Depending on where you live, winter can be a tough time for the average fitness enthusiast. Cold temperatures, dark mornings and nights, rain, snow and high winds can make staying in shape even harder than normal. Wouldn’t it be easier to just hibernate with a big bag of cookies and some hot chocolate?! But you can’t go into hiding every time winter rolls around.
Rather than suffer through another winter of cold and uncomfortable workouts, follow these workout winter-proofing tips. That way, when spring comes around again, you’ll be looking good and feeling great.
Winter Workout Gear
If you exercise, especially if you run and/or cycle, outdoors in winter, you need to adapt your workout gear to take into account the cold, the darkness, slippery surfaces, biting wind and downpours of rain, hail or snow. Consider investing in the following to ensure you are prepared for all meteorological eventualities…
Training tights. snug, supportive, warm and easy to wash and dry, training tights are far better than typical tracksuits because they don’t hold water or flap about like a sail. Some are also windproof which can be very beneficial as strong winds can make cold temperatures feel even lower. Choose tights that cover your lower back – especially if you are a cyclist.
Training top. A good training top will be long sleeved, have a high neck and also have a long zip so you can vent off if you get too warm. A form-fitting top is best to minimize wind resistance and if you work out at night, it should be brightly colored or have reflective patches to enhance visibility. Make sure your top has a long back to keep your back warm.
Hat and gloves. Heat escapes very quickly from uncovered skin so make sure you wrap up against the cold by wearing gloves and a hat. The hat should cover your ears and the gloves should be snug but not too tight. Ideally, you should choose lightweight, packable fabrics as you may want to remove these items if you get too warm so you’ll need to be able to cram them into your pockets.
Spare shoes. Running or cycling in cold, wet shoes is nobody’s idea of fun so if you can, buy a second pair of shoes. That way you can rotate your footwear and always have a dry pair to wear. This tip applies to socks, tights and tops too.
Rainwear. A breathable rain suit can help keep you dry and protected from cold winds. It’s worth noting that even the best material will still make you sweat so you’ll end up damp regardless but at least you will start your workout dry even if it doesn’t end that way. For this reason, choose suits that can be vented. Cyclists tend to only wear waterproof jackets and skip on the pants as flapping pants have the annoying habit of getting caught in your bike chain.
Head torch. If you intend to run at night, a head torch can help light your path and also increases your visibility to other road users.
Cycling overshoes. Cold feet can be a real problem for cyclists and overshoes are the solution. Covering your feet and ankles, overshoes will keep your feet warm and, in some cases, dry.
Clear glasses. Road grit, rain, dust, icy winds, driving rain and other flying debris can really test your visibility so protect your eyes by wearing clear glasses when you exercise outdoors. Being clear, you can also wear them at night. Not specifically a winter necessity, clear glasses are ideal for year-round use.
Winter workout tips
1. Train at midday – Midday is arguably the warmest part of the day as the sun is at its zenith. If you find early morning and evening training just too cold and dark, consider extending your lunch break and training in the middle of the day. If this is impractical, make early morning or evening training is pleasant as possible by warming your training clothes on a radiator so that when you put it on, you feel all warm and toasty!
2. Dodge the weather altogether – If you would rather circumnavigate the bad weather altogether, you may want to consider making some changes to your normal workout routine; especially on the days the weather is especially foul. Of course, there will be plenty of perfect winter days where, apart from the cold, conditions are ideal for an outdoor workout but, as is inevitable, snow, rain and high winds can all too often make training out of doors not just uncomfortable but also dangerous. On those sorts of days, break out an “emergency” indoor workout instead!
3. Treadmills/stationary bikes – Treadmills and stationary bikes allow you to exercise indoors and in comfort. They allow you to maintain your fitness until the weather clears and you can get back outside. Running on a treadmill is biomechanically different to running outdoors and it’s unlikely your stationary bike will be set up to match your regular bike but given the choice between using one of these indoor options or skipping your workout, indoors wins. Rather than just plod along for hour after boring hour, take this opportunity to do interval training to break up your workouts.
4. Pump iron – Use the winter as an opportunity to build your strength for the coming spring. Many runners and cyclists neglect their strength training when the weather is good – who wouldn’t rather be outdoors in the sunshine during the spring, summer and autumn? However, the winter provides the ideal opportunity to gain some meaningful strength when the weather is too bad to train outdoors. Build up your strength by hitting the gym two or three times a week and focusing on core lifts such as squats, deadlifts, power cleans, bench presses, dips and over head presses, pull-ups, rows and biceps curls. Increasing your strength can help make you faster, more powerful and stronger on the hills and also address any muscle imbalances.
5. Get your swim on – Winter is an ideal time to go swimming – indoors of course! Swimming delivers a good all-over workout which compliments running and cycling perfectly. If you are a competent swimmer, you can get a very good cardiovascular workout with swimming. If swimming is not your thing, consider investing in a foam buoyancy belt and doing some deep water running instead.
6. Try a training vacation – While the weather may be bad where you live, chances are it’ll be nice somewhere else. Why not pack up your bike and/or your running shoes and combine your annual vacation with some warm-weather training? There are lots of companies offering training vacations and many include sports coaching, nutrition seminars, talks on injury prevention and may even culminate in some friendly races. Alternatively you could organize your own either for yourself and family or friends. Warm-weather training vacations can really help break up an otherwise miserable winter.
Why not try circuit training? Circuit training combines back to back muscular endurance exercises with cardio exercises to develop a high level of all-round fitness and is an ideal winter workout. Most gyms offer circuit training classes and some running and cycling clubs also offer sports-specific sessions. You can also do your own circuit training at home. Circuit training can be as simple as a series of bodyweight exercises performed back to back or involve a variety of exercise equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands and medicine balls.
Try this simple circuit which is ideal for home use as all you need is some space and an exercise mat:
- 5 burpees
- 10 push-ups
- 15 squats
- 20 jumping jacks
- 30-second plank
Don’t let winter unhinge your fitness endeavors – with a little prior planning, you should be able to train all the way through winter and remember, while you are out there in the cold and rain, many of your peers are not and each step you take, every mile you cycle, takes you further ahead of them.