Easy Exercises for Better Stability on Winter Ice and Snow

Outside of the warmest climates, wintertime means dealing with ice and snow.  Even if you confine your workouts to the gym during the winter months to avoid the worst of it, even a quick walk to the mailbox can knock you off your feet if you’re not prepared for the occasional hidden ice patch beneath a dusting of snow.  While you can try to remember to walk deliberately and carefully, inevitably, distraction and deadlines will get the better of you.  Here are a few exercises to get your body ready to react to the slippery ground, to prevent a slip from becoming an actual fall or potentially serious injury.

Towel Slides & Single Leg Squats

Towel slides actually simulate a slip by creating an unstable ground for one of your feet on a towel.  Start on wood or tile floor, placing one of your feet on a hand towel laid out flat.  On your stable, non-towel leg, slowly lower into a squat while letting your unstable leg remain straight and slide out to the side the towel.  Come to the deepest squat you can manage, while still being able to pull yourself back to standing.

This exercise provides the benefit of single leg squats, which include balance work, lower core stability, and posterior chain engagement.  Standing back up with one leg extended to the side on a towel also requires adductor engagement from the thigh of the unstable leg, which specifically helps prevent falls by keeping important inner thigh muscles toned.

Single leg squats are also effective and will help to focus on balance and posterior chain strength rather than adding the adductor work component to the exercise.  Raise one leg out in front of you, either with knee bent, or for a more challenging version, with knee straight, and complete a deep squat on the other leg.  To challenge core engagement, try to keep your hips level and balanced throughout the squat, rather than tilting off to one side.

Calf Raises & Toe Lifts

Stability on ice begins with your feet and calves, and your ability to quickly make micro adjustments within the lower leg to prevent the instability beneath your feet from impacting the rest of your frame.  Rigid shoes and winter boots take a lot of the foot based micro adjustments out of the picture, but ankles and calves are still a good first line of defense.

For calf raises, stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of a stair or step, with heels hanging off.  Be sure to hold onto the railing for stability, and then allow your heels to dip down below the step to ensure you’re working your calves in their full range of motion.  Engage your calves to come up on to your tip toes, and repeat.  The motion can be altered to target lateral stability muscles in the calves by lifting your arches so that the push-off is done primarily by the lateral portion of your calf muscles.  Similarly, flattening your arches will help to target the inner stability muscles.  When modifying, it’s important to hold the railing to prevent injury and be sure to only slightly adjust your position, as your ligaments and tendons are more susceptible to injury when out of straightforward alignment.  Only shift your feet slightly to emphasize inner and outer muscles.

For toe lifts, tie an elastic workout band around a stable object, such as a table leg, and sitting with your legs out in front of you, slip your toe into the band.  Slide back on the floor until there’s tension on the band with your toe pointed.  Slowly pull your toe back toward your torso, engaging the fronts of your calves.  Similarly, adjusting your foot position to emphasize the inner and outer leg will help to round out this exercise and work the entirety of your lower leg.

Unstable Planks

Ensuring that your core muscles can work dynamically, on unstable surfaces, will help keep you grounded when you’re faced with a real-life unstable surface.  Unstable planks can be done in a variety of ways.  A good place to start is by placing your hands firmly on a yoga ball and coming into plank.  The raised position of the yoga ball will alter the angle of the plank and make it a bit easier, similar to doing a plank on a bench.  The fact that the ball can move and roll will make up for the decreased angle, and help keep the exercise challenging.

Once you’ve mastered hands on the ball, try switching to your feet elevated.  This angle will dramatically increase the challenge.  Other unstable surfaces are also great for planks, including placing your hands on a smaller unstable object, such as a basketball.  Lifting a leg or arm can also create instability, and increase the dynamic challenge to your abs.