The gravitational pull of your doona can be very strong at 5:30 am, especially when it is freezing and dark outside. This doesn’t help your motivation levels for getting up to go to the gym, but if you’re tempted to hit the snooze button, remember that staying motivated this winter requires a change to only one thing: your mindset. That’s why it’s important to remind yourself of the benefits exercise can bring you.
Fight Off Winter Weight Gain
During the colder months, your body goes into something of a hibernation mode, a throwback survival mechanism designed to get you through the harsh winter. Low temperatures signal a coming shortage of food and your body is programmed to hold onto any calories it takes in, often converting them directly into fat stores designed to get the body through the long, cold months ahead. That’s hardly a welcomed tactic in our modern society, especially if you are trying to watch your weight. On top of that, the conditions encourage eating more and doing less, so it’s not hard to see how easy it can be to pile on the weight through winter. Staying on top of your training at this time of the year is therefore an effective way of keeping those fat stores in check so you don’t emerge in the spring with that dreaded winter coat.
Torch Extra Calories
Whilst all exercise and athletic endeavours boost metabolism, think of your wintertime workouts as a supercharged version of your normal sweat sessions. The body is forced to expend additional energy to maintain its core temperature when it is colder. Because your metabolism is already increased, exercise in the colder weather leads to a higher calorie expenditure and increased burning of fat stores. Once you are sufficiently warmed up you will also be able to push yourself harder than you would with the extra strains of high temperatures, sticky humidity, excess sweat and risk of dehydration that come with the summer months.
Thaw the winter blues
As the days get shorter and daylight levels decrease, levels of “feel-good” hormones in the brain also fall, leaving you staring down a winter of discontent. The mood-enhancing benefits of exercise are well documented and it can boost your mood at any time of year, but it has a particularly profound effect during winter. Exercise raises the levels of those important feel-good hormones, helping to keep the winter blues at bay. It can also provide a much-needed break from the daily grind and help to reduce stress levels.
The winter months often mean an increase in the dreaded cold and flu. A cold is the last thing you have time for when you are trying to stick to your workout routine. Boosting your body’s immunity naturally means you’ll have a much better chance at coasting through the winter months and staying free of that cold everyone else in the office passes around. Exercise strengthens our body’s ability to work at peak levels and strengthens the immune system, helping to ward off everything from the common cold to nasty strains of flu. Some studies have suggested that regular exercise in the colder months may reduce your susceptibility to cold and flu viruses by up to 30%
Great Cardiovascular Workout
Training in the cold is an excellent way to boost your cardiovascular system. Just like a lot of other bodily systems, your cardiovascular system is forced to work harder in colder conditions. The heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body due to constricted blood vessels in the extremities caused by the cold. Training in these conditions is great for increasing your cardiovascular fitness and promoting good circulation in the body.
Even knowing these benefits, training in the winter isn’t easy. There are many factors that can derail your progress. Here are some tips that can help you prepare better and survive the tribulations of winter training.
Prepare the night before
If getting to a 6 am session tomorrow morning is your aim, set the scene the night before so there are fewer excuses in the morning. Organise your gym bag and the clothes you are going to be wearing and have it all ready to go. Have anything that you need after your workout is done (post-workout meal, work clothes etc.) ready to go also. Now all you have to do when you wake up is throw your gear on and head to the gym. Use the same strategy for those after work sessions. Have everything you need for the gym packed in the car and ready to go. Aim to head to the gym straight after work so you’re not tempted to sit on the couch in front of the heater if you go home first. If you get there a bit early, use the extra time to complete a solid warm up or work on any mobility issues.
Set a goal or train for an event
There is nothing like having a short-term goal to work towards to keep you focused and on track with your training. Enter into a competition or sign up for an event. Knowing that you have an event or competition to train for can keep the motivation levels high as the temperature drops. Winter is also the perfect time to ramp up your conditioning because it’s not too hot. Throw in some extra training sessions such as some intervals on a bike or rower, or get some extra vitamin D and throw in some hill sprints outside.
Competitions not your thing? No problem! Set another goal. Whether you want to lose a couple of kilos, add 10kg to your back squat, or shave 20 seconds off your “Fran” time, set a reasonable goal and make it as specific as possible. Try to think of a goal that involves numbers or an accomplishment, like finally being able to do that muscle up or handstand push up. When you reach your goal, reward yourself. Not with a big cake, but with something special like a new pair of shoes or new training top. There’s nothing better than working towards a goal, achieving it, then splashing out to say “well done” to yourself.
Workout with friends
Having a workout partner or a group to train with is one of the best ways to increase accountability. A social sport or gym setting is a great way to stay active during winter and can help increase adherence rates and level of effort in your training. Exercising with others means you’ll generally have a much better time working out than you would alone and you will often push each other to achieve more. If this isn’t part of your routine already, winter may be the perfect time to be a bit more social in regards to your workout
Dress for the occasion
Staying warm during the winter season is not just about putting on that puffer jacket and heading to the gym. Instead, it is best to layer your training gear so you can take the layers off as you warm up. You may need to shell out and buy a few extra items of clothing, who doesn’t like a bit of retail therapy anyway?
Wearing gloves, a hat/beanie, long pants and sleeves can all help to make you feel more comfortable when starting off a session. Keep in mind that your body temperature will rise shortly after beginning your warm up, so try not to overdress. You may feel cold at the beginning, but a couple of minutes in you will have warmed up to the right body temperature.
When temperatures drop, it takes much longer for working muscles to heat up, and for the joints to release fluid for lubrication. Warming up properly is extra important when it’s cold to ensure your muscles are primed and ready for the stresses about to be placed upon them. It is also essential to listen to your body during training sessions, the risk of injury is high when trying to push cold and tight muscles, so be sure to take time and do the work needed to ensure your body is ready for the workout ahead.
Your cool down is equally important, your core body temperature will drop dramatically as soon as you stop exercising, so be extra attentive to your post-exercise activities. Keep moving around rather than just abruptly stopping and put on a jacket or jumper before cooling down too much. Try to complete any stretches while your muscles are still fairly warm in order to get the greatest benefit.
So instead of avoiding the cold this winter, embrace it. Facing up to the challenge of tackling a workout in the depths of winter can help build mental toughness and bolster your endurance and stamina levels, and ensure you remain in good shape all year round. The winter solstice (shortest day of the year) has now passed, so even though we have a lot more cold days ahead of us, we will gradually start seeing the days get longer. Spring is not that far away, so instead of hibernating like a bear, use some of these tips to motivate you through the cold weeks and months ahead.