There's nothing quite like working out during winter. It's uniquely exhilarating, and you get to burn more calories than when you exercise in any other conditions. Winter workouts will help you feel good and stay fit and healthy when the lure to hibernate is greatest. And exercising is absolutely vital this winter, more than any other, with Covid-19 restrictions locking down countries around the world and shuttering people inside their homes with almost no daily movement. One of the most powerful actions you can take for your mental and physical health is to get outside and move your body.
That said, winter workouts can be tough to face, and things can go from unpleasant to discouraging to - in extreme climates - downright dangerous at the whim of the weather. So here are 5 tips to keep up your motivation and make your outdoor exercise safe and fun this winter.
For 5 tips to dress for outdoor exercise, I’ve got you covered over here – dressing wisely for the weather will make or break the experience regardless of any other factor!
1. Put safety first and mind the weather
If you’re one of those hardcore athletes who casually shrugs off rain and snow you’re probably not reading this, so I’m going assume you have some hesitancy about exercising outdoors in the colder months. Let me start by giving you permission to check the forecast and adapt as needed. I do it, and if you’re starting an outdoor exercise routine this winter, I recommend you do the same. Don't take any unnecessary risks or push yourself way beyond your comfort zone by, for instance, going running in what turns out to be torrential rain, just because that the time you had decided to do it. Also, if you’re an early morning exerciser, be aware of icy conditions. You might need to change your workout location or running route if the ground becomes unsafe, or instigate Plan B below.
Plan A: Change the time – or even day - of exercising if possible. If you’re working from home this winter you might have more flexibility on this front. The forecast for London for tomorrow is heavy rain all day, and has been for days, so I’m running on Sunday instead.
Plan 2: Change to an indoor workout. This is not a failure or a wimpy option if it’s snowing or you have lengthy rain or wind fronts coming through. You’ll see what I mean though about the psychological difference between an indoor and outdoor workout, but any workout is still a huge win.
2. Warming up and cooling down
I suggest you dress slightly under the weather, so you don’t end up cooking or carrying stripped layers later. This can however lead to a dangerous temptation to start exercising too hard, too soon, to warm yourself up, leading to unnecessary muscle soreness after or even injury. But now you know not to fall that, here’s what to do instead.
If you’re training in a single location, you can over dress to start with as you do your mobilisation warm up, and strip down as needed keeping your discarded clothing nearby. If you’re out and about though, for instance on a power walk or run, do your dynamic mobilising warm up at home. This could be as short as five minutes, or certainly longer. It means your core temperature will already be rising when you hit the cold, you can dress appropriately for your raised body temperature and you can start to run or train as soon as you’re out the door.
At the end of your workout you can stretch outdoors but you’ll probably be more comfortable and able to better stretch indoors on dry ground, with a rug or mat and in the safer warmth of your home. Plan to arrive home warm, not hot – as indoors will otherwise feel like an oven in contrast – and do your stretches indoors.
3. Exercise with a friend
Accountability might well be the difference between you getting out the door and staying in with a warm cuppa! My first - and admittedly biased – recommendation is to join an outdoor exercise group or bootcamp. I’ve seen first-hand in my own business that friends or family members who have joined together have often made it through the winter months together – and even if you don’t have someone to join with, you’re likely to make friends there or bond with the instructor. Exercising with a friend can really help to motivate you to attend each session.
For 5 tips on finding a bootcamp that suits you, check out my post here.
If you can’t find or afford a fitness group, then find a fitness accountability buddy. This might be someone you train with in person, or someone further away who you check in with, jolly each other along and send disappointed GIFs to when they bail on their workout.
Think of it as a carrot and stick approach where the anticipation of having fun training with your friend(s) gets you out the door and being held to account if you bail makes it harder to let them down.
Once you've found an exercise accountability buddy, make a workout plan that's reasonable and challenging but not overambitious, and takes into account your respect lives. That way, you'll both know what you should be doing, when you should be doing it and how often you'll be checking in with each other, and celebrate every win together.
4. Find something fun to listen to
Listening to an audio book or podcast could make exercising outdoors a much more interesting experience. It could also be your way of rewarding yourself if, for instance, you only get to listen to a particular book if you get out the door and go.
If you want a guided full-body workout, an audio-based fitness app could be just the thing you need. There are a few instructor-based fitness apps like Auro and Aaptiv which are specifically designed for aural-only use when a screen is impractical (as is often the case outdoors). My narrative fitness app Apocalypse Survival Training gives you running, circuit training and yoga stretch workouts set against the backdrop of a comedy action alien invasion. Other narrative fitness apps like Run the Realm and Zombies, Run! immerse you in running stories set respectively in a medieval period and post-apocalyptic world. All three progress their stories as you progress through your workouts.
For more adventure based fitness ideas, check out my post about ‘exer-tainment’ options.
5. Self-talk to get out the door
So, let’s say it’s time to go out but it’s cold and I have a warm cat on my lap and I don’t really feel like leaving my snug flat, even though I know I really should. This is when I play a simple but powerful game called 'But What Will Future Me Think?'
In this example of mentally resisting starting my workout, I pause and think about my most important accountability buddy. I ask "But what will Future Adele think? Is she going to high-five Present Adele for having been awesome, or think Present Adele (who will by then be Past Adele) was a total jerk?”
It’s a simple mind trick that makes you really appreciate how your actions NOW can benefit or hurt your future. Of course, Future You is going to feel better later in the day/evening/in bed after having exercised body and mind, and maybe shared laughs and fun times with friends. Alternately, Future You might feel tense, grumpy, tired, and annoyed at not feeling great simply because Present/Past You wouldn't get your butt off the sofa. So, if you hate going OUT in the cold, find creative ways to stay focused on how good it feels to comes back IN with your mind clear and body buzzing.
You can transform your day, your mood, your sleep and your overall health with time spent outdoors, and time spent exercising, so it makes complete sense to put them together. Your exercise might be a power walk, a jog, a run, a cycle, circuit training in your local park, or an outdoor fitness class. If you’re really hardcore, it might even be a winter swim! Don’t be afraid to give winter outdoor exercise a go, but do ease yourself in and always put safety first. Fitness isn’t a sprint, it’s a lifelong habit for mind and body.
I really hope some of these points will be useful to you, and if so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments or on firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget that if you’d like to try a comedy drama audio fitness adventure, you can try Episode 1 of Apocalypse Survival Training for free!