Lighten Up: Baby, it’s cold outside

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT

Now that the cold weather is officially upon us, many outdoor exercise fans are opting for indoor activities. While it is of course still possible to train outdoors – I still find myself keeping an eye out for the occasional hearty cyclist on Clayton Road – most athletes have chosen to find other options for the coming winter months.

Even though the environment inside the gym is more temperate than outside, the need for a suitable warm-up is still just as important. Our bodies may become chilled just by walking from our car to the front door of the gym; as such, muscles become tighter very quickly and will be more prone to injury if not sufficiently allowed to reach a slightly elevated core temperature prior to working out.

In years past, the prevailing theory regarding warming up included many static stretches. Experts now agree that this can actually cause more harm than good, and have evolved to suggest that a quality warm-up include a light preparatory version of the work to come. If you are planning to engage in a run, either on the track or the treadmill, proper warm-up technique should include a 5 to 7 minute cardio exercise (walking, gentle cycling, etc.) to prepare the lower body for the work ahead, and to warm the leg muscles so that they can properly perform without cramping or tearing. If upper-body strength training is your main focus, it is important to similarly prepare the joints in the shoulders and arms for what is to come; arm circles get blood flowing effectively, as will one to two high-volume sets of 15-20 repetitions, using extremely light weight.

At the end of your workout, just prior to downing that all-important protein shake, take a few moments to perform some cool-down stretches. This is the time for static stretching, since the core temperature of the muscles has become safely elevated during the exercise in which you have just engaged. Think of the cool-down as your way of thanking your body for having performed so well; allowing the muscles to stretch for 30-40 seconds in each static hold will ensure that they have ample time to relax and are then ready to move you through the rest of your day.

If you are one of those adventurous types I see running and cycling outside even on snowy days, make sure your warm-up’s and cool-down’s take place at home, and extend them for a minute or two longer than you would for indoor activities. Taking these few precautionary steps will make for a safer and more enjoyable winter workout season!

Cathleen Kronemer is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.