While you might be lucky and live in a place where hiking is available year-round, for many of us, the option to hike becomes non-existent when temperatures fall too low, or snow and cold rain turn the trails into a muddy mess. When that happens, here are some winter alternatives that can keep your legs and lungs in hiking condition all winter long.
1. Cross-country skiing
I just scored a pair of like-new cross-country skis at an REI garage sale, and I’m very excited to use them this winter in the nearby park. Because it uses both “pushing” and “pulling” motions and muscles, as well as working your arms, cross-country skiing is a great full-body workout. It’s low impact and can help to keep your quads and hamstrings working hard all winter long.
Lots of cities have groomed cross-country trails around parks in town. Our nordic council grooms trails on the Grand Mesa each winter, and the park near our house is perfect for making quick laps in the afternoon after work. You can often rent cross-country skis at ski shops in town, too. It’s much cheaper than downhill skiing and can be a great winter alternative to hiking.
This one seems fairly obvious. I mean really, isn’t snowshoeing just the winter version of hiking? It’s tough, though! Snowshoeing is a serious workout and will get your lungs and thighs burning in no time if you’re in deep powder or hilly terrain.
3. The gym: stair-climbers and treadmills
Contrary to what some might think, I don’t hate the gym. I find it necessary sometimes when it’s the middle of the week and too cold to get outside. If the only way I can get an endorphin rush is to go to the gym, then fine, I will. I’m lucky to have a gym membership through work, otherwise this might not be an option. Still, even if you can’t afford a gym membership. you might be able to find a used treadmill in the classifieds of your local paper.
Stair-climbers are great for working your leg muscles and treadmills, of course, allow you to simulate walking up hill (on a perfectly smooth path). I like to do a combo with these two machines, and sometimes a cross-fit or elliptical machine. This way I can work my leg muscles in a variety of different ways and, if I do each machine for 15 minutes, I can squeeze in a 45 minute lunch workout without getting bored on one machine.
4. Squats and Lunges
If you like to strength train, these two exercises will definitely keep your hamstrings and quads toned throughout the winter. It’s best to makes sure you do these exercises properly, though, so that you don’t end up getting injured. The best thing is that these exercises require nothing except you. You can do them at your desk, at home, in the grocery store…
5. Core workouts: yoga, etc.
Finally, we all know that backpacking uses more than just your legs: it requires strength from your core as well. If you have access to Hulu, you can use Yoga Zone to keep your core muscles strong, right in the comfort of your living room. If you only have time, or interest, for one or two yoga poses, my favorite for ab strengthening is the plank pose. Another favorite that will strengthen your core, ankles, lower legs and more, is the tree pose.
6. Hike as long as you can!
The days are shorter, so after work hikes are pretty much out of the question. The mornings are dark and cold, so I can’t hike then. Still, I’m fortunate to work only 6 minutes from my favorite trail system and to have a one-hour lunch break. I can get in a great 45 minute hike on my lunch break when it’s sunny and in the mid-50s, and then head back to work refreshed and happy. If this is an option for you, use it as long as you can!
View from today’s lunchtime hike
While it might be sad to think about several months of no hiking, it’s still possible to get outside or get in a good workout that will keep your hiking legs in tip-top shape. This way, as soon as the snow melts, you can get right back on the trail and not feel like you’ve lost all the endurance and strength you gained the summer and fall before.
Enjoy the rest of your fall!