Are calories best burned cold?
After lengthy quarantines and the specter of months stuck inside—plus another COVID-19 variant on the move—skip the gym and get fit outdoors. Here, five local fitness experts share their favorite fall and winter workouts. Disclaimer: These activities can be intense, so strength, endurance and cardiovascular training—anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, three to five times per week—can help prepare for these sports.
Personal trainer Jeff Munro has been surfing and snowboarding since he was a kid. “So, I got the best of both worlds,” he says. “I get to be on a board no matter what the conditions.” Winter swells may be colder, but they’re also bigger—ideal for any surfer. Your facial hair may freeze into icicles, Munro says, “just like Santa Claus.”
Find the thickest wet suit they make, he advises, with a full head cover and gloves. Your body may still go numb, he concedes, but once you’re up, “Man, it’s quite a thrill being out there in the cold,” says Munro, who works at Sussex-based Chris Antonio Training Systems. “Your blood is pumping. Your breathing is accelerated. Your heart rate is up. You’re in tension the whole time your body’s trying to stay warm.”
Riding a surfboard pushes leg strength and balance, along with an intense core and trunk workout. Expect to burn up to 2,000 calories within a two- to three-hour session. Adds Chris Antonio, a personal trainer: “[It’ll work] your lower back…obliques and even the muscles that connect to your core, like your hamstrings and quads.”
Where to Go: Offshore weather always plays an important factor in locating waves, but the Indian River North Side Inlet is a favorite spot. “Definitely super popular,” Antonio says. The naval jetties at Cape Henlopen State Park are another peak destination.
“Being out on the water is soothing for the soul,” says Arianne Missimer, a physical therapist, registered dietitian and yoga teacher. “Once I fall into a rhythm with the cadenced movements of my body, I begin to embrace the meditative nature of kayaking. It is a special time to reflect and reconnect in nature.”
Kayaking can burn up to 350 calories per hour, “and therefore is a great cardiovascular activity, but also is great for core and upper body endurance,” Missimer says. Inside a kayak, your legs constantly work and wobble to stabilize you.
Although this activity is quite physically challenging, it is also associated with lower stress levels and can release neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. These chemicals can make you feel happier and improve your focus.
Where to Go: Missimer’s favorite spots include the Brandywine Creek, Hibernia Park and Marsh Creek. Proper gear like wet or dry suits, gloves and footwear can combat the increased risks associated with low-temperature waters.
A spin instructor who took his passion outdoors, Marty White is the senior health and wellness director at the Bear–Glasgow Family YMCA. Today, White leads (and joins) a small army of cycling enthusiasts who run the gamut in experience and backgrounds. He’s also part of a growing contingent of Black riders joining the sport. He rides as part of Delaware’s Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor cycling club—a local chapter of national chain of clubs who ride in honor of the world’s first African American cycling champion.
A typical winter ride will bring an expenditure of anywhere from 600 to 800 calories per hour. Cycling is low impact, and done on a regular basis has so many benefits, including weight management, increased cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength, reduced stress, stronger bones, improved mental health, coordination, and better balance and flexibility.
Where to Go: White enjoys the flat-and-fast miles just south of Bear, where winds can whip at riders. The North Wilmington, Pike Creek and Hockessin area provide a much more challenging and hilly terrain. “For many cyclists in the area, the Mike Castle and Jack Markell trails have been wonderful additions over the past few years,” he says.
Much like surfing, snowboarding torques your body’s core—drawing strength from your abdomen and lower back to provide balance and stability.
In an hour, or four to five runs down a mountain, you can burn up to 600 calories. Since your legs are locked into your board, snowboarding requires more of your abs and lower back.
Trainers like Antonio see their share of knee and shoulder injuries resulting from snowboarding mishaps. Hamstring and quad strength go a long way to supporting your body’s balance down the slopes—and if you fall (and you will), shoulder strength helps brace against injury.
Where to Go: For novices and regulars, nearby Eastern Pennsylvania favorites like Blue Mountain and Camelback Mountain provide the goods. Ambitious daytrippers might consider Vermont’s Mount Snow or Mount Killington.
Unlike its downhill cousin, cross-country skiing provides no built-in momentum. “You don’t have that luxury,” George Dobbins says with a laugh. “A lot of your power, a lot of your locomotion, is created by you.”
Motion here depends on strong, downward shifts through your legs—one at a time—“exerting force through the ground,” explains Dobbins, who owns CrossFit Dover. He’s also a strength trainer for the Delaware Thunder minor league ice hockey team and holds the state’s deadlift record for his weight class.
The dynamic ski workout can burn around 400 to 450 calories within an hour for a 130-pound athlete, or up to 700 to 750 calories per hour for a 200-pound athlete.
The performance movement in cross-country involves many anti-rotational muscles, like the internal and external obliques and abs. “Understanding that your ability to be able to create tension and engagement through your core is going to be something that you are going to want to have a good handle on,” Dobbins says.
Skiing also puts a lot of pressure on your knees, and incorrect bending can lead to ACL tears. Consider strengthening and limbering your hamstrings before grabbing your poles.
Where to Go: Head to the trails along Brandywine Creek State Park when conditions allow. The hiking and bridle trails at White Clay Creek Preserve in nearby Landenberg, Pennsylvania, are another favorite spot.