than road running, explains Susan Paul, training program director at Track Shack Orlando. To negate this effect, she suggests adding a slight incline of 1 or 2 percent.
Schedule speed sessions.
“The ‘ease’ [of treadmill running] can also work to your advantage,” says Paul, who suggests using the treadmill as a tool for speed training. “The treadmill can help you learn to run faster and increase your leg turnover rate,” she says.
But keep in mind that your speed on the treadmill does not translate exactly to your speed on the road. In addition to the belt assisting your leg turnover rate, the treadmill’s surface “gives” more than asphalt, making for a more cushioned run, Paul explains. Plus, there aren’t weather conditions such as wind to battle, she adds.
Tackle at least two runs.
“To maintain fitness, two runs a week are adequate,” says Paul, who recommends performing one short, intense run using speed intervals or increasing the incline and another run that focuses on a longer distance at an easier pace. “You can use time or distance as your guide for measurement on the treadmill, just be consistent with either one to measure progress.”
Improve speed with interval workouts. To boost speed, Paul suggests this strategy. Add a 1 percent incline and warm up with a 1-mile or 10- to 15-minute run. Then increase your speed gradually until you are running hard. Hold that pace for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then back off and recover for 1 minute. Gradually increase the time to 5 minutes of “hard” and 1 minute of “easy.” Cool down with an easy 10-minute run.
Head for the hills. The treadmill also can be used for hill training. Paul suggests this workout: Warm up with a 1-mile or 10- to 15-minute run. Then increase the incline, running at 2 percent incline for 2 minutes, then back down to your starting speed and incline, and finally recover for 1 minute. Next, increase the incline to 3 percent and run for 3 minutes. Back down for 1 minute and recover, then move on to 4 minutes at 4 percent, and so on. Cool down with an easy 10-minute run.
Don’t hate, calibrate. If the readings on the treadmill for speed and incline don’t feel accurate, ask the staff at your fitness center how often the treadmills are calibrated, suggests Paul.
“Calibrating treadmills periodically is important because this process resets them to zero, much like a scale,” she says.
Ease back into outdoor running. When transitioning back to the road, you’ll go through a “hardening” phase, notes Paul.
“Because the pavement does not give, muscles absorb much of the shock, so ease back onto the road as spring approaches,” she says. Try one outdoor run per week, then two outdoor runs the next week, three the following week, and so on, suggests Paul.
“Indoor cycling during the winter months can either be a fantastic tool for training, or a complete nightmare,” says Shauna Staveley, a strength and conditioning specialist at TotalCyclist in Charlotte, N.C. “The easiest way to turn winter indoor cycling into the latter is to do it all the time, and do nothing else.”
The bottom line: For better results on the road come spring, break away from your bike — just a little bit — during winter months. Use these tips to help structure your training sessions.
Don’t go spin crazy. Although spin classes are a great way to maintain overall fitness during winter months, cyclists should be cautious with training frequency, warns Staveley.
“Spin classes are often too strenuous, and too much intensity during the winter months will not allow a cyclist to recover from the previous cycling season,” she says. “Remember: recovery is where gains are made.”
If spin classes are your only way to squeeze in interval training, limit yourself to one class per week and maintain a cadence of around 90 to 95 revolutions per minute, suggests Staveley.
“This means there’s no need to set the spin resistance so low that you are bouncing out of your seat, or a resistance so high the cadence is reduced to stomping on the pedals,” Staveley said.
Don’t overdo it.
“Cyclists should have one day of intervals a week; that’s it!” says Staveley. “Properly executed indoor cycling can give a cyclist just the amount of interval work needed to get faster and stay fit.”
Choose your cadence wisely.
“Too high a cadence will cause the heart rate to skyrocket without the legs really doing much, and too low a cadence will utilize leg strength, but will tire the legs out due to an inefficient pedal stroke,” explains Staveley. “The greater reliance on leg strength, the more fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited to apply force, and those can only be used for short periods of time before fatigue sets in.”
Try a high-tech training facility. A computrainer class — a training session in which a cyclist’s own bicycle is placed on a trainer with resistance individually adjusted according to specific power data via computer software — is a more realistic option for indoor cycling training than a spin class, says Staveley, who coaches computrainer courses throughout the year.
Cross-train to battle winter blahs. To combat boredom and seasonal weight gain, Staveley suggests cyclists use cold and snowy months to focus on other forms of weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, yoga, and resistance training.
“Cycling is primarily an aerobic sport, relying on slow twitch muscle fibers,” she says, noting that training fast twitch muscle fibers and increasing leg strength and power are also important, as fast twitch fibers come into play during hill repeats, sprints, attacks, and tough mountain climbs. Resistance training can improve force application, rate of force development, and effort at a given workload, says Staveley.
Slide out of the saddle.
“A cyclist should remember that sitting in the same position for hours at a time can lead to overuse injuries and other pain if imbalances and weaknesses are not corrected,” says Staveley. “It’s like sitting at the office all day, only with far worse posture.” Weak or inactive glutes, tight or weak hamstrings, and shortened muscles that result from constantly leaning forward on the bike are common causes of lower back pain for cyclists, she says.
Focus on flexibility. A few times a week, spend time loosening up your cycling muscles.
“Tightness can be a problem not only for getting into an aerodynamic position, but also performance itself,” says Staveley, who suggests a yoga class or an at-home stretching routine that hits hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, chest, and shoulders. “Flexibility only improves when the effort is consistent,” she says.
Whether you’re a walker, runner or cyclist, chances are that when temps are tolerable, you spend as much time outside as possible — and perhaps you slack a little on total-body conditioning. This winter, take full advantage of your indoor exercise time. Use it to tone and strengthen all of your muscle groups instead of sticking only to those used in your sport.
Concentrate on your core.
“While strengthening the legs is important, having a strong trunk [everything from the shoulders to hips, including abs, chest, and back] is vitally important to [walking, running, and cycling], as a stable trunk promotes better limb movement and efficiency leading to better performance,” says Machowsky.
Don’t be afraid to have fun. Winter months are a great time to try a new group fitness class, such as Zumba, martial arts or a sports conditioning class, suggests Paris.
“You can still break a great sweat while focusing on core or leg strength during a total-body-conditioning workout,” she says.
Take a dip in the (heated) pool. If a spring, summer, and fall of endurance exercise has left you with an overtraining injury and in search of a low-impact form of exercise that works your whole body, try tossing your workout into the water.
“Swimming is a great cross-training exercise that includes both resistance and endurance components,” says Machowsky.
Hit the slopes. Instead of fighting the snow, bundle up and use it to your strength training advantage.
“Skiing is fantastic for total body toning — glutes, hamstrings, quads, back and abs, and arms,” says Paris. Just be sure to stretch before hitting the mountain, as skiing and snowboarding can be extra challenging if your warm weather workouts have not incorporated components of flexibility and balance, she adds.
Stomp your way slim. If flying down a mountain sounds like a frightening feat, try snowshoeing instead. It’s still a great total-body workout, but it’s less taxing on your joints and safer for your muscles if you have not regularly stretched your hamstrings and lower back, says Paris.
Distributed by MCT Information Services