Exercise ProgrammingSports PerformanceWinter Sports

Winterize Clients for Cold-Weather Sports

January and February are good times to check in with clients and find out if they identify more with Mr. Heat Miser or Mr. Snow Miser. Those who “never want to know a day that’s over 40 degrees” may be spending their spare time conquering moguls, slicing up the ice at an outdoor rink or even seeking out more unique thrills such as snowkiting, ice climbing or ski biking. Whatever their sport of choice, these winter warriors can benefit from your services in a whole new way this season, says Tony Ambler-Wright, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, CSCS, and a Master Instructor for NASM since 2005. But for you to help them succeed and stay safe, it’s important to know what they’ll be up to when they’re exercising outside–and what they hope to accomplish when they do. We asked Ambler-Wright to share his advice on doing that (and more).

Watch Them in Real Time

One of the easiest ways to see how your client is performing in their winter sport is to observe them in action. While a video analysis is of great benefit, don’t rule out joining them for a weekend workout. When I lived in Northern California and the snow was more accessible to me, I really enjoyed snowshoeing with clients for a unique weekend training session, as it aligned well with my endurance training at the time. It was a win-win situation for both of us. Getting a firsthand look at their participation (in person or in video pixels) offers you the opportunity to:

  • Update their indoor training program to address breakdowns in form, technique and body alignment in their outdoor sport.
  • Suggest they meet with a winter-sport coach or trainer to work on improving technical elements of the activity—skills that come only with proper teaching and cueing during the activity itself.
  • Work with their coach or trainer to adapt their training program (with you) to support and advance their efforts in areas that need extra work.

Investigate Their Motivations

Here’s a good reason to bring up the subject of winter sports, even with clients who don’t normally participate: Any type of cross-training can offer myriad benefits for athletes at all levels. You can use these as a selling point if you feel someone’s motivation is flagging—or as a conversation starter if you worry that their outdoor activity may not live up to their expectations. Ambler-Wright says winter sport training can:

Bust boredom. The new and added challenge of trying something different from the norm may be enough to keep easily bored clients stimulated and motivated to stick with their program. It’s vital, however, that they choose something that’s enough of a reach to be intriguing but not so much that it puts them at risk for physical injury or a wounded ego.

Improve performance in their “regular” workout or sport. If a client wants to improve lower body strength and power, as well as their cardio performance, then suggesting they participate in a winter sport perfectly aligns with their goals. For example, if a client normally walks or hikes for cardio, snowshoeing could be a great alternative.

Shed pounds. If your client has specific weight loss or body composition goals, winter sports can be just as effective—if not more effective—at burning calories over a given period of time than more traditional forms of exercise, like indoor cycling or walking. For example, a 2.5 hour day on the slopes alpine skiing (which equates to about 44 minutes of active ski time) yields similar calorie burn to an hour of indoor cycling. (1) Ice skating, for instance, can torch more than twice as many calories as walking at 2 miles per hour. The caloric burn return snowshoeing is equally as impressive. Studies show that snowshoeing on unpacked snow at a little under 3 miles per hour elicits a similar heart rate response and caloric expenditure as walking on a treadmill at 6 miles per hour! (2)

Help Them Get Prepped Properly

Even if the sport isn’t “new” to them, a year may have passed since they participated. For those who are looking to try something different or those who haven’t engaged in the sport since they were a kid or teen, the learning curve will be larger. Some exercisers may benefit from having you act as the “voice of reason” by encouraging them to take lessons or, at the very least, schedule a review session with a professional in that mode of exercise.

The CPT should encourage (and ensure) that their client is learning how to properly perform the activity or sport, starting at the appropriate level, to build the necessary foundation to succeed and enjoy participating in it. I would suggest they also invest in the appropriate gear to keep them safe and make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

For example, snowboarding and skiing require agility, balance, coordination, and lower body strength and power—all of which can benefit and translate to improved performance in other sports. However, if the client never takes the time to learn to properly walk, stop, or turn in skis, or effectively get up off the ground from a seated position with a snowboard (very basic, foundational skills), it can very quickly escalate from a fun, exhilarating experience to one that is not enjoyable, and possibly even dangerous.

Address the Demands of the Sport

Ensure that you understand what the client will have to contend with physically, then compare that to what you’re addressing in their current program. For example, skiing requires great agility, coordination, hip mobility and stability, core stability, and lower body strength and power. If these things are not being addressed as part of the current program, CPTs should work on ensuring that clients have strong and stable hips, as well as dynamic core stability, balance, and the agility and coordination to react to unexpected stimulus and terrain. This can be addressed by training in multiple planes of motion, adding asymmetrical loading and balance demands into current exercises, incorporating progressive plyometrics, and utilizing unstable surface training where appropriate.

Reinforce the Importance of Recovery

You might suggest weekend winter-sports warriors meet with you on a Monday. Then flip the focus of your typical training session from strength training and conditioning to recovery. Do things like foam rolling, stretching and other lower-intensity mobility drills. This will help them recover from their weekend outing, and they’ll love you for it. This would also be an opportunity to promote and encourage use of other recovery modalities like percussion/vibration therapy, hands-on stretching, compression boots, or electric muscle stimulation, if available and within your scope of practice.

Remember: Not all clients will bring up their winter sport plans with you at their training session. By starting that discussion, you can reinforce your value as a resource and support to them in every area of fitness. And you may help keep them injury-free, so you can continue your work with them throughout the rest of the year.


  1. Stöggl T, Schwarzl C, Müller EE, et al. A comparison between alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and indoor cycling on cardiorespiratory and metabolic response. J Sports Sci Med. 2016;15(1):184-195.
  2. Connolly DA, The energy expenditure of snowshoeing in packed vs. unpacked snow at low-level walking speeds. J Strength Cond Res. 2002;16(4):606-10.


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The Author

Tony Ambler-Wright

Tony Ambler-Wright

Tony Ambler-Wright has been a Master Instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) since 2005. He received his master’s degree from California University of Pennsylvania (CAL U) in exercise science and health promotion with an emphasis in rehabilitation science and his bachelor’s degree in sports management with an emphasis in fitness and wellness. A licensed massage therapist (LMT), Tony is also an NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES), Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Tony is fortunate to be able to share his passion for and knowledge about health and fitness, sports performance, and corrective exercise training with an array of aspiring and current fitness and sports medicine professionals. He is a regular educator for NASM, a national conference lecturer, and is an adjunct faculty member in the Exercise Science and Sport Studies Department at CAL U.

Training professionally for over 18 years, Tony also has the opportunity to practice what he teaches. While he spent a majority of his career assisting entry-level clients improve their health, fitness, and quality of life, as a Senior Practitioner for Fusionetics, he has spent the last seven years as a consultant to facilities, elite athletes, sports teams and programs – from high-school and collegiate, to the major league, professional, and Olympic ranks – designing and implementing manual therapy, corrective exercise, athletic reconditioning, and performance training programs.

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