Winter is upon us, which leaves a lot of outdoor activities no longer an option. Although cold weather makes it tougher to do things like biking, camping, water activities, and a long list of other fun stuff, you can still take this time to improve your body’s ability to do the outdoor sports you love. In fact, now is the ideal time for off-season training!

It’s common for athletes to work on getting bigger and stronger during their off-season, but there can be much more to it than just lifting heavy weights. I have three tips aimed to help ensure that you’re maximizing your time inside by doing things that will not only help you get better at your favorite outdoor activity but also carry over to improvements in your daily life. This way, you’re not just getting stronger, you’re becoming an all-around healthier person.

Train What You Don’t Use
If you favor a sport or activity that requires you to do the same motions over and over again, it’s vital that you train muscles and movements that are the exact opposite of what you normally use. Take, for example, running, cycling, and paddling. These activities are known for causing repetitive motion injuries — not because they break down your body directly but because they create imbalances that cause breakdown to happen faster. Executing a balanced exercise training program can prevent or greatly reduce this.

Let’s look at running and paddling as examples. Some good exercises for runners include lateral squats, mini-band lateral walks, and crossover lunges. These three exercises are performed in the frontal and transverse planes of motion, whereas running is performed in the sagittal plane. Doing these exercises will make sure you train different planes of motion and different muscles in your body. If you’re a paddler, you’re doing most of your upper body movement in a horizontal vector. Shoulder presses, lat pulldowns, and chops are great exercises in a vertical vector. This will make sure your upper body stays in balance.

Work on Posture
Good posture creates better movement and reduces injury. The off-season is a great time to work on making sure your body is in the right position and stable. It doesn’t matter what activity you love, better posture is always a huge benefit. There are many different postures, but to keep things simple, let’s talk about rounded posture and extended posture. With rounded posture, think hunchback of Notre Dame. With extended posture, think of someone with an over-arched lower back.

Rounded posture is a recipe for poor shoulder and upper body movement and is a major cause of neck pain. Climbers and paddlers are two groups of people that really need to make sure they have good upper body alignment. A great exercise for rounded posture is open book stretch. This stretch works on upper body posture and shoulder mobility.

Child's pose stretch

Child’s pose stretch can help with extended posture.

Extended posture is a recipe for poor hip movement. This will hinder running and hiking performance and creates more back pain than just about anything I’ve ever seen. If you have this posture, core training with a neutral or slightly rounded lower back is the key to improvement. Child’s pose stretch and rocking on your back are great exercises for this posture. You may want to find a trainer or clinician that specializes in postural restoration to get these changes to stick.

Increase Range of Motion
If you have tightness in your body that’s keeping you from performing your best, this is a great time to put a focus on getting your mobility back. I like to think in terms of joint mobility rather than muscle flexibility, so the main things to look at would be ankles, hips, spine, neck, shoulder, and wrists.

Yoga is a great general exercise program to help with both muscle flexibility and joint mobility. However, if you’re looking for a more precise approach, it may be best to find someone who knows how to assess how much mobility you need at each joint and can give you specific exercises to help.
Working on weak links, improving posture, and increasing joint mobility are three things that will make anyone a better athlete. Sure, the exercises you do to address these issues aren’t going to give you the same feeling as being outside, doing the activity you love, but knowing you’re working on becoming better is a great way to stay happy and healthy through the winter months.

Author: Steve Long is the owner of Complete Fitness Results in Webster Groves, Missouri.