Changing your workout focus for fall, winter

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In the summer, I'm always outside -- cycling, running and hiking -- but as the weather gets a little colder and the nights a little darker, I find I spend a lot less time outdoors.

As a result, I look for opportunities to stay active and healthy indoors. And I'm not alone. All gyms, including our personal training studio, experience an influx of clients coming back to seek refuge from the colder, wetter Northwest weather.

So, if you are storing your road bike for the winter, now would be a great opportunity to start taking an indoor cycling class. If you like water sports, you might sign up for an indoor rowing program. If you like to dance, you'd love a zumba class. You might register for a yoga, core conditioning or pilates program. Use this as an opportunity to try something new or to focus on an area that you'd like to improve on.

I personally use the fall and winter months to start using my indoor rock climbing membership at The Source rock climbing gym again. I will also ramp up my weight training and indoor classes. However, I do still get outdoors and run all year long. As long as I have the right gear, I don't mind running in the wet and cold. Plus, it ensures I still soak up some vitamin D and get some fresh air. I believe that helps a lot with preventing the seasonal affective disorder that many people experience in the Northwest.

Here are a few of my favorite resistance training exercises.

Upper Body: Assisted Chin-ups

The chin-up is one of the best upper body exercises, and it is definitely one of my favorite compound upper body movements. The problem is, most people can't perform a full chin-up without assistance. Fortunately, most gyms offer a Gravitron or other assisted chin-up machines, enabling most people to incorporate chin-ups into their workout routine because the machines offer assistance.

The model at your gym may be either a stand-up or kneel model, and it may either be computerized or involve only a weight stack. The instructions on the front of the machine will clearly demonstrate how to complete the set-up process. You will also notice that the chin-up exercise allows you to choose three or four different grips: a wide grip, a mid-grip, a narrow grip and a reverse mid-grip. We recommend to our clients that they use all the various grips to challenge their muscles with a slightly different stimulus with each set.

Once you have decided upon the grip, technique is pretty simple. As you pull with your arms, your body will lift upward. Stop once your chin has cleared the bar. Slowly return to the starting position. Attempt to achieve full range of motion without locking out on your elbows. Try to focus on pulling with the muscles in your back rather than your arms. Perform a set of eight to 12 reps. To perform this exercise at home, you can purchase a chin-up bar at most department stores or fitness equipment retailers for a very low cost. Since a regular chin-up bar doesn't offer the assistance most people need, we suggest you either use a small bench or just use your legs to jump up to the bar and then control the release on the way down.

If your strength isn't up to the point of lifting or lowering your body weight at all, then you can just keep your feet on the bench/ground and lift and lower as much of your body weight as you can handle. With time and consistency, you will be able to lift and lower more of your weight soon!

Lower Body -- Step Ups

Position yourself in front of a bench holding a set of hand weights (height dependent on the current strength of your legs) with one foot on the bench so that your kneecap faces forward and your weight is distributed on all four corners of your foot. Avoid having the bench so high that when you step down, your hips don't drop below your knee. Now slowly step up, extending the supporting knee into a fully upright, balanced position. Now slowly lower yourself down to the starting position. Perform eight to 12 reps on each leg with a weight that challenges you by the end of the set.

Core -- Table Top

Lie on your stomach. Position your elbows under your shoulders. Contract your abdominal muscles and then slowly lift your body onto your toes and your elbows. Keep your back straight and shoulder blades pulled together. Remember to breathe. Hold this position for a few seconds and repeat 10 to 15 times. Feel free to start on your knees and elbows, and as you get stronger, slowly progress to your toes.

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com.