Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fitsmart: January 2013

By Brad Lawrence   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

One of the unique features of our beautiful country is that four-, five- or six-month period of the year that we call the Canadian winter. 

One of the unique features of our beautiful country is that four-, five- or six-month period of the year that we call the Canadian winter. 

Extreme weather conditions affect several aspects of life, including our health, wellness and general fitness plans, and our winters can add time and difficulty to everything from transportation to motivation.

Probably the biggest challenge winter brings to our fitness is the tendency of cold and severe weather to make us less active. Animals hibernate, and humans can easily fall into that trap. This means we have to find ways to make up for lower activity levels.

Winter supplementation
Winter is the most important time of the year to get into a proper supplementation routine. Immune systems are down and the spread of sickness is up.

  • Multivitamins. For obvious reasons, you should take a multivitamin all year round. Capsules are best because our bodies tend to absorb them better. Even a relatively cheap tablet will provide you with many of the essentials your body requires and, hopefully, help you fight off an illness.
  • Vitamin D. Growing in popularity, vitamin D, also known as the sunshine pill, promotes calcium absorption and strong, normal bone growth. Newer research also suggests that vitamin D may help to fight immune diseases, infections and cancers. Studies are showing that almost all Canadians are deficient in vitamin D through the fall and winter months. Dosage recommendations vary but are usually between 800 and 2,000 international units a day, much more than you will find in a multivitamin.

Winter training
While there may be a drastic change outdoors, your approach in the gym shouldn’t undergo the same transformation. A well-built, balanced fitness program will take care of you for all 12 months of the year. The most obvious change our bodies experience is the difference in ambient temperature from outside to inside.

Warm-up: Simply extend your warm-up and ensure that your body is ready to work. Use your body weight for dynamic movements such as squatting, lunging or six to eight minutes of running. Warm up until you feel like you are about to start to sweat, and the deep chill is long gone from your body. Your warm-up is key, especially now when the risk of injury is at its highest.

Training methods:
With a general decrease in our activity levels, the majority of us will experience a drop in metabolism through the winter. The best way to counteract this is just to work hard and stay active. When you get into the gym, try a few of these metabolism-boosting tactics.

  • Lift heavy. Heavier weights and increased exertion lead to a bigger growth-hormone release and a longer metabolic boost. Heavier weights also help to build more muscle, which takes more effort for your body to maintain, thus raising metabolism.
  • Use compound movements. When selecting exercises, try to implement more multi-joint movements into your program. Multi-joint exercises such as squats,  pull-ups and lunges, provide the biggest and longest-lasting boost.
  • Shorten rest periods. Stay moving, stay working; opt for a shorter, harder workout rather than a slower-paced version.

Cardio training: Running indoors and outdoors may seem very similar to some, but our bodies notice a difference. Again with our metabolism in mind, there are a few things to consider:  there is no change in terrain, and there is never any wind resistance. Studies have shown that running indoors can be up to 10 per cent easier than running at the same speed outdoors. Try altering your treadmill experience slightly from time to time with one of these tactics.

  • Bump up the incline. Simply setting the treadmill incline slightly uphill, even one per cent, can equate to a change in environment.
  • Vary your program. Try adding a high-intensity, interval training program once every week or two. This will push your metabolism higher and maintain that high longer than traditional running.

Winter nutrition
Unlike winter, nutrition isn’t seasonal. Your year-round healthy diet will do just fine, but if you need an added boost try these metabolism-boosting tips.

  • Never skip breakfast. Kick-start your metabolism and eat a proper breakfast every day. Skipping the most important meal of the day has been proven to lead to increased weight gain, making you work harder for the same results.
  • Protein power. Include protein in every meal. High-protein diets allow for higher muscle mass and less fat. Each meal should include a quality protein.

While a long, cold Canadian winter can provide several obstacles to everyday life and to fitness, we all have the ability to overcome them. Winter should be viewed as a change of pace for your fitness plan, not as a setback. Try these tactics we’ve discussed and make this your fittest winter to date.

Happy training!

Brad Lawrence is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department and a certified personal trainer who specializes in training and nutrition for emergency responders. E-mail Brad at

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