In his 1856 journal, the great American philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, "I love the winter, with its imprisonment and its cold, for it compels the prisoner to try new fields and resources." Thoreau, a fearless explorer of inner and outer landscapes, welcomed opportunities to learn and expand his capabilities. As he frequently observed, winter can be a great teacher.
But when we think about skating, skiing, or even surfing (a winter sport in southern California), it seems that winter may be a harsh time to attempt to develop some skills. But, at least for ice skating and snow skiing, winter is where the action is. The notion of "carpe diem" tells us we'd better just bundle up and get out there.
In terms of gaining proficiency and making these winter activities work for us as useful exercise, we may consider them as representative of all forms of exercise. The overall plan is to start slow and add duration, speed, and complexity over time. Endurance is one key area in which we want to make progress, as when we train for endurance we're training our cardiorespiratory system.
Winter sports also provide substantial exercise for the large muscle groups of the lower body - the gluteal, quadriceps, hamstring, and calf muscles. Performing these exercises provides excellent cross-training with respect to the upper body, so if, on alternate days, we do strength training for the upper body, we'll emerge from the winter months significantly stronger.
We may improve our winter exercise performance by additional training for the proprioceptive system1,2. Proprioception is your body's awareness of its positioning in three-dimensional space. All joints contain numerous proprioceptors that relate information to and from the brain.
Your ability to balance effectively and make instantaneous biomechanical decisions depends on a well-trained proprioceptive system. Alternating standing on one leg for 15 seconds at a time is a basic proprioceptor-training exercise; balancing on one leg while skiing, skating or surfing is a more advanced and demanding use of the system.
Overall, winter exercise may provide a lot of enjoyment, with unexpected victories adding to one's sense of personal fulfillment. With appropriate preparation, winter exercise may help pave the way for high levels of health and wellness throughout the year.
- Chang S, et al: Effects of 24-week Tai Chi exercise on the knee and ankle proprioception of older women. Res Sports Med 24(1):84-93, 2016
- El-Gohary TM, et al: Effect of proprioception cross training on repositioning accuracy and balance among healthy individuals. J Phys Ther Sci 28(11):3178-3182, 2016