Here are some basic winter activities, with some badass variations, that can turn a winter afternoon into a killer workout.
It’s winter here in the northern hemisphere, and for many of us that means colder weather, snow on the ground, and darker, shorter days. All of that added together can often make us want to hit the couch with a cup of coffee and a good book until spring rolls around. Or at least shift all of our workouts, exercise programs, and sporting events to an indoor setting. I don’t blame you. I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta where winter lasts eight months of the year and it regularly gets below -22 degrees Fahrenheit.
But there are many great outdoor activities available to us at this time of year—and many of them are only available at this time of year. I think it is a shame to waste them!
I'm here to tell you that despite the snow, the cold, and the lack of sunlight, you can still go outside and get a great workout and have some fun while you are at it.
I know what you are thinking though: “I need to get a good workout and there are only so many hours in the day. I’m just going to hit the gym on the way home from work and call it good.” Well, I am here to tell you that despite the snow, the cold, and the potential lack of sunlight, you can still go outside and get a great workout and have some fun while you're at it.
To that end, here is a list of some regular outdoor winter activities along with some small alterations that you can make if you want more of a workout.
11+ Winter Workouts to Try Outside
- Winter Hiking
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Polar Plunge
- Building a Snowman
- Shoveling the Walk
- Skiing or Snowboarding
- Ice Hockey
- Ice Skating
- Snowball Fight
Let's dive deeper into each winter workout.
1. Winter Hiking
Find a trail, a hill, or a mountain, strap on your hiking boots, and away you go. Winter hiking may be hard enough on its own, depending on how much snow there is where you live, but if hoofing it along some trails in the nearest wilderness you have isn’t enough of a challenge, you can try putting something heavy in your backpack like a few books, a dumbbell, or a rock.
If you have a weighted vest, or wrist and ankle weights, this is the perfect time to bust those out. Piggybacking a child or a small adult can also turn an uphill hike into a gruelling workout if you are so inclined (pun intended).
Muscles used: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves, Gluteals, Abs, Hip Adductors, and Abductors.
Sure, you look like you are wearing tennis rackets on your feet but this is a time-tested and science-backed technique to traverse the snowy trails. If you haven't snowshoed since you were a child, you may want to spend an hour or so getting used to them before you try anything too wild, but if you are already an adept snowshoe aficionado, one of the most exhilarating things I have done is descending a reasonably steep hill at near breakneck speeds in snowshoes.
The trick is to get yourself into a flow state. Don’t think; just keep your feet moving and never second guess your next footfall. If you hesitate, that is when you will end up eating snow. The good news is, if there is a layer of fresh powder, that will cushion your fall.
Muscles used: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Hip Adductors and Abductors, and Hip Flexors. With poles: Pectorals and Latissimi Dorsi.
3. Cross-Country Skiing
For those adrenaline junkies out there, cross-country doesn’t really seem like skiing at all but if you can turn that need-for-speed off for a few minutes, you will see this is a lovely and challenging way to enjoy the great outdoors.
In my opinion, the best heartrate-raising cross-country skiing happens when you are breaking the trail. Get out front of the group, get off the trodden path, and break trail for yourself and your friends. The deeper the snow, the better the burn. Now that can turn a lazy ski afternoon into a true workout.
Muscles used: Core, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Gluteals, Leg Abductors and Adductors, Pectorals, Triceps, Rhomboids, Rear Deltoids, Biceps, and Gastrocnemius.
4. Polar Plunge
Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. You find a natural body of water—a lake, river, stream or creek—and chop through the ice (if necessary), then strip down to your skivvies and jump in! Is there any better way to ring in the New Year?
After all my talk about cold exposure being so good for you, why not take the plunge? For added benefit, try staying in a little longer than you are “comfortable” with. Get a good shiver going before you run back to your warm, dry clothes and then, instead of huddling around a fire or an electric heater to warm up, try some burpees or jumping jacks and use your own thermogenesis to warm you up!
Muscles used: Willpower, Grit, and Gumption.
Get in touch with your 10-year-old self and hit the slopes on your butt. You can think of it like doing hill repeats but with a more exhilarating descent.
Take it to the next level by making the other adults on the hill look like lazy chumps (sipping their Starbucks and staring at their phones) by running up the hill each time instead of the traditional trudge. For bonus points, invite some kids to add some weight to your toboggan by giving them a ride up the hill. Depending on the size of the kids and the size of the hill, this could be quite the workout!
Muscles used: Vastus group of the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteals, Hip Flexors, and Soleus.
6. Building a Snowman
Ok. If you have rolled a 2-foot-high snowman butt around your yard before, you know how much of a workout that can be. How about using the snow from your neighbour’s yard too and turn that into a 4-foot-high snowman bottom? Or head to the local playground or school ground to use their snow as well. We’re talking some record-breaking snowman assembly here. And I can’t imagine anyone getting upset at you for stealing their snow. I mean, it’ll save them having to shovel it eventually, right?
Muscles used: Abdominals, Erectors, Multifidi, Rotares, Gluteals, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves, Hip Adductors and Abductors, Upper Back, and Chest.