Outdoor Fitness Winter Workout

Winter sports are a blast! They’re even more fun when you’re fit for the challenges of the terrain. The following workout uses simple strength exercises that are incredibly effective—and efficient—because they demand that your body works across many planes of motion: up, down, forward, backward, laterally, diagonally, twisting and rotating. They are also great for mental focus and balance—the perfect complement for winter sports.

The Winter Sports Workout

This simple workout turns the world into your portable gym: Each exercise requires no equipment, and can be done anytime, anywhere.  Perform 12 repetitions or each exercise, working up to 25 (or one minute). Please note the photos are not showing appropriate clothing for a winter workout—unless you live someplace with year-round warm weather—but my companion article Winter Fitness: Adapting to the Elements has advice about winterizing your workout wardrobe.


Warm up: Joint Rotations; 5-10 min walk or jog

Station 1: Hill Squats; Half-Tuck Squat

Cardio: Walk or jog 3 minutes

Station 2: Diagonal Stride; Lunge with a Twist

Cardio: Walk or jog 3 minutes

Station 3: Tree Stand—Lower Body; Tree Stand—Upper Body

Cardio: Walk or jog 3 minutes

Station 4: Palm-to-palm Pull up; Full Body Press

Cardio: Walk or jog 3 minutes

Station 5: Standing “C” Crunch; Rock-n-Balance

Cardio: Walk or Jog 3 minutes

Repeat Circuit (optional)

Cool Down: Walk or very slow jog–-5-8 min; Stretch

Hill Squat

Hill Squat

Works: Glutes, hamstrings, adductors, balance, environmental integration

Props: A sloping section of grass, sand, dirt, sidewalk, or ramp
These are my favorite squats on the planet!  Believe it or not, the hillside provides a stable and effective platform for working the glutes and hamstrings, especially the area where the two meet—that’s the “high and tight” effect. You’ll never get this kind of result doing squats on a gym floor.

Starting position: From the basic athletic stance, position your feet slightly beyond shoulder-width apart with toes angling outward from the heels. Align your body with the fall line—facing down the slope, with your body weight distributed evenly between both heels.

Action: Inhale as you lower your hips pressing your tailbone back as far as you can (without collapsing at the waist), keeping your knees aligned over your ankles. Lower your hips so your knees form a 45° angle. Pause for a moment. Exhale as you press up through the heels to the starting position.

Harder: Lower until your knees are at a 90° angle.

“Half-Tuck” Squat

Half-Tuck Squat

Works: Adductors, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings

Props: Hillside, curb, step, parking block

Want to target that hard-to-reach inner-thigh area? Looking for a great move to strengthen your knee joint? I developed this exercise for just that purpose—and found that it also really toned my inner and outer thighs.

Starting position: Using the side of a hill or grassy incline, prop your right foot laterally (sideways) on the slope of the hill so your foot is resting on the heel. Your leg should be straight but not locked. You may need to hop an inch or two to the left, to line your left foot up on the flat surface of the trail or path.

Action: With your palms held together in front of you for counter balance, lower your tailbone into a tuck position, until your left knee forms a 45° angle staying centered over your left leg. Inhale and sink downward, placing pressure on the entire bottom of your left foot, from the big toe to heel. Exhale as you press firmly through the arch of your left foot to activate the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and push yourself back to starting position.

Diagonal Stride

Diagonal Stride

Works: Glutes, abductors, adductors, calves, balance

Props: Inclines, ramps, hills, stairs

Think skater and get low to use your glutes and legs for this powerful exercise. Don’t let momentum do the work here.

Starting Position: Facing up the hill, take a long step up the hill with your left foot, into a diagonal stride—with your right elbow forward and in line with your left knee.

Action: Lean into the hill, with your body weight evenly distributed between both feet. Slowly lower your hips until you can feel pressure under the heel and arch of your left foot and the big toe and ball of your right foot. Exhale as your press off the big toe and ball of your right foot to engage the adductors of the inner thigh. Step the feet together, and alternate with the other leg, using your arms to set the tempo and to assist you with power in your stride.



Works: Glutes, hamstrings, adductors, quadriceps, calves, hip-flexors, abdominals and core stability, balance, kinesthetic awareness, mental focus

Props: Flat ground or slight incline

I created this exercise to give you the most value for your time By adding a simple twist of your torso, you’re working your core muscles—as well as training your balance, coordination and mental focus. Want even more? Try it on a slight incline or in soft sand—WOW!

Starting Position: Stand tall, with your arms out to the sides at shoulder height and your hands balled into fists.

Action: Tighten your abs as you take a long step forward onto your left foot, so that your left knee forms a 45° angle and your right knee is pointed down towards the ground. At the same time, draw your fists (as in a pendulum swing) to your shoulders. Inhale as you sink down, maintaining even balance and weight distribution between both feet.  Next, exhale as you push through your right toes drawing your right knee up and away from your body and up toward your chest (forming the letter “C”). At the same time, press your fists out to your sides, keeping them at shoulder height. Pivot up onto your left toes, with your arms straight out. Hold for a count before repeating with the opposite leg.
Continue traveling, as you alternate legs.

