Feels like just yesterday you were at a playground doing pull-ups in shorts after your midday run, and today it’s 32 degrees. There’s a reason that holiday carol call this weather “frightful.” You can be forgiven for not bounding out the door to brave the slush, sleet and gray to get to the gym. But while you’re adjusting to the cold, you can do more for your body than a set of 12 cheese curls on the couch. In fact, exercise may actually be the cure for your winter blahs. Exercise can help fend off seasonal affective disorder, which could get you feeling good enough to get back in the gym. So on those days when the gym feels a million miles away, stay active with these 10 suggestions.
1. Jump on the (Resistance) Bandwagon
Superbands are giant, circular rubber bands that can fold to the size of a remote control but allow you to do almost any exercise, anywhere, with external resistance that’s unlike standard dumbbells. “The band offers variable resistance — the further the band stretches, the more challenging it is,” says Brett Klika, a strength coach in San Diego and the co-founder of SPIDERfit. Klika uses the superband with his adult clients and suggests starting with these three exercises.
- Standing Band Press: Fix
the band to an anchor at chest level. One way to do this is to slip
the band through the crack in an open door and tie a knot in end.
Close the door when the knot is near your chest, and the band will
be anchored. Face away from the anchor and go
inside the band so it’s under your armpits. Grab the band with
both hands near your shoulders. Push the band forward like you’re
punching with both hands.
- Band Row: Get out of the
band’s loop and stand so you’re facing the anchored band. Grab
the band in each hand with arms straight in front of your chest and
palms facing down. Bend your elbows back and close to the sides of
your body to pull the band toward your chest.
- Resisted Squat: Remove the
band from the anchor, untie the knot and put the band on the floor.
Stand with your feet on top of the band so it forms a ring around
your shoes. Grab the loose end with both hands and pull the band so
your hands are at your shoulders. In this position, the band should
be taut. Push your hips back to squat until your thighs are at least
parallel to the floor. As you press through your heels to stand back
up, the band will offer resistance.
2. Play Video Games While You Burn Fat
If you’ve read a fitness article in the last decade, you’re aware that interval cardio has been found to burn more fat than easy, steady jogging. But it doesn’t beat walking. In a 2014 study from the journal Obesity, researchers concluded that high-intensity intervals were more time-efficient than “continuous exercise,” but not better at the redistribution of fat. Many lean athletes swear by walking, or “low-intensity steady state” (LISS) cardio.
And one group has found a way to use the benefits of LISS cardio to make a normally sedentary activity into a healthy one: They play video games while walking on a treadmill. Similar to treadmill desks that are popping up in offices, these gamers have found a way to make their entertainment more healthy — and light exercise more entertaining. “Being on a treadmill may be boring, but playing a game is not,” says Sri Benson, the founder of Reddit’s forum on treadmill gaming. Benson’s psoriasis made many forms of exercise mildly painful for him, but treadmill gaming has helped him stay in shape. And he’s not alone: One member of the forum lost 70 pounds walking while playing.
If you have the space, check Craigslist for a free treadmill — someone’s always giving one away — and start with a game that isn’t too action-packed, says Benson. Many gamers starting on treadmills have trouble with “drift,” where they move right and left with the character while walking. A puzzle or role-playing game can help eliminate this at the start while getting used to gaming while walking.
3. Try a Convict Conditioning Routine
Think you’re cramped into a house too small for a workout? Try a prison cell, where hundreds of convicts pass their time with bodyweight exercise. In 2013, after four months behind bars, one ex-con posted his results to Reddit, and they went viral for good reason. You don’t have to do time to get his results, though. He posted the body-weight routine he used to achieve his chiseled physique. Try his leg-day workout for an at-home lower-body session that will leave you gasping for air (or try Livestrong.com's Stronger workout above). Perform eight sets each of the following:
- 30 squats
- 20 lunges (each leg)
- 4 assisted pistol squats (hold on
to a door frame)
- Finish with five sets of 40
- Then take a nap.
4. Swing a Kettlebell All Day
On his way to becoming one of the greatest college football players in history — and one of the fittest men alive — Herschel Walker famously did not lift weights. Instead, the running back says he did thousands of push-ups, chair dips and sit-ups each evening during the commercials of his favorite TV shows.
Pat Flynn suggests a similar approach for extra fat loss, but with a different exercise: the kettlebell swing. Flynn, the founder of Chronicles of Strength and a lover of the kettlebell swing, says that 300 reps of the exercise, performed in sets of 10 to 50 reps throughout the day, has helped his clients to burn fat. And no wonder: That’s an interval-training program. For those experienced with the swing, Flynn suggests using a 24-kilogram (53-pound) kettlebell for men and a 16-kilogram (35-pound) kettlebell for women. He doesn’t recommend it as a full training program, however. Flynn says the 300-swing protocol is like “hot sauce” for your daily dish of fitness, meaning it should be used sparingly in addition to your regular workout routine.
5. Upgrade Your Isometric Workout
If you’ve ever trembled your way through the last 10 seconds of a wall sit or plank, you don’t need to be convinced that you can challenge your muscles without moving. Isometric exercises like these can help with stability and strength. But most people who do planks have done them so long that they’re no longer challenging, and they end up doing wall sits in a position that doesn’t translate to traditional squats (i.e., with vertical shins and torso). Improve on both exercises with these upgrades.
- Replace wall sits with an isometric squat. Standing with your feet hip-width apart or
slightly wider, push your hips back to lower your torso, keeping
your weight in your heels. Descend until your thighs are at least
parallel to the floor or, if you can, until your butt nearly grazes
the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds or more. If you have
trouble with balance, do the exercise near a doorframe, lightly
touching or grabbing the frame if you lose your balance and
releasing when you regain it.
