Winter Weight Training for Outdoor Athletes

Photo: Ihor Pukhnatyy

These five moves will get you ready to rip come springtime.

Whether you’re a kayaker, trail runner, mountain biker, or hiker, winter is the perfect time to establish an indoor training routine. Weight training increases your muscular strength (obviously), but it also fortifies your connective tissue, is good for building bone density, and can help improve balance and endurance—all good things for outdoor athletes. 

With all exercises, proper form is imperative, as is keeping movements in control within a comfortable range (especially when using weights). Do these exercises at home or in a gym to get in top shape for when warmer arrives—no matter what you do outdoors, you’ll do it better.  

1. Farmer’s Carry

How: Squat down and grasp a free weight in each hand (start with a low weight amount and build up to heavier). Keeping your core tight and engaged, stand up while holding the weights. Once standing, lift your collarbone and pull your shoulder blades back and down, keeping your head in-line with the rest of your body (not in front of or behind you). With your core tight, walk forward your desired distance before squatting to put the weights down—start with roughly 20 yards and if that feels too easy, go farther and/or add weight. Depending on how much space you have, you may have to walk forward, then turn around and walk back. Repeat for three repetitions.

Why: Holding dumbbells in each hand while you walk strengthens your core as well as virtually every muscle from your calves and hamstrings to your traps, lats, forearms, and hand muscles. This exercise also increases your endurance. Your performance in literally every outdoor sport can benefit from the muscles and systems worked by a simple farmer’s carry.

2. Air Squats

How: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward. Initiate a sitting motion by first extending your rear-end slightly backward, then lower so your rear-end is at a height that’s even with your bent knees—your legs should bend enough to make a 90-degree angle at the bottom of your squat. Focus on keeping your chest up and your eyes looking forward. Keep your knees pointed outward, lined up over the outsides of your feet; you don’t want your knees falling inward. Push down with your heels to return to standing. Repeat. Start with three sets of 10 and build from there.

Why: Proper air squats build strength in quadriceps, hamstrings, your gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, and your core. The major lower body muscles engaged in an air squat are the prime movers for many outdoor sports, from trail running to standup paddleboarding. Air squats also help improve balance.

A woman does an air squat in a gym Photo: Ihor Pukhnatyy

3. Lunges

How: Standing tall, place your hands on your hips. Take a step forward, far enough so that when you lower down to touch your back knee to the ground, your front knee stays in-line with your front foot (not in front of it). In a controlled motion, lower your back knee to touch the ground lightly, keeping your core tight and your upper body upright (not slumped over). Engage your core and push off the front foot to return to standing with both feet together. Step forward with the opposite leg and repeat the movement. Start with three sets of 10 lunges on each leg (so 20 total per set) and build from there.

Why: Lunges strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles, while also strengthening your back muscles. And because lunges are a unilateral exercise—requiring you to work one side at a time—they also improve balance and coordination and help address muscle imbalances. Lunges are great for hikers and trail runners, but also benefit mountain bikers and other outdoor athletes.

4. Shoulder Front Raises

How: Holding free-weight dumbbells in each hand (start light and build up), stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees slightly bent, your upper body straight and tall, and your shoulders back. With the back of your hand facing forward, raise one arm at a time, bringing the weight up to shoulder level before returning it to the starting position. Repeat with your other arm. Alternate sides for three sets of 10 each arm (so, sets of 20).

Why: Shoulder front raises strengthen your deltoids, pectorals, and back muscles (trapezius and erectors, in particular). This is a unilateral exercise, which means you’ll also be strengthening your core to stabilize each one-armed motion. If you’ll be holding a paddle of any sort come spring and summer, you’ll be grateful you did these shoulder front raises. This exercise can also benefit mountain bikers—upper body and grip strength makes a difference in bike handling.

5. Dumbbell Thrusters

How: Thrusters combine an air squat with a shoulder press (which is different from a shoulder front raise). Start with a light dumbbell in each hand. Lift them and bend your elbows to rest the weights on your shoulders, with your pinkies facing forward while holding the weights. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower down to a squat (see Air Squat move above), then while moving to a standing position, push the weights up and overhead, turning your arms and weights so that your thumbs face each other in the overhead position. Keep your elbows in-line with your ears. Bring the weights back down to your shoulders as you lower to a squat, and repeat. This is a tough move, so start with three sets of 5 reps.

Why: Thrusters are a full-body movement, incorporating upper and lower body muscle groups and your core, and working your balance and endurance. Dumbbell thrusters require great control of individual dumbbells, which strengthens muscles and connective tissue, and requires balance. This exercise also elevates the heart rate, which will keep you in shape for whatever outdoor sports you do.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.