Working Out in the Winter: How to Get Your Ass to the Gym

Working Out in the Winter: How to Get Your Ass to the Gym

Embrace Winter! You can get outside and go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

I remember one January morning in Toronto a few years ago.

The skies were clear, but with the wind-chill the temperature was a face-burning -35° C. It was the kind of cold that makes you makes you ask yourself, “Why the fuck do I want to go outside?”

The following morning there was a heavy snowfall. The sky was gray – the sun blocked by thick, dark-blue snow clouds – and it was only slightly warmer at -15° C with no wind.

Everything seemed to stop in the city. There were few cars on the road. People stayed indoors with the heat turned way up. No one wanted to go outside, not even the dogs!

When it’s that cold outside one of the nicest places is underneath the warmth of the covers in bed. But what if you want to work out? The colder it is the quieter it is at the gym first thing in the morning. Most people want to stay nestled at home hibernating like bears in winter.

How many times have you decided against going for a workout, a run or a yoga class because of the weather? Come rain, sleet or three feet of snow you can still do your workout!

Working Out in the Winter: Too bad my bike doesn't have snow tires

Guess I won’t be riding my bike to the gym today!

If you’re a competitive athlete you’ve got both internal motivators (you want to win!) and external influences, like a coach or a team to whom you’re accountable, so you stick to your training regardless of the weather.

Maybe you have a workout partner or a trainer who will be waiting for you at the gym for a 6am session, forcing you to be there [by the way, it can be anytime!]. It hurts to have to cancel last minute when there is a cost associated with cancelling. That’s just throwing away money that you’ve worked hard to earn.

What if the weather is getting you down and you decide not to workout? Or is something else holding you back?

This is understandable to a point, but is it the weather’s fault or just your decision not to train?

The truth is that bad weather is only an excuse.

If you live in Toronto or any similar climate where we get months of winter, the more you make excuses to not workout, the harder it will be to keep up with your fitness goals.

I know. I make these excuses for myself:

  • I’m too busy
  • I’ll go tomorrow
  • I’m in the zone writing a new article or recipe so I should keep writing
  • I need to do this first, then if I have time I’ll go (never happens)

Here are some suggestions to help you stay on track working out in the winter when the days are dark, cold, and long:

Go to the gym first thing in the morning

This is especially important in North America when we have less exposure to the sun – we are not outside as much and we have fewer daylight hours.

The early morning activity will boost your metabolism, mood, energy and reduce the possibility of getting SAD (seasonal affective disorder). When you leave the gym in the morning you just might be walking outside when the sun is shining!

That being said, just get outside no matter how dark or cold – simply being outside in nature helps. Even on the coldest of days this is one of the many reasons I love having a dog – he forces me to go outside several times a day.

My other “get outside strategy” is to ride my bike all year (so long as the road is ice and snow-free for my own safety). You only need to dress for it and have lots of blinking lights!

Movement keeps you warm and produces healthy, mood-enhancing hormones. It might not feel great at first, but once you’ve reached your destination you’ll feel so much better for having done it!

Prepare for Your Workout the Night Before

Pack your workout bag and lay out your clothes to wear the night before. Heck, I know of someone who goes to bed in his workout clothes so that when he wakes up he doesn’t even think about what he’s going to do next.

Preparation is also a psychological trick and motivator – you won’t be able to use an unpacked bag as an excuse. Also make sure you prepare your post-workout shake or meal the night before. Get things set up on the kitchen counter. Put your eggs (un-cracked) in a bowl in the fridge, and the frying pan with a spatula on top of the stove, ready to go.

Get up 30-60 Minutes Earlier

Set your alarm 30-60 minutes earlier and go to bed 30-60 minutes earlier.

You’ll probably be getting up in the winter morning darkness – and while this can feel like a challenge – that extra time in the morning might be what you need instead of rushing out the door. This way you can ease into your morning and look forward to your workout or use that earlier start to make it to the gym on time.

Visualize the Outcome

When lying in bed before sleep and even after waking up, visualize how you want your day to happen: mentally prepare for your workout, see yourself going through the motions of the exercise and feel how good it feels to be at the gym.

Don’t take more than a few minutes in the morning to do this. You don’t want to fall back to sleep!

Upon getting up immediately shower to wake up

The water will stimulate your skin and senses and will wake you up more ‘cleanly’ and effectively than any coffee. Don’t check voicemail or turn on your computer (I’m guilty of these!). It’s so easy to lose track of time if you’re engrossed in your iPad and then it’s too late to go to the gym.

Eat or Drink a Protein Smoothie

If you get up 30-minutes earlier eating won’t be a problem.

Keep it simple if you’re not used to eating upon waking. It might help to have a shower first, unless showering at the gym after your workout is a more effective use of your time.

healthy breakfast oatmeal with fruit and nuts

I usually eat within 30-minutes of waking up if not going to the gym first thing. When I work out first thing in the morning I take a shake consisting of a scoop of whey protein powder, 5 grams BCAA and 750 ml of filtered water. I will slowly sip this during my workout to prevent muscle wasting and promote burning body fat. After my workout I will eat a balanced breakfast high in protein, vegetables and healthy carbohydrates like large flake or steel-cut oatmeal.

When you eat your breakfast will depend on your weekday work schedule. I would recommend eating within an hour of getting up (or try my strategy above) and definitely don’t skip breakfast! Others factors include travel time. When I work out first thing in the morning, the walk to my gym is about 5 minutes. When I’m done I can head home to eat and then shower. You might need to go straight to the office after your workout. A better solution might be to prepare a protein smoothie before you leave home and take it with you to enjoy after your workout and before work.

Kale Protein Smoothie

Quick, easy breakfasts to cook at home

Grab Your Workout Buddy

Get yourself a workout buddy or plan to meet someone you know at the gym, even if you don’t train together. The synergy and accountability will help and your workout partner to be more consistent.

Do a bodyweight circuit at home

Not enough time? Just can’t face the stop-n-go traffic? I hear you, but you can still exercise at home with your own body weight or with a few dumbbells, a chair and stairs. There are thousands of bodyweight workouts that you can find on Google. One of the most famous ones is the 7-minute bodyweight circuit. You can also do bike or treadmill sprints, if you have that equipment at home.

Only YOU Can Do It!

Success in health and fitness is not the result of one task, one endeavour, one program or one method – they are lifelong endeavours.

Success happens first in your mind. Everything after that is victory made manifest in reality.

So have a big WHY or compelling reason to go to the gym. Share it with a good friend (or your workout buddy or trainer) and get outside or to the gym this winter and keep fit!

Eat, move and be healthy!