Monday Medical: Winter fitness: A balanced workout

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— Pop quiz: Why get fit for winter?

A) So you don’t lose your breath on your first day playing in the snow.

B) So your legs don’t burn on your first day playing in the snow.

C) To prevent injuries.

D) All of the above.

Ski fit classes have begun in Steamboat Springs, and some of you are not in attendance. Although classes are a great way to prepare for any on-snow activity, they are not for everyone. For those of you who cannot make it to class but desire to bump up your fitness level, this article is your Cliffs Notes to getting in shape.

And yes, the answer is “D.”

Just as a healthy diet involves a variety of foods, a good winter fitness program also must be well-balanced, incorporating four fundamental components. Think of these as the four food groups of fitness: cardio, strength, balance and flexibility. Here’s what they do:

■ Cardio: Helps get oxygen to your muscles, which allows you to last longer. It improves your endurance.

■ Strength: Will give you power and control.

■ Balance: Allows the body to adjust to forces such as speed, gravity and ground conditions. It improves your agility.

■ Flexibility: Greater range of motion of muscles and tendons enhances overall performance and prevents injury.

“A good winter fit program focuses on overall conditioning,” SportsMed physical therapist Frederica Manning said. “Not only is it key to injury prevention, it’s the best way to ensure your season is happier from start to finish.”

One hurdle many of us must overcome is motivation. Manning suggests enlisting a buddy.

“Having a training partner will help get you both off the couch and into a program if you can encourage each other,” Manning said. She recommends working out two or three times per week and adds that this should not feel like a chore.

“Make it fun,” Manning said. “Choose different activities that not only work the whole body, find activities that interest you.”

Here are examples of activities that help formulate a well-balanced workout:

■ Cardio: Hiking, biking, running and swimming serve as good cardio workouts. Team sports such as soccer, hockey and basketball also are ideal.

■ Strength: Weights are an obvious choice for strength training, but for those who will not touch the stuff, there always is basic calisthenics. Think back to gym class — push-ups, jumping jacks, squats and crunches. These classic exercises work on it all: upper body, lower body and core strength. Pilates is another great way to focus on your core.

■ Balance: Once again, Pilates improves balance because it works on core strength and also focuses on your body’s alignment. At home, you can do very simple balancing exercises such as single leg stands. Leg squats also are great — stand on a step with one foot over the edge, then squat on one leg and lower your heel until it touches the ground.

The more you practice balance the better you will be able to absorb the forces associated with downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing.

■ Flexibility: Stretching is an important step in the well-balanced workout; flexibility is vital to the whole. In fact, stretching on a daily basis, not just before and after workouts, is ideal for increasing flexibility and preventing injury.

Be sure to warm up your muscles and joints before stretching, go slow and do not bounce. Yoga and tai chi also are excellent workouts that improve flexibility as well as core strength.

“Core stability or core strength — the two are interchangeable — are key in coordination,” SportsMed Assistant Director Scott Blair said. “It allows the whole body to work in balance.”

Workouts can be as creative as you want them to be, from African dance to a walk in the woods. Turn a walk or a hike into a workout for balance. Rock hopping and log crossing are two ways to work on balance while also working on strength.

Two relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment can provide a multitude of workouts. An exercise ball and a foam roller cost $15 to $20 each and provide the means for a variety of workouts that incorporate core strengthening, balance and flexibility.

You can skip class, but you will have a happier and healthier winter season if you do a little homework.

Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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