- Try isometric lunges. Take
a large step forward and dip into the deepest position of the lunge
you can hold, ideally with both legs forming 90-degree angles at the
knees, your torso tall and chest up. Hold this position for 30
seconds, and then switch sides.
- Amp up your plank by challenging your balance. Try performing plank holds of 10 to 15
seconds with only one foot on the floor instead of both, making sure
to keep your hips level throughout. Still too easy? Instead of the
top of a push-up, try the bottom. Lower your chest toward the floor
by bending your elbows, but don’t press back up. Hold this
position for as long as you’re able to while maintaining a rigid
line with your body from head to heels.
6. Take the Stairs
Even if you haven’t ordered any of the at-home equipment listed above, you may already have some — the stairs. They can’t create resistance, but the risers create level change, using the power of gravity to make body-weight exercises more taxing. Or they can make certain exercises less challenging. Try these exercise variations on your stairs (or substitute a bench or chair)
- **Push-Ups:** If full-range push-ups on the floor are too hard for your current level of fitness, use the stairs for a better progression than dropping to your knees. Place your hands on a step and assume a push-up position, forming a straight line from your head to your heels. Maintain this rigid line as you bend your elbows to lower your chest to the step, being careful not to reach with your head or flaring your elbows. Press back to the starting position. As each step becomes too easy, move your hands down one step to progress the exercise. If you can already do push-ups on the floor, place your feet on the stairs to make the move even harder.*
**Bulgarian Split Squat:** The steps can also be used to progress a lunge into a rear-foot elevated (or Bulgarian) split squat. Place one foot behind you on the first or second step of the staircase and keep your other foot in front so you’re in a position similar to a lunge. Keeping your torso upright, push your hips back and bend your front knee to descend into a split squat. Press through your front heel to return to the starting position.*
**Other Options:** Make a side plank more challenging by stacking your feet on the second step, use the stairs to perform step-ups (while holding weights if you have them) or simply climb the stairs. Create an instant interval by climbing up fast and hard, and then walking back down. Perform six to 12 stair intervals.
7. Fire Up the Wayback Machine
YouTube has an endless array of yoga, Pilates, HIIT and other exercise videos, but it also has a workout category that will get you moving and put a giant smile on your face: the as-seen-on-TV workout videos of the ’80s and ’90s. Fire up 8 Minute Abs, Buns of Steel, Jane Fonda workouts, an episode of Bodyshaping or Tae Bo. Billy Blanks’ punching and kicking may look so embarrassing that you’ll want to dance along in the basement, but that dance-karate hybrid will make you smile and sweat — a fantastic one-two combo cure for winter blahs.
8. Grab a Towel
An old hand or bath towel can add variety and challenge to your existing at-home body-weight exercise regimen and might buff your floors in the process.
- **Walking Offset Push-Up:** Place a folded hand towel under your toes and assume a slightly modified push-up position: Instead of your hands being directly beneath your shoulders, your right hand should be just in front of your right shoulder and your left hand just behind your left shoulder (i.e., your hands should be staggered). Perform a push-up in this position, and then step your left hand forward so it’s now slightly in front of your left shoulder, and your right hand is just behind your right shoulder. Perform another push-up and move your right hand forward. The towel under your toes will let your feet slide as you “walk” the push-ups across the room.*
**Reverse Lunge:** Next, stand up and place the hand towel under your right foot. Stand tall and perform a reverse lunge without lifting your right foot off the floor. Use the towel to slide your foot backward as you descend until both knees form 90-degree angles. Slide back to the top of the movement. Repeat five to 10 times, and then switch the towel to your left foot and repeat.*
**Biceps Work:** Finally, have some fun and use a large bath towel like a resistance band to perform some bonus work for your biceps. Place one end of the towel under one foot and grab the other end in your hand. Perform a biceps curl with the towel as resistance. If it’s too easy, put more of the towel under your foot to increase the tension.
9. Try a Video-Game Workout
Video games don’t have to be a sedentary endeavor. But if you don’t want to set up a treadmill in your living room (see slide 2), you can still put your gaming console to good use. “Exergaming,” as the trend has been dubbed, burns anywhere from 90 to 215 calories in 30 minutes, depending on your intensity. The type of game you choose also impacts your net calorie burn. While games like golf and bowling are at the low end of the spectrum, games that involve dancing, boxing or calisthenics will maximize your time and caloric expenditure. Check out games like Nike+ Kinect Training, Your Shape and Harley Pasternak’s Hollywood Workout on Microsoft Xbox 360 with Kinect; EA Sports Active 2, ExerBeat, Dance Dance Revolution on Nintendo Wii, and Everybody Dance and Fit in Six on Sony PlayStation 3 with Move.
10. Bring Your Bike Ride Indoors
Ever wanted to cycle with the pros? Put your pace to the test with indoor-cycling videos you can do in your living room (as long as you have a stationary bike, of course). The Sufferfest is a series of videos that features officially licensed footage from some of the world’s greatest bike races, including Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and UCI World Championships. “Cyclists will battle it out on climbs, flats, cobblestones and sprints to see who can ride the hardest and ‘suffer’ the most on the way to victory,” says David McQuillen, CEO of The Sufferfest. In each 45-minute workout, you’ll burn about 400 to 600 calories and finish with the satisfaction of completing a race just like Greg LeMond, Floyd Landis and Jan Ullrich.
What Do YOU Think?
How do you plan to stay fit this winter? Will you brave the gym or battle outdoor conditions on a run? Or will you stay indoors? What’s your favorite way of fitting in your workout when you just don’t feel like going to the gym? Have you tried any of the methods on this list? Share your thoughts, questions and suggestions in the comments section below!