6 Winter Sports To Take Up So You Stay Active And Build More Muscle

The science says you should stay active during the cold. Take advantage of the chilly months with these winter sports and build some cold-hard-muscle.

Kelleigh Korevaar |

Here’s a bone-chilling fact for you: South Africa’s leading wellness programme, Discovery Vitality, sees a 9% drop in gym visits during winter. And that’s just the people who have gym contracts and choose to be active every day. Imagine people who don’t have gym fees coming out of their bank account, motivating them to go to gym even if they don’t feel like it. That’s a lot of people who aren’t exercising enough in winter or taking up winter sports.

Related: Don’t Take Winters Off: These Are The 3 Things You Should Do Instead

It’s understandable of course, we’d rather sit curled up on the couch than doing bicep curls in an ice-cold gym. And that’s why we decided to get creative, because we too, suffer from the slack that winter brings. These are six activities you can take up that are perfect, if not even better, when done in winter. Your summer body will thanks us!

1. Rock-Climbing

This one is far from your typical workout, and that’s why we’re loving it for winter. You’ll have so much fun (or fear) it will hardly even feel like a workout.

Related: So You Want To Go Rock Climbing?

On top of enjoying the feeling that you’ve conquered something after your workout, there are so many benefits that you will get to enjoy. Rock climbing is a lot more than just an upper-body workout, it’s a full-body, full-mind exercise.

Strength training and cardio are combined into a single session and you’ll be leaving those calories along the wall as you climb along. According to the Harvard Health Publications, a 70kg person burns around 818 calories per hour whilst doing a rock climbing ascent.

You’ll also be improving your grip strength which will have mega-results in the gym. Strong grip is also associated with decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. According to Circulation, people with strong grips were 36% less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those with weak grips, regardless of their genetic predisposition.

Related: Are You Ready To Take On The CityROCK Speed Challenge?

We’re not just saying it’s a great workout and challenge, we’ve tried and tested this and it’s one of our winter workouts here at MH headquarters. We even created a challenge so you can join us too! It’s called The CityROCK Speed Challenge and the guys over there have built a wall especially for our Men’s Health readers and fans. There’s a CityROCK in Joburg and Cape Town, if you’re amped to take on the 15m wall.

The challenge? Climb the wall as quickly as you can and record your time to get on the board. Try to beat other climbers, or go with a group of mates and see who is the fastest out of all of you.

You can find out more about it here. Get climbing!

2. Indoor Soccer

If you’re worried about climate control, you’re pretty much covered when it comes to indoor soccer. A lot of people forget that they can continue their favourite warm-weather sports in winter if they just do a little re-thinking and rule-changing. That’s why indoor soccer works so well. Think of it as your off-season soccer practice or think of it as a new sport you can continue to play even after the winter chill has gone.

Related: ​How to Prepare For a Grueling Workout Like a World-Class Soccer Player

Get together a group of friends and form a league where you play once a week. Or join a league of people you don't know and make a whole lot of new friends. You can improve your own skills and it’s a lot more fast-paced than outdoor soccer which means you will get more touches and opportunities to make like Messi and score a goal.

Also, we’re not saying this should factor into your decision, but we kind of are. With the Premier and Champions League wrapping up and The FIFA World Cup starting in the heat… or should we say cold of winter. You’re going to have major FIFA fever. Take that excitement straight to the court (your mates, too) instead of sitting on your couch, beer in hand, watching the pro’s play.

3. Mountain Biking

Who said winter meant you wouldn’t be getting dirty? Mountain biking in the cold, wet and mud provides some of the best training and most fun you could have. Cycling is a great way to get in your cardio and build some muscle.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Mastering Mountain Biking: From Buying Bikes To Finding Trails                               

Slipping and sliding down forest trails and switching back and forth on single-track, mud flying all over your bike and body is an adventurous way to get in a winter workout.

And getting outdoors in winter has its proven benefits; brown fat is triggered by the cold according to a study in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. This means you will burn more calories and expend more energy whilst working out in the cold.

It’s not for the faint of heart, but then again. How much do you really want to join the hundreds of other people who have given up their summer sports and headed to the spinning bikes at the gym? Our guess is not so much.

Check out mtbroutes.co.za, for the mountain bike trails you can hit all over South Africa and even Lesotho.

4. Squash

For every half an hour of squash you smash, you could crush some serious calories; 500 to be exact. Despite it being indoors which means you can play it all year round, you’ll be running, leaping and diving which will help build up a sweat and most likely keep you warm in that winter weather.

Related: Top 3 Squash Workouts

Squash improves your cardiovascular health which is pivotal if you want to have a healthy heart (and trust us, you do). It will also improve your agility, flexibility and hand-eye co-ordination. So that come summer time, you will never miss catching that beer that your mate chucks your way.

5. Trail Running

With so many trail running events in winter, not lacing up your takkies and hitting the terrain would be a shame. Running in winter has its own challenges but the rewards you will reap outweigh them tenfold. Whilst the cold might have an effect on your breathing, you won’t have to deal with the sun piercing your skin, making sweat droplets flow from every pore in your body.

And if you’re struggling for motivation, joining a running club is the best thing you could do. All you need to do in the winter months when motivation is low, is show up and run, because you’ll feel the guilt if you don’t.

Related: 5 Signs You Need New Running Shoes

Just remember that your running shoes need extra care in the cold and rain. According to Asics, any time you run in the rain, you need to clean your shoes with a cloth and if possible remove the insoles. Once removed, stuff them with newspaper so the moisture inside the shoe can be absorbed.

Check out trailrunning.co.za to find trail running races in your area. It’s crazy how active this sport is in winter – we’re talking 7+ trail races, and that’s just in the next month!

6. Golf

Okay, hear us out on this one. Most guys hang up their clubs for the winter when really, these could be the best months to get in your practice. The first bonus? There are a lot less guys on the green so you don’t have to worry about slow play. It will just be you and a few other golfers who have figured this out.

Related: Expert Tips For a Better Golf Game

And if having your own private golf course isn’t selling you, the financial gain will be a hole-in-one. Because most people choose staying put on their couch instead of putting about; golf courses struggle to make the money they make in summer. This means discounted membership fees, slashed lesson prices, cheaper prices on green fees and so much more.

You’ll also be getting some much needed Vitamin D that a lot of us miss out on during winter. This nutrient is crucial for your bone, skin and mental health; and preventing a whole host of issues and diseases that a Vitamin D deficiency can cause you.

Here in South Africa, we’re lucky we don’t have to endure those snowy and extreme conditions that other countries do. All you need to do to enjoy the green? Grab a jacket.

Related: 5 Reasons Winter Is Making You Fat

Ultimately, the point is to try and stay as active as possible during the colder months no matter how much of a struggle it may seem like. Winter-weather workouts = the two H’s, health and happiness.

Because your body works harder to keep you warm, you get an increased amount of endorphins (endorphins are responsible for that post-gym feel-good feeling). This means you will feel even better after your workout according to research published in Environmental Science & Technology. So take up one of these sports so that when summer comes around your muscles haven’t melted away.


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