The Snow-Day Workout

This winter workout will make getting in shape feel less like a chore and more like a day off.
Published November 12, 2015

A chilly morning can make waking up for an early gym session seem particularly torturous. Foul weather can also make it tough for outdoor exercisers to keep up their routine. (Ever try to jog on ice? We don’t recommend it.) Many of us might as well pack our exercise clothes (and for that matter, skinny jeans) away with our summer gear.

But winter weather needn’t throw us into hibernation mode. Remember what it felt like to wake up on a snow day? Overjoyed at the prospect of a day without school, we jumped into snowsuits and wouldn’t come back inside for hours. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, playing in the snow is an excellent full body workout. In fact, when you get active in snow, cold weather naturally boosts the energy you expend: “Your body is going to work harder at staying warm — therefore burning more calories,” explains celebrity trainer and author Kathy Kaehler.

Top safety tips

Whether you’re with your kids or solo, be smart in the snow.

  • Wear a moisture wicking top and add additional light layers. One heavy layer may cause you to overheat, and a wet layer will make you cold.

  • Stay hydrated. Though you might not feel thirsty, research has shown that working out in cooler climates actually contributes to quicker dehydration.

  • Be aware of hazards. Some common ones: ice beneath soft snow, snowdrifts and low driver visibility. If you're near a road, wear the same reflective gear you do at night.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf. It will warm and moisten the air you're breathing, to prevent breathing discomfort from airway moisture loss.

  • Finally, as with any kind of exercise, do check with a physician before embarking on a new exercise regime.

Another bonus: You may work out longer since you won’t feel that “I’m so hot, I can’t go on” feeling that you do in warmer weather. And the cold stuff can act like frosty weights, increasing resistance. According to Bill McArdle, an exercise physiologist and Scientific Advisor to Weight Watchers International, “Walking in packed snow increases by 60 percent the calories burned compared to walking on a paved road, while walking in soft snow triples the calories burned compared to walking at the same speed on a treadmill. In addition, the added resistance of the snow can firm and tone the muscles."

The best part? You’ll have plenty of workout partners when your little ones (whether they be children, grandchildren, or neighbourhood visitors) have a snow day. And not only will having company help motivate you (and negate the need to hire a sitter while you’re at the gym), you’ll be teaching them that there’s more to entertainment than technology. “Exercising in the outdoors with your children establishes positive behavioral attitudes that, in the long run, will aid in countering the epidemic of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the myriad other diseases related to both obesity and a sedentary lifestyle,” says McArdle.

Luckily, he adds, many of our favourite winter activities count as workouts, including snow shoeing, ice skating, snow shoveling, cross country skiing or just rolling around having freezy fun. “A person of average fitness who performs any of these “big muscle” physical activities for a 30-minute period at a rating of perceived exertion of “somewhat hard” would burn between 200 and 300 calories per exercise session,” says McArdle. Looking for a more structured program? Try the 30 minute workout below, designed by Kathy Kaehler. And for those lucky enough to live in climes that never see snow? Next time you take a ski vacation, try out these moves before hitting the schnapps!

The 30-minute Winter Wonderland Workout
Developed by Kathy Kaehler for Weight Watchers
This 30-minute workout consists of 7 moves, each a 10 minute cycle. Do each cycle three times, with the first as a warm-up at low intensity (you should be easily able to carry on a conversation), the second at moderate intensity (you should be able to carry on a conversation, but feel that you’re working) and the third one at high intensity (pushing yourself as hard as hard as you feel comfortable).



Military march
Swing your arms and march forward for 10 giant steps. Turn around and march back to your starting spot. Do this (back and forth) at least six times, packing the snow down as you go.

Trainer tip: Focus on swinging your arms and lifting your knees high to maximize lower body toning and calorie burn.



Plank walk
This move will use the path you’ve made. Stand tall and bend down at your waist, flexing your hips. Reach your (gloved!) hands to touch the ground and walk them forward until your body is parallel with the ground in a full pushup or “plank” position. Stay there for a beat and then walk back up. Reach your arms high and repeat the sequence five times.

Trainer tip: This is great for chest, shoulder, triceps and core. To make it tougher, gradually increase the amount of time you hold your body in the pushup position.



Snow shuffle
Stand on one end of the path sideways. Bend your knees slightly and shuffle side sideways until you reach the other side. Try to make it back and forth four to six times.

Trainer tip: Keep your body low and move quickly to blast calories and tone both the inner and outer thigh.



Frozen lawn lunges
Standing on one end of the lawn (use the path if you want an easier workout, new snow if you need a bigger challenge), alternate walking lunges for 20 steps (count right leg, left leg, 1, right leg, left leg, 2). Turn around and lunge back to your starting spot.

Trainer tip: Keep a tight belly to work your core as well as your lower body.



Snow ball target practice
Walk to some deep snow and find a target like a tree, wall or fence. Make snowballs by squatting (by bending your knees, not your waist), grabbing snow and packing it. As soon as you make one, throw it as far and hard as you can, aiming for your target. Launch 20 balls.

Trainer tip: This exercise is great for the lower body, butt and legs as well as the chest and shoulders.



Feet drag
In shallow snow, sidestep to the left with your left foot, and then slowly drag your right foot across your body in the snow, working the inner thigh. Then reverse the motion, stepping to your right and dragging your left foot. Go across back and forth 4 times.

Trainer tip: Make sure not to cheat by speeding through the drag.



Angel abs
Lie down on your back and place your hands behind your head. Bicycle the legs in and out, reaching across with the opposite elbow. Do six repetitions (after you bring both knees in, that is one rep) and then make five snow angels. Repeat this series twice.

Trainer tip: During your snow angels, keep your arms and legs straight and extend them as far as possible to maximize the resistance.

8 Stand up, take a deep breath and begin cycle again.