One of the things that I love about summer is the ample opportunity to train outdoors. The long, hot summer days are perfect for not only soaking up some extra vitamin D, but also improving your fitness. Whether it be sprinting some hills, or going on some longer endurance runs, the summer season is hard to beat for outdoor conditioning opportunities.
Unfortunately, winter is just around the corner and the temperatures have already begun to drop. Frankly speaking, the weather has become less than agreeable and so training outdoors has become a much more difficult proposition.
For starters, depending on where you live the conditions may not be amenable for any sort of roadwork due to the hazards of ice and snow. Additionally, the fact that there are less daylight hours also means that running late at night or early in the morning becomes much more treacherous, even if you are wearing reflective clothing.
In circumstances such as these, what options are available?
One solution would be to simply suck it up and brave the elements. Certainly a feasible option for those living in milder climates or looking to toughen up mentally, but for others the risk of injury is just too great.
Another solution may be to join a gym so you can use their cardiovascular equipment, or buy a fancy piece of equipment yourself. A good idea for some, but for others it just wouldn’t make sense financially.
Are there any other options?
In my opinion a great low tech, high effect solution would be utilize bodyweight calisthenics in a circuit-like fashion. As mentioned before, most people underestimate the effectiveness of bodyweight movements, especially when it comes to cardiovascular conditioning.
The benefit of using bodyweight training as a conditioning tool is twofold: First, you don’t need to wait for good weather in order to train. You can complete the exercises indoors with surprisingly little space. Second, you don’t need any fancy cardiovascular equipment or gym memberships to get a great workout. Bodyweight training is free!
One of the best ways to incorporate a bodyweight conditioning routine is through the use of a deck of playing cards. Allow me to explain how to use this age old tool.
How this routine works is that you pick two bodyweight movements and assign them each to either red or black suited cards of the deck. Once you’ve done that you simply stack the deck face down and turn over each card one at a time. The colour and value of the card will inform you on which exercise to perform and for how many repetitions. So for example, if you decide that for every red suited card you will perform a set of burpees and for every black suited card you will do a set of sit-ups a training session would look something like the following:
- 9 of diamonds = Perform 9 burpees
- 5 of clubs = Perform 5 sit-ups
- King of hearts = Perform 10 burpees (perform 10 reps for any face cards)
- Ace of spades = Perform 11 sit-upset
The goal would be to get through the entire deck as fast as possible, always attempting to shoot for a PR. The interesting twist to this routine is that once you complete it you should shuffle the deck of cards so that the next time you do the routine the cards (and hence the exercises) will be in a completely different order.
You also don’t have to limit yourself to just burpees and sit-ups. You can pair any two bodyweight movements together. My recommendation would be to pair two antagonistic movements. In other words, movements that hit opposing muscle groups. So for example, if you decided to designate all red suited cards as push-ups, the black ones could be pull-ups. The last thing you would want to do is combine two exercises that hit the same or similar muscle groups. I can guarantee you the experience will not be fun!
You also don’t have to limit the movements to bodyweight exercises only. I’m just using them as an example. You could easily incorporate external resistance exercises like kettle bell swings, med ball slams, or sledgehammer swings. Just pick movements that don’t require a lot of technical skill to execute. Remember that your cardiovascular system will be taxed which will result in a concomitant degradation in your form. The last thing you want to have is a bar come crashing down on your head because you thought performing barbell snatches for high reps in a fatigued state was a good idea.
Also, as much as I am a fan of the whole “low tech, high effect” method of using a deck of playing cards, there are now products out on the market that have premade cards for you with a collection of different exercises and rep schemes. A popular product out on the market right now is Fit Deck. I personally have their bodyweight deck and considerate it indispensable for those occasions where I don’t have access to a full gym or don’t have the ability to do any conditioning drills outside. I can bring the deck with me and know that I can get a complete head to toe conditioning workout without the need of any equipment other than my own body. An awesome product indeed! (And no, I’m not getting paid to say this).
Lastly, I want to leave you with a great example of how many elite athletes don’t rely on much more than the basics to keep them in top form. The following video is of former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis explaining how he uses a simple deck of cards to stay in shape:
So there you have it. You don’t need fancy gym equipment or expensive gym memberships to get into shape. Hell, you don’t even need good weather! Now that winter is fast approaching us you may be looking into some creative ways to stay in shape while staying indoors. Well, let me tell you that a plain old deck of cards and some hard work is all that you will need.
Here’s to staying fit!