Snow slows things down. It's one of its blessings, but it's also a bane—a potential barrier to winter exercise for people who want to get in shape or who like working out outdoors. And even if losing weight isn't this year's top New Year's resolution, every January there are plenty of us who vow to slim down only to find ourselves snowed in at the get-go. "Many people look at snow as an obstacle to serious exercise," says often-snowy Salt Lake City–based trainer Gregory Florez, CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services, which partners with companies to help them maximize their wellness programs, and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. "But snowy conditions provide the perfect opportunity to mix up your routine and demand different things from your body." In other words, you can make the snow work for you, and for your workout.
Here's how to get a workout from the next wintry mix:
Try snowshoeing. If you can walk, you can snowshoe, says Florez—and if you can snowshoe, you can walk without slipping or sliding on the snow. See our snowshoeing guide for help getting started with this easy-to-do winter exercise.
No snowshoes? Step out anyway. While snowshoes provide a more intense workout than simply walking on the snow ("There’s more surface area," explains Florez, "plus, you can go uphill on snowshoes"), don’t immediately dismiss a snowy walk as a workout option. "In fact, walking in the snow requires more energy and provides more resistance than walking on solid ground," says Florez, "so Nordic walking—or, walking on snow with trekking poles for balance and support—is an excellent way to get out of the house and get some exercise." Just make sure you dress warmly, in waterproof clothing, you wear boots or shoes with gaiters to keep your feet dry, and you tromp on unpacked snow for a more intense, less slippery workout.
Run in the snow. Don't let cold or snowy trails be a deterrent to running—buy some simple athletic-shoe add-ons that will give your footwear a better grip. Florez likes Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats for Snow and Ice (from $26 to $32 per pair). These simple rubber devices slip onto your running shoes and provide far greater traction on snow without requiring you to adjust your stride. For greater stability in general, however, Florez recommends running in a slightly more upright position, taking shorter steps, and always scanning the path ahead for icy patches.
Go cross-country. Like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing on flat ground requires little expertise but can demand great effort. In fact, "cross-country skiing is the single most aerobically demanding sport in the world," posits Florez. "It's a total-body exercise that combines both resistance training (pushing your skis through snow) and aerobic exercise (again, pushing your skis through snow)." Rent nonwax cross-country skis at a local sporting-goods store, and head out to a park or golf course for an excellent workout that burns calories without requiring skiing expertise.
Play with your kids. Pulling your child around in a sled isn't all that different from pushing him or her in a stroller, points out Florez—it's just tougher, since there's more resistance. But that makes the activity an excellent workout option when your kids are home from school on a snow day and you still want to slip in some exercise. "Likewise, sledding or tubing can work as a workout, as well," he says. "Sure, you're sliding down a hill, but you have to slog back up. Get in 10 or 12 runs, and you'll have put in a light-to-moderate set of hill repeats." Your kids will get some physical activity, too—at least until you carry them home.
See our Winter Survival Guide for more advice on combating winter woes, from soothing a sore throat to serving wintertime soup.