Changing Your Workout Focus For Fall & Winter

In the summer, I'm always outside -- walking hills and stairs, running (sprinting really), hiking, doing beach workouts with my husband, and running boot camps -- but as the weather gets a little colder and the nights a little darker, I find I spend a lot less time outdoors. C’mon its Wisconsin, it snows in October sometimes.

As a result, I look for opportunities to stay active and healthy indoors. And I'm not alone. All gyms, including our personal training studio, experience an influx of clients coming back to seek refuge from the colder, wetter Midwest weather.

So, if you’re storing your road bike for the winter, now would be a great opportunity to start taking an indoor small group class. Or if you like water sports, you might sign up for an indoor rowing program. If you like to cardio, you'd love a spin class or maybe even hip-hop if you like dance. Check Groupon or other online offerings, they offer lots of these “deals” this time of year. You might register for a yoga or Pilates program someplace local. Use this as an opportunity to try something new or to focus on an area that you'd like to improve upon.

I personally use the fall and winter months to experiment with new interval training workouts, for myself AND for my personal training clients. And YES I DO experiment on myself first, THEN my husband. I will also ramp up my weight training and indoor small group classes. However, I know many friends and clients still get outdoors and run, ski or snowshoe. As long as you have the right gear, most don't mind the wet, snow and cold. Plus, it ensures that they still soak up some vitamin D and get some fresh air. I believe that helps a lot with preventing the seasonal affective disorder that many people experience in Milwaukee and other Midwest cities.

Here are a few of my favorite resistance training exercises.

Upper Body: Super Band or Regular/Assisted Pull-ups

The pull up or chin-up is one of the best upper body exercises and it is definitely one of my favorite compound upper body movements. Big bang for your buck stuff! The problem is most people can't perform a full chin-up without assistance. Hey, no judgment. Fortunately, many studios and gyms have super bands or other assisted chin-up machines, enabling most people to incorporate chin-ups into their workout routine because the machines offer assistance.

If you are not an Achieve client, but belong to a traditional gym, a common assisted pull up model may be either a stand-up or kneel model and it may either be computerized or involve only a weight stack. The instructions on the front of the machine will clearly demonstrate how to complete the set-up process. You will also notice that the chin-up exercise allows you to choose three or four different grips: a wide grip, a mid-grip, a narrow grip and a reverse mid-grip.

At most gyms, there are pull up bars and super bands to help “boost” clients up, taking away a percentage of their own body weight during the lift, making the chin up a little easier and more manageable but still very effective. Grips can be underhand and close (this is your strongest position), over hand close or over hand wide (this is your weakest position). You can also use a straight lifting bar in it’s racked position. That way your feet never leave the ground BUT you are still using a large percentage of your body weight in the lift.

Once you have decided upon the grip, technique is pretty simple. As you pull with your arms and back, your body will lift upward. Stop once your chin has cleared the bar. Slowly return to the starting position. Attempt to achieve full range of motion without locking out on your elbows. Try to focus on pulling with the muscles in your back rather than your arms. Perform a set of eight to 12 reps. Regular chin-up bars don’t offer the assistance most people need, so we suggest you either use a small bench or just use your legs to jump up to the bar and then control the release on the way down; with or without a super band.

If your strength isn't up to the point of lifting or lowering your body weight at all, then you can just keep your feet on the bench/ground and lift and lower as much of your body weight as you can handle. With time and consistency, you will be able to lift and lower more of your weight soon!

Lower Body -- Step Ups (with or without weights)

Position yourself in front of a bench holding a set of hand weights (height dependent on the current strength of your legs) with one foot on the bench so that your kneecap faces forward and your weight is distributed on all four corners of your foot. Avoid having the bench so high that when you step down, your hips don't drop below your knee. Now slowly step up, extending the supporting knee into a fully upright, balanced position. Now slowly lower yourself down to the starting position. Focus on pulling your weight up through the lead glute (lead leg) muscle and driving through the lead heel. Perform eight to 12 reps on each leg with a weight that challenges you by the end of the set.

Core – Plank or Table Top

Lie on your stomach. Position your elbows under your shoulders. Contract your abdominal muscles and then slowly lift your body onto your toes and your elbows. Keep your back straight and shoulder blades pulled together. Remember to breathe. Hold this position for a few seconds and repeat 10 to 15 times. Feel free to start on your knees and elbows, and as you get stronger, slowly progress to your toes.

Catherine Andersen BA, MBA, NSCA - CPT has been inspiring clients to adopt a fitness lifestyle for over 20 years. She is the co-owner, with husband Michael, of Achieve Personal Fitness and Milwaukee Adventure Boot Camp in the North shore of Milwaukee. She has helped mentor and raise two active and healthy step-children, Regan and Devin and is an IFBB Professional Figure Athlete. Join our FREE newsletter for regular health and fitness inspiration or follow us on Facebook. Want to learn more or become a part of our fitness community and successes? Check us out at