The obvious challenge to cardiovascular routines in the winter months is colder temperatures; it gives us new considerations. The resulting outdoor conditions, depending on geography, may be prohibitive of some activity.
For those people working out in the comfort of a fitness or sports club year round, winter may not be a serious disruption; but, there are still some seasonal aspects to consider.
Warming up and knowing when and how to stretch becomes a major consideration in cold weather! The pre-workout warm-up period is of much greater importance than the pre-workout stretch in cold weather, and if performed at all, stretching should fall in as part of or subsequent to the warm up. Proceeding into vigorous activity when the body is “cold” is much more likely to lead to injury than not stretching.
Warming up consists of some light activity to raise one’s respiratory rate, increase blood flow throughout the entire body, and elevate core temperature. The warm up appropriately loosens dormant muscles, reduces tightness in all soft tissues, and increases blood flow into and out of muscles. A good warm up could consist of 5 to 15 minutes of one or more of the following:
- Walking briskly,
- Performing several sets of a particular exercise, or a variety of exercises, with lighter weight,
- Jumping jacks,
- Jogging in place, or
- Jumping rope for several minutes or until mildly perspiring.
If you are warming up indoors, be sure not wear all the clothing you plan to wear out of doors. Throw on the additional layers just before stepping out the door or you will probably find yourself feeling chilled.
Options In or Out of Doors
There are many options for the main mode of a cardiovascular routine in the winter months, indoors as well as outdoors.
If, for any number of reasons, you intend to conduct your cardiovascular workouts indoors during the winter, you might choose:
- Stationary bicycling
- Rowing machines
- Stair Climbing Machines
- Running tracks
- Jogging in building hallways
- Jumping rope
Stationary cycling is already widely popular as the go-to activity in cardiovascular routines for fitness club members and home participants. As such, winter may only be apparent by looking at a calendar; distances, times, inclines, resistances, and climate should be the same.
Indoor swimming pools and lap pools are an almost seamless way to transition from a warm- to cold-weather cardiovascular routine. Perhaps the only drawback of heading indoors, probably apparent to a highly competitive swimmer only, is that some indoor pools may be too warm! Otherwise, summer pool principles and practices of performing laps will be essentially the same in the winter.
One indoor swimming option that will alter practice too a degree is a “counter-current pool.” This aquatic equivalent of a treadmill will limit you to straight swims with adjustments for time and speed. Of course, an uninterrupted 1 mile swim in a half hour may be a very desirable cardiovascular routine to some as it removes the narrow lanes and flips every 50 meters inherent with standard pools. Simply set the water flow speed and swim duration and begin your stroke!
Climbing real stairs can be a serious aerobic workout with the potential to serve as an exclusive cardiovascular routine for people stuck indoors. Depending on the rise height from step to step, the number of stairs, and the speed at which the stairs are climbed, stair climbing will demand varying levels of flexibility, strength, and endurance. The rhythmic nature of the activity becomes a serious challenge for the heart and lungs if there are many flights of stairs. It is as perfect an activity for urbanites living in multi-story apartment complexes as it is for young athletes in northern latitudes training in the confines of their high school or college. Try “doing the loop” of scaling three to six stories, jogging hallways, descending stairs, and jogging another hallway; when you return to your starting point, repeat your planned course several more times.
Stair climbing machines, elliptical (i.e., cross country) machines, and treadmills are found in most contemporary fitness facilities. The machines were made to satisfy the desire to conveniently improve basic human endurance in a predictable manner within a controlled environment. The onset of winter makes them all the more practical.
Jumping rope, among its benefits, will improve cardiovascular (i.e., heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries) and respiratory (i.e., lungs) endurance. For heart-oriented activity, the best equipment choice is a lightweight speed rope made of vinyl or plastic and finished with plastic beads. A rope jumping workout can be done on the wood floor of a family room; if scratching your floor is a concern, simply throw down a plastic sheet or head to a gymnasium. Try basic jumping (i.e., both feet leaving and reconnecting with the ground at the same time) continuously for 15 minutes.
If you are ready to brave the elements and Mother Nature’s wrath outdoors, you may look to the following choices:
- Cycling (with rain but without snowfall and ice)
- Running (with or without rain or snowfall)
- Cross-country skiing
With the proper attitude, clothing and equipment, cardiovascular routines can continue through winter in challenging conditions. If your cardiovascular routine is to run 3 miles in your neighborhood but 4 inches of snow has fallen, it doesn’t mean you can’t still run your usual route.
Running in the snow and/or rain when it’s cold calls for a breathable base layer of clothing, an insulating mid-layer depending on temperature, and a wind blocking and water repelling outer layer plus gloves, a hat, some lip balm, and acceptance of returning home with wet sock, at the least.
The additional clothing will probably degrade the time it would otherwise take you to cover the distance due to added weight, higher wind resistance, and your own “misery index.” Often times, though, a run in rough weather is invigorating.
Before a cardiovascular workout in cold conditions, a deep pre-workout stretch isn’t going to be especially pleasant or productive. However, after a cardiovascular workout, static (i.e., with constant tension, not bouncing), deep stretching in a well-heated room will be most beneficial in warding off chills, muscle soreness and tightening. It is while “cooling down,” but not too quickly on cold days, after sustained activity for cardiovascular development that muscles and tendons engorged with warm blood will be most responsive to extending beyond their usual range of motion.
With so many options, besides the importance of regular exercise, there is no reason to avoid working out in the winter; cardiovascular routines can be adjusted for the season. Cold temperatures, snow, rain, club membership or not, everyone can find an activity to work the heart and lungs even when there is a chill outside.