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4 Fun Cold-Weather Cardio Workouts

By Joe Vennare

spin classWhen the temperature outside begins to drop a triathlete has three options: Layer up, pack it in until spring or hit the treadmill and indoor trainer. Thankfully, there are more effective ways to train during the winter months that don't put you at risk for frostbite, weight gain or social isolation. 

Compared to traditional single-plane exercises, such as running on a treadmill, kettlebell training creates an ideal environment for burning calories and increasing VO2 max, which trains the heart and circulatory system to become more efficient in delivering oxygen throughout the body. 

Studies have shown that exercisers implementing high-intensity kettlebell training can obtain a heart rate, VO2 max and calorie burn equivalent to running on a treadmill at a six-minute-mile pace. 

Sample Kettlebell Workout

Complete five rounds of the following kettlebell exercises as fast as possible.

25x Kettlebell Swing 
25x Kettlebell Thruster 
25x Kettlebell Swing 
25x Deadlift — High Pull 
30 seconds rest

Spin Class
Head to an indoor cycling or spin class at your local fitness center to avoid the elements and build your cardio base. Resisted climbs and rides will help to increase leg strength in the quadriceps and hamstrings, the same two muscle groups engaged while you run. You're able to simulate speed training during periods of intense sprinting followed by active recovery periods.

As an added benefit, these improvements will come with significantly less impact on the knees and ankles, providing your body with a break from the impact and overuse injuries associated with running.

Spinning Workout Tips

Start by finding the schedule for fitness classes at your local gym. Go prepared with a bottle of water and a towel. 

Plan on getting to your first class a little early to be sure you get a proper fit on the bike. Ask the instructor to help you with the setup. Don't just walk in and jump on the bike as is; they're adjustable for a reason. Attend a couple classes at separate times to see what different instructors have to offer.

Treadmill Workouts with a Twist

If you just have to get on the treadmill, consider adding a cardio component to your strength training workouts. 

Studies have shown that 15 minutes of cardio intervals before your strength workout, followed by another 15 minutes after the workout will significantly increase calorie burn, maximum heart rate and the release of muscle building growth hormone. 


Instead of simply performing traditional cardio intervals or fartlek's on the treadmill, with periods of max effort followed by walking or jogging, fill the rest periods with a strength training exercise. 

Sample Treadmill Workout

Sprint for 60 seconds followed by the following exercises. Repeat for six rounds. 

After each sprint, perform:

  • 15 push-ups in round one;
  • 15 dumbbell shoulder presses in round two;
  • 15 body-weight squats in round three;
  • up to 10 pull-ups in round four;
  • 10-15 triceps dips in round five;
  • 5 lunges each leg in round six.

Tabata Protocol
After a five- to 10-minute warm up, set the treadmill to a 10-percent to 12-percent incline and ramp up the speed to a sprint. Perform 20 seconds of high-intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat for eight to 12 sets. 

Training using the Tabata technique increases stride frequency and encourages forefoot running, while increasing total caloric output. This same technique can be applied to cycling on a spin bike or indoor trainer.

Recreational Sports

For the "serious" triathlete out there, replacing a training run with indoor soccer or pick-up basketball might seem crazy. There's no reason exercise cannot be enjoyable, especially during the offseason. Forget about setting PRs in the dead of winter when race season is months away. Give your body and mind a break from the demands and structure of a rigid training plan. 

Don't think that just because recreation is in the title that it means the activities are going to be easy. Soccer, basketball and even ultimate Frisbee might be more challenging than you think.

Be prepared to perform intervals (start and stop during soccer and basketball), plyometrics (jumping and lateral movement in basketball), and recruit different muscles than you are accustomed to.

Brave the Cold
If you can't avoid heading out in a wintery mix, dress for the elements. Start with a pair of off-road shoes that offer more grip for improved traction; consider treating them with a waterproof spray. Dress in layers, being sure to avoid cotton. Once cotton is wet it will stay wet, weighing you down and stealing your heat. 

Winter workout layers should include breathable base layer tops and bottoms, various mid-layer tops that wick moisture and outerwear that sheds or repels water. Base and mid-layers should be fleece, wool, down or a breathable synthetic. 

Top layers should be waterproof and/or windproof. A warm beanie, neck gaiter, face mask, balaclavas and gloves are also important to have on hand. Lastly, ski-specific or wool socks will help prevent frozen toes.

Joe Vennare is the co-founder of Hybrid Athlete, Kettlebell Cardio and Race Day Domination. As the drector of programming, Joe designs innovative training programs for endurance, adventure and obstacle race athletes. In addition to his professional pursuits Joe is a sponsored triathlete, ultra-marathoner and adventure racer.

This article originally appeared on — your source for information, training plans, expert advice and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.