Friday, 05 December 2014 12:57

Winter Workout Blues

By James Markwica, MS PT | Families Today

It is that time of year again when we do all we can to prepare for the intense holiday bustle while battling the elements and often times damaging our bodies in the process. In a losing effort against the clock we are typically guilty of performing physically difficult tasks such as shoveling snow, moving heavy boxes, setting up awkward trees and decorating the house beyond even Clark Griswold’s wildest dreams. And it all needed to be done yesterday!

Each year these tasks become more and more difficult as the snow, the boxes, the tree, and even the little decorations, are seemingly becoming heavier and harder to handle. Finding that we are out of time and unable to perform simple exercise seems to be the rule and not the exception. Not to mention you may have spent the entire spring, summer and fall getting fit and now that the cold temps are here you are stuck inside doing fewer physically active tasks.

This doesn’t have to be the case at all. In fact, the daily maintenance of our bodies, physically via simple exercise, enables us to accomplish these tasks with increased ease and without injury. It makes sense.

The muscles and tendons in our bodies are “elastic” in nature, but become increasingly “plastic” and more likely to be damaged as we venture further from our early adult years.

The more we…”mature.”

So what can we do to maintain that flexibility, strength and overall health of these components that make up our bodies? The answer is simple: maintain your level of fitness throughout the entire year with focus given to both the strength and flexibility of our bodies.

If you are a gym person, simply put, go to the gym. If you are a class person, like yoga or pilates, go to your classes and go consistently. Use good form, use your head and progress your programs safely; however, if you are neither, than really this article is precisely for someone like you because you are probably the person who is more active in the summer and very much less active in the winter.

This poses a problem because your body is on an annual rollercoaster of activity and health, putting you at a greater risk of injury. You are at a greater risk as time moves forward and you get tighter and weaker.

So you have “bought in” and realize you want to do something, but you aren’t interested in activity outside like snow shoeing or cross-country skiing. No problem!

These simple tips for stretches/warm-ups and gentle exercises, as recommended by the American Physical Therapy Association, can help you maintain your flexibility and strength, sustaining your daily routine without injury.


A Few Rules:

  1. Don’t stretch too hard, too fast. You’ll pay for it later with muscle pain.
  2. Avoid bouncing. Maintain a gradual gentle pressure when stretching. Five reps of 10 to 30 seconds in sufficient for most people.
  3. Move through a pain-free ROM (range of motion) at a slow and stable speed.
  4. Don’t over-do it. Typically two to three sets of 10 reps are a good start when strengthening.
  5. Breathe! Exhale when straining, inhale when returning to resting position.


1.     “V” Exercise: Sitting in good posture begins with your arms crossed across your lap and thumbs pointing towards your hips. Then raise your arms up to assume the “V” shape. Hold and repeat again.

2.     Calf Stretch: Standing up straight at the kitchen sink, begin with one leg behind and one forward. Keeping the rear leg straight and locked move your hips forward, bending the front knee while keeping the rear foot flat on the floor. Feel a gentle stretch up the back of the leg.

3.     Forward/Backward Bends: Standing with feet apart and secure balance, slowly lower your hands down along your thighs reaching for the floor. Pause and return to standing erect. Then, with hands on the back of your hips slowly bend backwards a comfortable distance. Pause and then return to standing erect.


1.     Punches: Holding onto a light weight, or even a can of canned vegetables, punch forward alternating arms while sitting or standing in good posture.

2.     Sink Squats: Stand at the kitchen sink and hold on. Place a chair behind you for safety. Squat down touching your rear to the chair and raise back up.

3.     Calf/Toe Raises: Again at the sink, hold on while advancing up onto your toes, and then back onto your heels.

4.     Stairs: Walk up and down your stairs. Or even just go up and down your lowest step to minimize the risk of taking a tumble.

5.     Walk the hall, or get on that treadmill that’s covered with clothes. Treadmills are probably the most expensive hangers people buy. Plug it in and get on it.


Keeping your workouts short, sweet and intense will likely keep you going and minimizes time as being a factor or an excuse as to why you cannot get to it. Spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes to start and pick a few stretches and strengthening exercises you like and then add on as you wish. Think safe and smart.

By maintaining your strength and flexibility you can absolutely avoid injuries to your spine and extremities throughout the holidays and all year long.

Try to do these simple exercises each day in an effort to maintain and avoid problems down the road. Slowly progress your repetitions or weights for increased intensity if you desire. If you are unable to perform any or all of these due to pain, weakness or tightness, don’t hesitate to consult with your physician to confirm that exercise is safe for you.

Now get moving. Motion is lotion!

James Markwica, MS PT is a New York State Licensed Physical Therapist at LaMarco Physical Therapy, 417 Geyser Road in Ballston Spa and 30 Gick Road in Saratoga Springs. For questions of follow-up, contact James at (518) 587-3256 or online at

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