Follow this expert advice and you can turn the dreary end-of-winter months into a launching pad for super spring fitnessBy: Jason Sumner
Good news: Since December 21, daylight hours have begun to increase, signaling the steady march toward spring and the return of warmer weather. But there’s still plenty of winter left. For many people, that means waning motivation.Flexibility: loosen up
So how can you beat the winter doldrums, and be ready to spring into action when the season officially changes on March 20? “Start by setting a goal,” says Matt Fitzgerald, a certified sports nutritionist, endurance sports coach, and author of numerous fitness books, including Racing Weight Quick Start Guide. “You’re much more likely to follow through if you have something specific you’re trying to achieve.”
The following six tips will help you stay committed and fuel your fitness for the warmer days to come.
One of the best ways to stick to a fitness routine is by signing up for an event. “Your odds of success are much better if you start with a tangible goal,” says Fitzgerald, CISSN. “Instead of just saying, ‘I want to lose weight by running more,’ sign up for a marathon or a 10-K. Now instead of just a task, you’ve got something to aim for—and look forward to.”
The Internet is full of free marathon training plans. Typical beginner plans last about 16 weeks, meaning if you start training in mid-February, you’ll be ready to run 26.2 miles come mid-June.
Get started with the Runner’s World Half-Marathon Jumpstart!
New toys aren’t just for kids. Purchasing a fitness gadget such as a power meter, heart-rate monitor or GPS-enabled watch can be a great way to spur motivation, says Frank Overton, owner and head coach at FasCat Coaching in Boulder, Colorado.
“A new gadget can help you be more precise with your workouts,” adds Overton, who specializes in cycling and has worked with numerous U.S. national champions. “Instead of just guessing, you can target specific heart rates or power-output zones.”
Overton is also a big believer in interval training. “Once you’ve got a decent base of fitness from running or cycling, try mixing in some harder efforts,” he says. “For example, do three hard, 5-minute intervals, then do 5 minutes easy. It’s a great way to jump-start your training as you head into the warmer months.”Download one of these mobile apps for a healthier you.
Just because it’s too cold out to exercise doesn’t mean the gym is your only option.
“A lot of times people will be active during summer, but in winter they will sit on the couch and watch TV,” says Dr. Scott Riewald, PhD, CSCS, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s winter sports high performance director. “Instead, try something new like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. You’ll get a great workout and build fitness, meaning when it’s warm enough to go back to your normal routine, you’ll be ahead of the game.”
Try the same tactic when it comes to meal planning, says nutritionist Monique Ryan, MS, RD, LDN, and author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. “Winter is a great time to try new recipes,” says Ryan. “I love experimenting with the slow cooker. The meals are typically very healthy, and they’re perfect for those cold winter nights.”
Ryan suggests using in-season ingredients such as winter squash, which is high in carotene.Try these 8 great winter veggies.
You’re a lot less likely to skip a workout if your routine includes meeting a friend at a trailhead or the gym. “Having a partner can also make things more fun,” says FasCat Coaching’s Overton. “It adds a social element, meaning your workout will feel less like work, and more like fun.”
Joining an exercise group or taking a class is another great way to jump-start your fitness routine. Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer or just a weekend warrior, there’s likely a group or class that suits your interests.
“For a lot of people, the added structure makes all the difference in their motivation level,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s important to recognize what your personal tendencies are, and then go with them.”
No, we’re not talking Betty Ford Center here. Instead, think of it like spring cleaning for the body. “Maybe you broke some of your personal diet rules during the holidays; now it’s time to get back on track,” says Fitzgerald. “Pick a month and tell yourself that you’re going to make some short-term sacrifices in an effort to cleanse the body.”
Fitzgerald, a certified sports nutritionist, suggests picking one or two unhealthy items, and cutting them out of your diet for a month, replacing them with more healthy foods.
“Maybe you eliminate potato chips and double your vegetable intake,” he explains. “A month isn’t that long, so psychologically you can handle it because there is light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the month, relax your rules but don’t go all the way back to where you were before.”
Maintaining adequate water consumption is good advice any time of the year, but winter is the season when you’re most likely to fall short. “It’s easy to drink lots of water in the heat of the summer,” says Ryan. “But even when it’s cold out, you still have fluid needs. Be aware of your consumption and try to hydrate throughout the day.”
Even mild dehydration can lower energy levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. And while there is no definitive amount that should be consumed per day, a good rule of thumb is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses per day. Ryan says you’ll know you’re getting enough water if your urine is colorless. Bright yellow is probably a sign that you need to drink more.
Overall awareness of what you’re putting in your body is key, adds Fitzgerald. He suggests keeping a food journal because you’re more likely to make healthy decisions when you’re closely tracking habits.
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