Ask LH: How Can I Keep My Exercise Routine In The Winter?

Ask LH: How Can I Keep My Exercise Routine In The Winter?

Dear Lifehacker, Throughout the year, I’ve been pretty good about keeping up my exercise routine of jogging, cycling, and other outdoor activities. But I know that when winter comes in full force, I’ll struggle to get outside. What can I do to keep my routine when it’s freezing outside? Thanks, Too Cold To Run

Photos by Mike Schmid, R.g-s, nonanet

Dear TCTR,

Going out for just a walk during the cold and dark winter months is hard enough, so we’re sympathetic to the troubles of trying to actually exercise when it’s zero or below. Thankfully, it’s not impossible to get the motivation to exercise in the winter and even if you can’t go outside you have other options.

Get Yourself Pumped Up To Exercise In Winter

It’s easy to get into winter hibernation mode, and that means the hardest thing about exercising in winter is getting up the ambition to do it. We’ve talked a lot about motivating yourself to exercise in general, but getting yourself to exercise in the winter is a bit of its own beast.

Everyone’s method of motivation is a bit different, but experts have all kinds of recommendations. Over on WebMD, Richard Cotton PhD suggests getting yourself warmed up:

To acclimate, of course, you’ll have to keep working out through the cold — a bit of a Catch-22. It will be easier to make yourself go outside, though, says Cotton, if you warm up inside first. “Take five to 10 minutes and do some low level aerobic exercise like jogging in place or doing jumping jacks,” he advises. “That way, when you step outside, you’ll already be warm.”

It’s not just about motivation either, doing so is good for your health. The Telegraph explains:

[I]t is useful to recognise why it is particularly pertinent to tackle the winter onslaught by getting moving. The colder temperature in winter can cause your blood vessels to constrict, thickening the blood, which puts you at a higher risk of a heart attack. If you go from a hot to cold or cold to hot environment and your body changes temperature quickly, your blood becomes “sticky” and again, puts you more at risk of heart attack and strokes…. Chest infections are more common, too. If you feel your motivation waning when it’s cold, remind yourself that exercise is more — not less — important than in the summer.

It’s also a good idea to think of your winter workouts as training. Since most big exercise events are in the summer, the winter’s all about getting yourself ready for those events. The Huffington Post suggests keeping those summer goals in mind to get yourself outside:

“What are your goals for spring or summer? Half-marathon? Tough Mudder? Parkour in Paris?” asks [Ryan] Ford. “Whatever it may be, training with that forward-thinking mindset can make [exercise] a little less depressing and a little more exciting. There’s no pressure now to perform or compete.”

Really, exercising in the winter is no different than any other time of the year, but it’s nice to know that everyone tends to struggle with motivation in the winter months.

Dress The Part And Go Outside Anyway

Depending on where you are, the winter months might mean cold weather, wet weather, or both. Either way, you probably can’t hit the streets in your neon short shorts and tank top like you could in the summer. If you’ve got the gusto to keep exercising outside in the winter you really only need a slight change of clothes to do so comfortably.

Staying safe in the winter that generally means wearing bright colours, dressing in layers, remembering to keep hydrated, and staying visible. The main thing to remember when you’re exercising outside in the winter is to keep a close eye on your body and watch for hypothermia or frostbite. With darkness setting in earlier than in the summer, you should also make sure you have some bright clothes if you’re going out late in the afternoon.

It’s also OK to accept the that you might actually enjoy working out when it’s cold outside. Like motivating yourself to work out, accepting the fact you’ll have to do it outside is all about mindset. The New York Times lays it out like so:

But those of us who exercise in all sorts of weather will attest that there is a certain thrill that can come from terrible conditions. “It makes us tough,” Ms. Davis said. She calls our runs in horrendous conditions “epic runs.” And she’s right. They are truly memorable, ones we actually recall fondly.

Find Winter-Friendly Alternate Activities

Exercising outside in the winter isn’t always an option for everyone regardless of what clothes they wear. In that case, it means finding exercising you can do indoors or finding winter activities that count as exercise.

As for those winter activities, there are all kinds of things you can do in winter to work out your body. Fitbie has a few suggestions to mix up your routine in the winter:

“If you are a single-sport athlete, you have a lot to gain by mixing it up in the winter,” says Kohler. “You will work different muscle groups, switch gears, and learn a new activity. We recommend cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking in the snow, and mountain biking on packed snow to our clients. Anything that challenges the body to move in a way that it isn’t accustomed to moving is good for your overall fitness.”

Likewise, you can also just bring your workout indoors. If you’re a runner, that might be a treadmill. If you’re a cyclist, spin classes might be up your alley, or if you’re a climber, the climbing gym should do the trick. Some gyms also have a la carte deals where you pay by visit or by month so you don’t have to get a yearly contract. Those prices are usually a lot higher than a yearly contract, but if you only have to use the gym for a month or two they’re not that bad.

Of course, if you have the space you can also build your own home gym or workout with just your body. Basically, even if you’re stuck indoors, you have a lot of options.

Regardless of what you end up choosing to do, it’s important to stick to your routine as much as possible. If you’re working out three days a week at a certain time, continue that through winter. What you do doesn’t matter as much as you’d think as long as you keep yourself moving.


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  • See, I don’t get the question. I prefer exercising in winter. You don’t get as sweaty. I do my best runs in winter.

    Put the right clothes on and just go for it! *cheer*

  • Another way to keep running outside through all seasons is to vary timing.

    In summer I go out before dawn as the temperature rises very quickly after the sun is up. Then in winter, wait till at least mid-morning when the air has warmed up a bit.

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