by Beth Hagman
It's often difficult to get your run in during the winter months. Even in southern states where the weather doesn't keep you indoors, winter's short days can force you indoors for safety reasons. Some runners get depressed and cranky and hard to live with, but there are alternatives.
If you haven't already developed a regular weight training schedule, this is a good time to begin one. The benefits for both men and women are immense - not just muscle strength, but toning, increased bone strength, improved metabolism and improved posture, for a start. Many runners neglect their upper body musculature, and strength training can fix that little problem, too.
The best way to set up a weight training program is in a gym or with a personal trainer. You need some guidance at first, even if you've read the books and know the exercises. A trainer makes sure you maintain proper form, sets you up with good habits and develops a routine for you that will achieve the results you desire. After a few sessions, you can choose whether to keep working with a trainer regularly or just check in periodically to adjust your workout program and make sure you¿re doing each exercise properly.
Working out in a health club has many benefits, including access to extensive weight equipment and training staff, and the inspiration and social contact provided by other members. But you can get an effective strength workout at home, too. You will need dumbbells at the minimum, and many people acquire a weight bench or some type of universal weight machine as they get more involved.
Your options for cardiovascular training will depend on where you live - but all of us will occasionally be forced indoors. Stationary bicycles, stair-steppers, rowing machines and treadmills are the most common answers to indoor workouts. You can buy one of these for your home and have access to it anytime, watching your favorite TV program while you exercise your heart. But you need have the space to keep your equipment set up all the time. You're less likely to use it if you have to haul it out and set it up.
Going to the Y, rec center or health club - since you're already in the habit of getting out the door for your exercise - gives you more variety, so you don't get bored using the same machine over and over. The quality of professional equipment is generally better than most of us can afford, too. The drawback to doing your cardiovascular exercise in a gym is that it is sometimes hard to find a time when the machines aren't crowded. Choosing a facility with an indoor pool or an indoor jogging track can alleviate this problem and increase your fitness options even further.
Try A New Sport
Take up an indoor sport. Many health clubs or recreation departments have indoor sport courts, and some have lessons and regular pick-up games for those who don¿t have a regular partner. Try racquetball, basketball, badminton, volleyball, tennis, in-line or ice hockey, bowling or yoga - whatever's available in your area. Even if you don't have a clue, you'll meet some new people, work some new muscles and develop some agility both of mind and body.
Don't neglect the outdoors entirely, however. While getting overheated in wet conditions is not ideal, wearing the appropriate clothing will help. Traction may become an issue in wet or icy weather, but this can be dealt with by choosing appropriate shoes or adding cleats to your regular running shoes.
Slowing down to a walk can help keep you safer in treacherous footing, too. Using a heart rate monitor, you can make sure you're keeping your heart rate up while enjoying your surroundings or the conversation of a friend.
If it's snowy, the options get a lot more fun. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing provide excellent cardiovascular workouts, and you might even be able to find a race in your area to satisfy your need for competition.
In short, winter is not the time to sit around and get depressed because you can't run. It's a time to get creative, try different things, explore a different face of your surroundings. Dress appropriately, in layers, and you'll end the winter fitter and healthier than you've ever been.