If you’re a regular outdoor exerciser, especially in the coldest months of the year, then you already know that your muscles and body grow tighter in cooler climates, and your joint connections grow stiffer in the cold, especially as you get older. Most fitness experts do recommend that you not only warm up prior to starting your winter sports, but also finish off your activity with a few minutes of sports-specific stretching.
The brief posture series below targets overused and overworked muscles involved in cold-weather sports, especially activities where your body is folded in forward flexion. These poses relieve stress and tension in the lower back, hips, hamstrings and hip flexors, and each series is sports specific in that they’ll help boost athletic performance and prevent cold-weather injuries.
Despite Cool Weather exercise popularity, statistics on cold weather related injuries are hard to come by. One thing fitness experts do agree on, though: Running, biking and hiking outside in the cold force the body in long periods of forward flexion, leaning slightly forward from the waistline and lower back. “This postural alignment stresses major muscles of the mid- to –lower back, and tightens muscles all along the back of the body, from the upper back to the hamstrings, glutes and calves,” says Beth Shaw, avid backpacker, yoga instructor and author of “YogaFit-Second Edition” (Human Kinetics 2009). “Instead of simply stretching your legs at the end of an arduous hike, try performing this 8-minute series of yoga poses to counteract the gravitational forces of running, hiking and biking outside ” You’ll avoid injury, reduce aches and muscle tension, and be ready to tackle another mountain tomorrow.
Feel free to use these postures either before your sport, during the week to cross-train for your sport, or even afterwards, to utilize as a stretching aid. Try to hold each posture for 5 to 10 deep breaths (breathe only through the nose) as often as you can and you’ll be able to safely enjoy your favorite cold-weather activity throughout the season -- and without stray muscles strains, sprains and the occasional lower-back twinge. This series of poses counteracts the forward hinge as you run or bike and also balances muscles of the body. Hold each stretch for 20 to 40 seconds and repeat as needed.
CHEST EXPANSION (opens the chest, pulls shoulders down and back, squeezes shoulder blades together and eases mid-back muscles)
Stand with knees slightly bent and interlace hands together behind your lower back with palms as close to touching as possible. Lift arms off your butt and relax muscles of the face and neck as you arch back for 20 seconds. Then engage the belly, and slowly fall forward folding the upper body in close to the shins. Keep hands interlaced and press knuckles up to the sky for another 30 seconds. Bend knees deeply and roll up one vertebra at a time—repeat two or three times.
COBRA (strengthens and stretches postural muscles along upper- to lower-back)
Lie belly down and stretch long legs in back of you, toes touching the floor and thighs engaged. Place your hands adjacent to top of the ribcage, roll your shoulder blades down your back, look down the end of your nose and breathe deeply. Slowly begin to peel your chest off the mat, keeping bent elbows tucked into your ribcage, and hold for up to 30 seconds before slowly working in reverse until forehead touches the mat. Repeat this several times, coming up higher each time yet keeping hip bones glued to the floor.
PYRAMID POSE (eases the hamstrings, soothes the hips and lower back and stretches the spine)
Stand with right leg in front of you about a foot and left leg in back, both feet straight and parallel (not on the same line). Square your hips to the front, place hands at your hips and engage the belly. Slowly hinge forward from the hips and begin curling your torso over your front shin and hold for 20 seconds or so. Place as much body weight as you can into the rear foot, keep front right knee soft and slowly reach hands to each side of the front foot (or on the calf if hamstrings are tight). When you’re ready to come up, bend both knees and roll back up, then switch sides.
UPSIDE DOWN PIGEON (stretches the hips, glutes, legs and lower body) Lie face up on the floor with knees bent and bring knees over the belly. Cross right ankle over left knee and reach through to grasp left hamstring with both hands. Flex your right foot and point your right toes and keep your tailbone on the mat at all times. To deepen the stretch, you might pull left knee in toward the body and hold for 30 seconds before you switch sides. Repeat twice.
Ski and Snowshoe
Building lower-body strength and muscular endurance is key for traditional skiers and shredders. In addition to these traits, it’s helpful to zero in on core strength to boost involvement in your sport, and also important to release the stress in your quads.
• Note: All exercise descriptions to come
Seated Straddle Splits
Snowboard and Cross-Country
Balance is a primary focus for beginner snowboarders, but also conditioning the inner- and outer thighs, hamstrings and hips will greatly kick start your performance and allow you to play on the slopes for a longer amount of time with stronger muscles.
In addition to finding equilibrium and stretching through the hips and lower body as much as possible, ice skaters also require balance, coordination and extreme core strength. Skaters (and hockey players and the like) should spend time on these poses both before and after their sport of choice.
Stay safe during cold-weather exercise
Almost everyone can exercise safely during cold weather. But if you have certain conditions, such as asthma, or heart problems check with your doctor before you work out in cold weather.
Dress in layers
One of the biggest mistakes you can make while exercising in cold weather is to dress too warmly. Exercise generates a considerable amount of heat — enough to make you feel like it's much warmer than it really is. Yet, once your sweat starts to dry, you can get chilled.
Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed. First, put on a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. A heavy down jacket or vest may cause you to overheat if you're exercising hard. If you're lean, you may need more insulation than someone who is heavier. If it's very cold, consider wearing a face mask or scarf to warm the air before it enters your lungs.
Protect your hands, feet and ears
When it's cold, blood flow is concentrated on your body's core, leaving your hands and feet vulnerable to frostbite. Try wearing a thin pair of gloves under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. Use mittens or gloves before your hands become cold and then remove them if your hands begin to sweat.
Buy work out shoes a half-size or one size larger than usual to allow for thick thermal socks or an extra pair of regular socks. Wear a cool hat or earmuffs to protect your ears, which also are vulnerable to frostbite.
Pay attention to weather conditions and wind chill
Exercising when it's cold and raining can make you more vulnerable to the cold. If you get soaked, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature high enough, and layering won't help if your clothes are wet. If it's extremely cold, you may need to take your exercise indoors or skip it for a day or two.
Wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe even if you dress warmly. The wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body, and any exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite.
If the temperature dips well below 0 F (-17.8 C) or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor activity instead, or take extra precautions if you choose to exercise outdoors anyway.
Choose appropriate gear
If it's dark when you exercise outside, wear reflective clothing. To stay steady on your feet, choose footwear with enough traction to prevent falls, especially if it's icy or snowy. Wear a helmet while skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. Chemical heat packs may warm up your hands or feet.
Outdoor exercise is one of the most refreshing and exciting forms of Winter cardiovascular exercises around. Be safe, do yoga and enjoy fitness year round.
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