Fun ways to get fit when it’s frigid outside

Elaine Shannon  kicks up her heels with the rest of the tap class at the Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center in Somerville.
Elaine Shannon kicks up her heels with the rest of the tap class at the Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center in Somerville.(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

Despite our best intentions, it’s hard to get moving in winter. Freezing temperatures, accumulating snow, and short days conspire to keep us inside by the fireplace, hot chocolate in hand. The long, dutiful workouts can wait.

Then we think, “What’s happened to us?” How did we allow ourselves to become so sedentary?

Maybe it’s time to put the fun back into our exercise routines.

Gyms and fitness centers offer various classes designed to keep us moving, from spin to pilates to yoga to various forms of aerobics. Local pools are full of swimmers logging laps. For those who prefer being outside, the traditional pastimes of snowshoeing and Nordic skiing are still popular (when the snow gods cooperate), along with four local ski hills: Ski Bradford in Haverhill, Nashoba Valley in Westford, Blue Hills in Canton, and Ski Ward in Shrewsbury.


But have you thought of tap dancing? Indoor rock climbing? Fat biking through the snow?

Dance classes are a wonderful way to mix fitness and fun. Julia Boynton owns Julia On Tap and offers numerous classes at the Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center in Somerville.

“Coming to the tap studio feels like entering a kind of club, where you and your classmates get together in shoes with metal plates attached to beat out rhythms while moving across a sprung hardwood floor [padded beneath the surface], moving to and moved by music,” Boynton said. “It’s a social gathering, not unlike a cocktail party, but instead of drinks and small talk, it’s tap shoes and conversations with your feet.”

Tap dancers, said Boynton, are “musicians as well as dancers.” Participants learn to play a percussive instrument — shoes striking the floor — while simultaneously learning to dance. There are techniques to learn, but for the most part tap is an individual form of expression using natural movement, she said.


“For the beginner in tap shoes, there’s nothing like the instant gratification of producing your own sounds,” Boynton said.

Even better, it’s an activity that is available to just about anyone, due to its relaxed stance and natural, low-impact style.

For Newton’s Beth Lynn Polasky, who started 12 years ago, tap dancing is “a great workout because it not only uses so many muscles — legs, glutes, and abdominals if you’re doing it right, and tiny muscles around the ankle — it also requires a lot of brainwork.”

It’s also motivating to share an activity with dancers of all ages, she said.

“There is something really inspiring about seeing older tappers,” said Polasky. “I’m not sure I would have taken up tap in my 40s if I didn’t think that I’d have a reasonable shot at being able to continue into my 50s and beyond. Other than a few ‘master’ classes with a ton of high school kids, tapping makes me feel kind of ageless.”

The added element of tap dancing is melding the movements with music.

“The mental aspect of studying tap is huge,” said Boynton. “Talk about thinking on your feet. In addition to learning the body mechanics of tap, students bring their memory, focus, and mental agility to combine movement phrases with rhythmic phrases played by the feet.”

Everett Pang, 9, of Duxbury and Izzy Rodericks, 12, of Hanover climb a vertical wall at Challenge Rocks in Hingham.
Everett Pang, 9, of Duxbury and Izzy Rodericks, 12, of Hanover climb a vertical wall at Challenge Rocks in Hingham. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

Likewise, indoor rock climbing and its cousin bouldering (short routes that don’t require ropes or harnesses for safety) offer a mental as well as a physical test for participants, said Frederic Sontag, owner of Challenge Rocks in Hingham.


“Often people think that they have to reach to the next hold, but realistically, they have to plan and map out the route before they even start climbing,” said Sontag. “To figure out the puzzle, I work out the route before starting to climb.”

Indoor rock gyms allow climbing enthusiasts to keep on top of their game during the offseason, following the multicolored routes on man-made walls instead of natural stone.

“It’s a great way to stay physically strong and active during the winter,” Sontag said. “Of course, you don’t have to be an outdoor climber to still benefit from climbing in the gym. It’s a great activity for a half day at school, a weekend day, or just when you need to get out for an hour and get some activity when the days are so short.”

As in tap dancing, age is no barrier.

“Rock climbing at the gym can be scaled to all ability levels,” Sontag said. “We have all different walls, including one sloped more gradually so it is easier to climb.

“We regularly have grandparents coming to climb with their grandkids. The variation in the walls themselves as well as in the holds on the walls allows this sport to be a lifelong adventure for all levels.”

Steve Richardson (right) and Kirk Goldsworthy enjoy the snow-covered trails of the Russell Mill Town Forest in Chelmsford aboard their fat bikes.
Steve Richardson (right) and Kirk Goldsworthy enjoy the snow-covered trails of the Russell Mill Town Forest in Chelmsford aboard their fat bikes.(New England Mountain Bike Association)

Fat biking is an activity that speaks to our youthful ability to embrace the cruelest season. “Fat bikes” are a type of mountain bike featuring wide tires — ranging in diameter from 3.5 to 5 inches — that work equally well on sandy beaches and snowy trails.


“Fat bikes are amazingly stable, yet nimble,” said Philip Keyes of Acton, executive director of the New England Mountain Bike Association. “They offer incredible traction and control, and are extremely comfortable.”

The organization offers a resource page on its website ( that lists fat-biking destinations and events throughout the region.

“No other form of biking makes me feel like a kid again as much as winter fat biking,” said Steve Richardson of Chelmsford, a member of NEMBA’s Merrimack Valley chapter.

“There is an element of absurdity to the whole endeavor. The bikes are large and a feel a little bit goofy, and we’re often out riding in some of the worst winter weather trying to get in tracks on fresh snowfall. It is a truly magical feeling to pedal a bike through the woods when snow is falling.”

Where to go

Tap Dancing

Julia On Tap

Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center

624 Somerville Ave., Somerville


Rock climbing/bouldering

Challenge Rocks

3 Pond Park Road, Hingham


Fat Biking

Various locations throughout eastern Massachusetts

New England Mountain Bike Association


Get out of your comfort zone

Rock climbing, tap dancing, and fat biking are only three offbeat fitness regimens available during the winter. Here are a few other options to keep you moving:



■  Broomstones Curling Club

1 Curling Lane, Wayland

(138 Rice Road for GPS)


■  Merrimack Valley Curling Club

Nashua Country Club

25 Fairway St., Nashua


■  International Fencers Alliance of Boston

141 Middlesex Turnpike, Suite 202, Burlington


■  Olympia Fencing Center

127 Smith Place, Cambridge


■  International Fencing Club

1208 VFW Parkway, No. 204, West Roxbury



■  Bay State Speedskating

Rodman Arena

2130 Providence Highway, Walpole


Winter hiking/snowshoeing

■  Appalachian Mountain Club

Various locations


■  Trustees of Reservations



■  The Winthrop Frostbite Sailing Club

Cottage Park Yacht Club

76 Orlando Ave., Winthrop

■  Boston Sailing Center

The Riverboat at 54 Lewis Wharf, Boston


Team handball

■  Boston Team Handball

Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex

120 M.L.K. Jr. Blvd., Boston

Water polo

■  Boston Metro Water Polo

MIT Alumni Pool

32 Vassar St. Building 57, Cambridge


■  Boston Inner Tube Water Polo

(adult, co-ed)

MIT, Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center

120 Vassar St., Cambridge

Globe correspondent Brion O’Connor can be reached at