Consider the city your winter gym: every road and sidewalk, field and staircase, hill, trail and sandy beach is yours.
Work out solo, with a partner or with fifty others. In hiking boots, running shoes or snowshoes, on skis or bikes. Before sunrise or after sunset. Just tell yourself it’s worth it: the icicles hanging from your nostrils and eyelashes, the numbness creeping into your fingers and toes, the wind lashing your cheeks or, if you’re lucky, the sun making everything around you glisten. Try one of these seven outdoor workouts and see if they can’t convince you to go to the “city gym” this winter. (And don’t miss our recent sledding hill guide and extreme outdoor activities guide!)
November Project Milwaukee
→ Muscles strengthened include: You name it, it gets strengthened. Bonus: Up to 43 smile muscles (especially zygomaticus major).
This free, fun fitness movement has all your muscle groups covered, starting at 5:29 a.m. or 6:26 a.m. every Wednesday and Friday, year-round, no matter the weather (yes, we’re talking snow storms and sub-zero). November Project Milwaukee meets at O’Donnell Park on Wednesday mornings and at 17 other locations around Milwaukee on Fridays (check out the Facebook page on Thursdays for the Friday location). Each workout lasts about 45 minutes, starts with a bounce and a cheer (and so much smiling it can hurt) and consists of myriad combinations of running and body-weight, solo and partner and group exercises that often blur the line between childhood games and gut-wrenching interval training. Come for the Burpees across the 6th Street Bridge; stay for the laughter, the warm hugs and the boundless support no matter your fitness level — all before one of the best parts of all: the beautiful Lake Michigan sunrise.
→ Muscles strengthened include: shoulders, abs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, tibialis anterior, calves
Take a walk with the Wisconsin Go-Hiking Club (WGHC), which offers five hikes per week all year round “to promote health and good fellowship.” Most hikes with this nearly 100-year-old club average about 4 miles long, but some are closer to 8 and others can range from 10-22 miles. December 2018 hikes included holiday trips to see the Downtown city lights and West Allis’s Candy Cane Lane, a Glo-Run and a hike through Zillmer Trails. Expect all the great benefits of walking, plus photo ops, camaraderie and increased calorie burn during the winter months. Annual dues are only $8. Many other urban hiking clubs active in the winter can also be found via Meetup.com, including the Milwaukee Campers, Backpackers and Hikers group.
→ Muscles strengthened include: back of neck, shoulders, arms, leg adductors, hamstrings, calves
Pick up the pace with the Milwaukee Running Group – OMG, the only running club in the Milwaukee area that offers daily runs or plyometric/yoga/pilates workouts (12 total per week, in fact) 365 days a year. They’ve been running together since 2011 and, like November Project Milwaukee, they are weatherproof. Winter city runs typically range between 3-8 miles long and begin at locations such as Atwater Park and the Lake Park Pavilion, though longer runs up to 20 miles long are also on the schedule. All paces are welcomed and supported, though winter running typically slows down even the hardiest runner. In any case, expect a fun time, plus the extra strength and balance benefits of running on snow and ice.
→ Muscles strengthened include: abs, hip flexors, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, anterior shins
Try ice skating at one of the county’s many lagoon and land rinks or at Slice of Ice at Red Arrow Park, where skate rental is $7 (17 and under) and $9 (18 and up). Thanks to a 2016 initiative by Ramp Up MKE, whose goal is to “systematically transform Milwaukee into The World’s Most Accessible Recreation City,” four adaptive ice skating sleds are available free upon request.
Snowshoeing & Cross-country Skiing
→ Muscles strengthened include: Snowshoeing: back, chest, arms, glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, leg abductors and adductors / Skiing: rear deltoids, rhomboids, biceps, triceps, pectorals, abs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves
If simply walking or running looks too simple, grab your boots and gaiters and strap or snap on some snowshoes or cross-country skis at one of the three Urban Ecology Centers. One perk of the $50 annual membership is free equipment lending, which includes shoes and skis for exploring the east side of the Milwaukee River (accessible from the Riverside Park location), Mitchell Park and Three Bridges State Park (a few kick-steps or glides from the Menomonee Valley location) or the over 100 acres of Washington Park. The Nature Center at Wisconsin’s only urban state forest, Havenwoods State Forest, has snowshoes to borrow (no skis), and its over 6 miles of ungroomed but flat trails are said to be good for beginning snowshoers or skiers. Similarly, a few minutes north in Fox Point, the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center rents snowshoes (free for members) and allows skiing on over 6 miles of trails in its pristine 185-acre nature preserve. Annual membership is $55. Finally, it is worth mentioning that although Milwaukee currently does not offer organized skiing experiences for individuals with disabilities, Adaptive Adventures does offer day lessons and camp experiences at various locations in Wisconsin and Illinois.
Fat Tire Biking
→ Muscles strengthened include: abs, glutes, hamstrings, calves
While regular road bikes and mountain bikes are hibernating, fat tire bikes bust out of doors with their 3.7-inch treads and hit the snow, ice and sand throughout Milwaukee and all over Wisconsin. Local bike shops like Coast In Bikes rent fat tire bikes year-round ($40 per day at Coast In) and others like Fyxation also host monthly rides — often with 50 or more riders — out of their shop, sometimes heading to the lakefront for some winter beach riding, hitting the newly opened mountain bike trails at Kletzsch Park or riding a loop between Riverwest and Grant Park. And Wheel & Sprocket has been hosting the Hugh Jass Fat Bike Series for three years that now draws about 200 racers of all ages and skill levels.