Tree Stand—Lower Body

Tree Stand—Lower Body

Works: Core, glutes, hamstrings, balance, proprioception

Props: Tree, post, wall, boulder

Starting Position: This exercise has you facing a tree, fence or post that’s about 3-4 feet away. Keeping your hips squared with your shoulders, bend over until your back is parallel to the ground, extend your arms to hold onto the tree and lift your right leg off the ground.

Action: Lengthen your body out so that you create the letter “T”; keep legs, arms, and torso straight. Lift your right leg up and down a few inches to work the glutes. Variation: Bend your right knee at a 90° angle and press your heel to the sky, lifting and lowering.

Tree Stand—Upper Body

Tree Stand—Upper Body

Works: Core, back, shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, balance, proprioception

Props: Tree, post, wall, boulder

Starting position: Stand with your back to a tree that’s a few feet away. Keeping your hips squared with your shoulders, extend your arms overhead and lift your left leg off the ground and reaching back for the tree’s surface.

Action: Lengthen your body out, so that you create the letter “T.” Keep your left leg, arms, torso and right leg straight. Lower your arms so your hands are facing in creating a fist. Exhale as your raise your arms out to the sides performing a reverse fly—isometrically squeezing your shoulder blades together.

“Palm-to-Palm” Pull-Up

Palm-to-Palm Pull-Up

Works: Latissimus Dorsi, the large “pulling” muscles of your back — trapezius, rhomboids, deltoids, biceps

Props: Tree limb or monkey bar

This is a much easier version of the classic pull-up.

Starting Position: Select a prop that is just above the height of your head, such as a tree limb or a playground structure. Hang with your fingers laced together around a tree limb or a monkey bar.

Action: Exhale as you pull yourself upward to your right shoulder and until your chin rises above the limb. Inhale as you slowly return to the starting position. Repeat alternating between the right and left shoulder.

Palm-to-Palm Pull-Up - Easier Modification

Easier Modification: Place one foot against the tree or bar or on a rock for assistance.

Full Body Press

Full Body Press

Works: Pectorals, deltoids, triceps, glutes, hamstrings, core stability

Props: Flat terrain, step, log, bench, table top

Why just work the upper part of your body, when, with the same amount of time and effort, you can include your lower body as well This exercise targets your whole body, quickly and effectively.

Starting Position: Place your hands on the ground just a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Step back to a distance that elongates your backside in a straight line from your heels to your head.

Action: Slowly lower your chest, while at the same time contracting your glutes as you lift your right leg at least 12-15 inches off the ground, flexing your right foot (point your toes towards your knee). Exhale up, pushing through your palms to lift your chest, while at the same time lowering your right leg. Alternate lifting your right and left legs.

Easier Modification: Use a bench or the base of a staircase.

Standing “C” Crunch

Standing C Crunch

Works: Abdominals, Glutes, Hip Flexors

Props: Flat ground

Starting Position: Stand on flat ground, or if you’re on a slight incline, face up the slope of a hill.  From the Athletic Stance, turn your body to the left, at an angle. Lengthen your body by extending your arms overhead and your right leg slightly behind you, toes down, heel up.

Action: Inhale, as you lengthen your arms and leg enough to feel a stretch in your abdominal wall. Exhale as you pull your elbows down and lift your right knee up. Your elbows and knee pass each other as you curl and contract your abdominal wall creating the letter “C”.  Repeat on the other leg.



Works: Hip flexors, abductors, glutes, balance, proprioceptive awareness, mental focus, emotional power and environmental integration.

Props: Rock, root, curb

I came up with this exercise one fall day when I was training for ski season. I was bounding up a dry riverbed when I spotted a very pointy rock. I challenged myself to stand on the point for as long as I could. Later I added “foot scribing” exercises, such as spelling my name in huge loopy letters, and trying to balance with my eyes closed.

Starting Position: Find a stable rock, root or bump protruding from the ground. Place the arch of your right foot on the pointiest or most rounded part of the rock—so that your foot and ankle may move in any range of motion. Find a focal point straight ahead, at least 20 feet away, and concentrate on it.

Action: Using your arms to help maintain balance, lift your opposite leg off the ground. Once you’re feeling balanced, lift your leg higher and begin to scribe a half-circle with your toes: forward, to the side, and behind you. Work from forward to back. And back to forward. Repeat on the other leg.

Tip: There is something very primal, yet very soothing about this exercise. On the one hand you must feel the hard surface underfoot. To be successful, however you must also be soft and flowing in your approach. Think too much about what you’re doing and you’ll lose your balance.


December 09, 2010 at 11:16 am

Awesome. Amazing ideas to get outside and enjoy.


December 19, 2010 at 8:17 am

This is great, thanks so much for the post. I recently started the workouts from your book “outdoor fitness” and will enjoy adding some of these moves to my morning walks. Happy Holidays!

donna moxham

January 09, 2011 at 8:38 am

i never saw your website before and i’m very excited because i started my own outdoor fitness business, Fresh Air Fitness, this year. I am slowly growing and gaining more clients. I found your philosophy refreshing to read. i am in complete agreement about exercising year round outdoors! had 12 inches of snowfall last night and had an awesome class this morning playing in the snow!!

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