Well folks, 2014 has come and gone. And despite the fact that we had an amazingly warm December, the hard truth is that the cold and the snow are upon us. Even as I sit here writing this article, I am bundled up in double layers, trying not to think about the fact that it is 11 degrees outside. However, it is important to remember that winter is not always a dismal thing (unless of course another polar vortex shows its ugly face). In truth, winter provides many an opportunity to participate in sports that would otherwise not be able to engage in. Skiing, ice skating, and hockey will be highlighted in this article.

Skiing is perhaps the most popular winter sport of them all. Some already know of my disastrous attempt at skiing. Unfortunately, I could not control my speed. I would end up just going faster and faster until I had to crash on purpose to avoid slamming into someone else. But for those with more skill, or with a higher ability to master control, skiing can provide a great workout. Not only will it challenge you cardiovascularly, but it can also have a strengthening effect, especially for your anterior leg musculature (quadriceps and shins). As you’re skiing downhill, you have to shift your weight forward in your ski boots so that your shin muscles and quadriceps isometrically contract to keep you from falling over. Well, obviously this didn’t even work that well for me. But as I started to get a little better, I really noticed a strong burn in my quads and shins by the time I reached the bottom of the slope. But beginners beware; I would strongly recommend taking some precautionary measures before heading out to the slopes for the first time. The bunny slope is your friend.

Ice skating is another favorite winter sport and we have lots of opportunity with it here in Chicago with the opening of the ski ribbon at the newly opened Maggie Daley Park. I personally don’t have much experience with ice skating but I have had clients who have and they can attest for the many positive effects that it can have. Just like skiing, it can provide a great cardiovascular workout. One major strength benefit of ice skating is that it help to strengthen and improve balance- something that we all need to think about at a certain point. It also calls into play several stabilizing muscles as well, especially around the ankle, knee, and hip joints. The core is also once again called into action. Large muscle groups are also worked, especially the glutes. Have you noticed that most ice skaters have really nice bums? Just another reason to give it a try!

And let’s not forget about hockey. I actually used to love playing floor hockey when I was in school. It was one of the few sports that I was actually good at. But ice hockey is completely different and in a word of its own. As far as benefits, it provides most if not all of the same physical benefits as skiing and ice skating, both cardiovascularly and in terms of strength. In addition to the physical gains associated with hockey, there is also something to be said for the mental health benefits that come with playing the game. Exercise itself can improve your mood because of the endorphins that are released, easing feelings of depression, stress and anxiety. As a form of exercise, hockey provides this benefit, but there’s an added brain boost that comes with the sport as well. Hockey demands good decision-making, and honing these skills on the ice or field can also be transferred to everyday life.

Even though hockey comes with a number of health benefits, there are also some risks associated with the sport that should also be noted. Like any physical activity, playing hockey can result in injury. To reap the full health benefits of hockey, you should practice safety tips to avoid getting hurt. These include wearing the appropriate protective gear, warming up and cooling down before and after playing and practicing good sportsmanship.

Of course with all three of these sports, it is very important to wear proper athletic wear. Proper insulation is paramount to avoid hypothermia. Hydration is also key as it is with any other sport.

While all three of these sports provide a great many health benefits, they are still not enough n and of themselves. Yes, this is where trainer Michael gives his speech. Consistent aerobic and strength training exercise is very important for all of us, not only for the physical benefits, but also for the carry- over benefits that it has for both life and sport. Engaging in these winter sports at a serious level is going to be far easier if a base level of strength is established first. And while it is true that these sports have a stronger effect on the lower body, it is still very important to train the upper body and the core as well. This will allow the body will be able to move more solidly and gracefully as a whole unit. To strength train the entire body, it is important to perform exercises that provide resistance through the six basic movement patterns: squat, push, pull, bend, lunge, and twist. Examples of each are as follows:

Squat-: A free weight squat with a barbell or a Smith Machine Squat
Push: Push- Ups or a Flat Barbell Bench Press
Pull: Pull- ups, seated row.
Bend: Crunches or Reverse Crunches
Lunge: Dumbbell lunges or Smith Machine lunges.
Twist: Cable trunk rotations.

When it comes to specifically training the core for winter sports, the Stability Ball is always a valuable tool. It challenges one’s balance and therefore targets the deepest of the abdominal muscles, the Transverse Abdominus. This muscle is responsible for drawing the abdominal wall inward, and therefore can help to achieve the flat tummy look we all love so much. The Stability Ball Crunch can provide a strong carry- over training effect for winter sports as it places great emphasis on the abdominals but also calls the obliques into action as stabilizing muscles. Strength training exercises for the entire body can also be performed on the Stability Ball. This should be done by more advanced athletes who have already achieved general strength for the entire body. The ball allows them to have a core workout for the entire full body session because their balance is constantly being challenged.

Aerobic cross training can also be a wonderful tool for preparing for these winter sports. Cross training simply means to vary your exercise on a daily or weekly basis. For example, performing 15 minutes of aerobic activity on the treadmill, followed by 15 minutes on the stationary bike, followed by 15 minutes on the stair mill would be an example of aerobic cross training. Without incorporating cross training, the nervous system starts to slow down. It is also a very good idea to mimic the movement of the sport through other forms of aerobic exercise. This can be done by playing sports such as soccer, squash, volleyball, or even chasing your dog in the sand. Running or biking outdoors on a varied terrain is also great for preparation.

And let’s not forget about stretching! It is very important to discover which areas of the body are tight and then work on increasing the range of motion in that particular area. The body moves as a whole during these winter sports, and just as you want the entire body to be strong, you should also want the entire body to be flexible. The best way to stretch is to hold a stretch for 30 seconds taking deep breaths and gradually pushing yourself further into the stretch. You should never push yourself to the point of sharp pain and you should never bounce while you stretch.

This may all sound overwhelming, but it is important to remember the most important thing of all- have fun! Like I said, these sports only come around once a year, so take advantage of them while you can. Yes it is important to prepare and to use caution, but the ultimate goal is to enjoy yourself. Getting fit while having fun is a wonderful combination, so hop to it. I hope to see you on the ice!