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Why winter is the perfect time to work out – plus five outdoorsy exercises

It’s cold, wet and windy, and the last thing you want to do is head outside for a workout.

However, if you override your excuses and embrace the elements, there are many psychological and physiological benefits to be had when it comes to training outdoors in winter.

‘The optimum temperature for endurance-based exercise is 11 degrees C,’ says Professor Greg Whyte OBE, a world-renowned sports scientist.

‘We might not like being cold, but the irony is, the colder the weather, the better and easier it is for us to exercise. When we are cold, we create heat through muscular contraction (movement), including shivering thermogenesis, which can lead to a ten-fold increase in energy expenditure.

This means, the shiver you have when you get cold is actually increasing energy expenditure and thus you burn more calories.’

And it’s not just calorie burn that you benefit from. The body lacks vitamin D in winter (obtained from direct sunlight and nutrition) and research suggests that Vitamin D might help with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

‘SAD is commonly known as the winter blues,’ says Greg. ‘But there’s a misconception we need bright, Mediterranean days to increase Vitamin D because exposure of any intensity has a positive effect.’

Not only can Vitamin D help with SAD, but it also helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body – the nutrients needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

‘It’s a very important vitamin,’ adds Greg. ‘The immune system relies heavily on it, muscle mass is linked to it, as is the health of the skeletal system.’

Aside from these physiological benefits, there’s also the psychological aspects: the enjoyment you get from your chosen discipline (whether that’s HIIT, running or cycling), plus the feelgood chemicals that are released when you exercise.

However, the key to outdoor training is preparation.

‘The saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment” rings true here,’ says Greg.

‘About three quarters of the energy we produce is dissipated as heat. In cold conditions that keeps us warm, but you want to avoid getting wet and that can come from sweating.

Wicking fabrics will keep you dry when it’s raining, but also allow sweat to move outside of the clothing.

Layers are also important so you can change up or down to achieve thermal comfort.

And think about your extremities, as reduced blood flow to the fingers, nose, ears and toes are more susceptible in cold weather. So, it is important to protect these areas in the deeper winter months.’

Once your kit is sorted, Greg advises planning your session.

You don’t want to get too sweaty during a warm-up inside – ‘your clothes can get wet and that can be counter-productive when you go outside in the cold’ – neither do you want to spend too much time inactive outside – ‘another negative impact on performance’ – so mobilise (stretch) inside and start your warm-up as soon as you go out, slowly building momentum.

‘We tend to hit it too hard too early as we want to generate heat and get warm,’ he adds.

After your session, go inside and shower. ‘People tend to stand around in the cold while wet through sweat resulting in an increased potential danger of hypothermia,’ Greg says.

Finally, hydrate. ‘You’re more likely to be dehydrated in a cold environment than when it’s hot for several reasons,’ says Greg. ‘Firstly, the cold weather causes the constriction of blood vessels, which makes your blood pressure rise. This causes us to secret a hormone called ADH, which makes you urinate more.

‘Also, in cold air you lose fluid through your breath. The wrong kit means you might sweat more and our drive for thirst is suppressed in cold environments. Basically, in the cold, we lose more fluid than we consume, so you’re more likely to become dehydrated.’

Gee Leary, chief fitness instructor for No1 Bootcamp has devised some exercises you can do using your winter environment as a gym

1. Leaves

‘Scoop up a big pile with both arms and slam them down into the floor as hard as you can.

A very similar movement to the slam ball, this uses body weight and works lots of the upper body including shoulders, triceps and pecs.’

2. Snow

‘If we’re lucky enough to get some this year, snow can be a great fat burner as you have to use your whole body and balance to pull your legs out each time you tread.

Another exercise to build the leg muscles, you will build fitness and strength doing this exercise.’

3. Puddles

‘Great for plyometric jumps, the bigger the puddle the better. Just be sure you can make the distance, or you’ll end up with wet feet.

Add puddle jumps to your HIIT workout as they get the heart rate up, or as set/reps to develop muscular endurance and strength. Remember to keep your core tight.’

4. Muddy Hills

‘Hill climbs are a great way to build up your glutes and boost cardiovascular fitness. Really dig your feet into the mud as you climb.

The slippery surface will also activate your core to stabilise you. It’s a killer on glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.’

5. A bench

‘You don’t want your hands on a cold bench for very long, so instead of normal press-ups, try press-up clasps. In a press-up position, go down and when you come up push hard and fast so your hands leave the bench and clap in front of your chest. A great one for chest, shoulders and serratus anterior muscle.’

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