We're now officially in winter and chances are you either love it or loathe it. Just like spring, summer and autumn; winter has its pros and cons. Who doesn’t love those cosy nights warming by the fire with a good movie or book, discovering a new-found love for soup again? Winter also brings with it shorter days, cold, dark mornings and wet weather, so it’s no surprise that it can bring on a fresh bout of decreased motivation, a longing for comfort food and an overall negative impact on your daily physical activity.
So, how do you stay on track with your health, fitness and/or weight loss goals when winter is upon us? Try these top tips from Sports Scientist and Nutritionist for Balance Fitness and Nutrition, Brooke Turner, to make sure you winter-proof your workout and keep on track with your health and fitness goals.
Re-think your goals:
- With a good three to four months of the year much cooler than the rest, use this time to reset your goals and mix up your workout routine.
- Get involved in a winter sport. As much as it might not be appealing to venture out on cold evenings for training or to play a game of netball or hockey in wet and windy weather, if you can commit to a team sport then your winter fitness levels are less likely to suffer. Plus, both your fitness and mental health will benefit from being part of a sporting team.
- Think about summer holiday plans for when the weather starts to warm up, or how you'd like to maintain your strength and fitness. Keep these positive images at the forefront of your mind for extra motivation.
When the weather is less than desirable, motivation is really going to be what pulls you through and gets you into your workout. When it comes to sport, health and fitness, psychological motivation can be driven intrinsically and extrinsically. Intrinsic motivation is when you are driven from within, and it forms part of your system of belief. Extrinsic motivation is when our desire to exercise is driven by an outside source, for example, an upcoming social event, a summer holiday, wedding or following an athlete on social media how inspires you.
Use a combination of self-talk and goal setting to keep you intrinsically motivated. Here's how:
- Set realistic goals: Set both long- and short-term goals. Make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely), write them down and revisit them regularly to stay focused.
- Positive self-talk: Yes, it’s one of the first signs of madness, but I promise you positive self-talk can help you to achieve your goals and stay motivated. It is easy to tell yourself you are overweight, aren’t good enough, can’t do it etc. Stop it! Tell yourself ‘great work’ for jogging the route that you would usually walk, or for lifting more than you usually do, or for getting up a little earlier to get in some morning exercise. A healthy mind can do wonders to create healthy habits.
- Have photos, images or quotes that inspire you and place them somewhere you will see them regularly. Write down your goals and stick them to your fridge (i.e. run 5k, rock a two-piece etc.)
Find motivation from within and use external cues to help get you over the line, because on those days when you are too busy, too sore, too tired, don’t have time or just can’t be bothered, this is what will drive you to keep pushing on.
Shorten the training time:
Whether you’re an early riser and prefer to exercise in the morning, or get it done after work, winter means the days are shorter, so as work and sleep take priority it may feel like there’s less time to fit in your regular workout. To combat this, try shortening your workouts and upping the intensity. This can help you to fit in a workout at sunrise or beat the sun going down in the evening.
Shorter workouts are by no means less effective than longer workouts – when it comes to training it is all about quality, not quantity, and needs to relate to your specific goals. Try adding a mix of HIIT (High-intensity Interval Training) to your weekly workout routine – this can be in the form of cardio or with the use of resistance:
- HIIT sessions can include interval workouts on your cardio machine at home or in the gym, or incorporate plyometric exercises for a bit of variety whilst still targeting your anaerobic energy system. If using a cardio machine, aim for 30 seconds of all-out work, followed by two minutes of active recovery (change the ratio up depending on your pre-existing fitness levels).
- For plyometrics, apply the same technique; go for 20-30 seconds of work, 60 seconds rest and keep HIIT sessions to no longer than 30 minutes (inclusive of your warm up).
Try performing a HIIT session with some added resistance and think outside the box of the treadmill or hill sprints. Use supersets or circuit-style methods to keep the intensity of your workout up. This will elevate your heart rate and act as a form of weighted HIIT as you work on some muscle groups and rest the others (think squat to deadlift, push-up to reverse flies). Weighted HIIT training or circuit-style workouts are effective for fat loss, maintaining or gaining muscle strength, and shaping and toning your figure; it keeps the heart rate up, alleviates boredom and keeps your mind and body active (it is also much more enjoyable).
Train from home:
The same level of intensity can be achieved with home workouts, too. If intensity is what you are after, incorporating plyometrics, compound exercises and circuit-style exercises into your training program will increase your body’s demands on recovery and send your body into that after-burn stage, just as a fitness class at the gym would.
Home workouts can be highly effective, cost-efficient and a convenient way to achieve your health and fitness goals when catering your workouts to suit your specific aims, particularly in winter. The benefits include:
- Training at home removes the travel time of going to the gym each day – you can either get a longer session in, or snooze the alarm for a bit.
- You a don’t have to pack your gym bag the night before.
- A few added bonuses of doing home workouts is that you don’t need to put up with the gym stereotypes or wait for your favourite cardio machine, you also decrease your chances of getting sick by reducing your exposure to common colds that can be present at this time of year, nor do you have to leave the comfort of your own home, especially when it is cold, dark and rainy outside.
You don’t need much to be able to effectively train from home – bodyweight exercises are fine, but if you purchase a fit ball, resistance tubing, TRX or a couple of sets of dumbbells you will have plenty to see you through the cold months. Set up a designated area for your home workouts, whether it is the study, garage, spare room, backyard or a corner in the lounge. If you have a nominated area where you either train or have all of your exercise equipment available, it is more likely that you will succeed in your home workout routine.
Be prepared and organised:
Regardless of where and when you plan to train, make sure you have all your workout gear ready to go the night before. Prior planning is the key to success, particularly in the winter months when it can be more tempting to hit the snooze button than the treadmill. Plan your weekly workout routine and stick it on your fridge or in your diary to ensure you commit to it, you can even keep an eye on the weather forecasts throughout the week to tweak your workouts accordingly, i.e. if you’ve planned an outdoor session with a friend but it looks like rain and thunderstorms are forecast, opt to switch to a gym class instead and plan the outdoor circuit for a day that looks a little more inviting.
Have a back-up plan:
If you normally train outside or live in an area that is prone to wet, stormy winters, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan. Opting for a gym membership in the cooler months is a great way to banish the weather excuses if it is raining and windy out. Alternatively, you could purchase some simple home gym equipment (fit ball, resistance tubing, weights), download a great fitness app and stick to home workouts during the cooler months.
Train with a friend:
Locking in a date and time with a training buddy means you are more likely to commit to that session. No matter how cold and dark it is outside, you won’t want to let your friend down, so make it a social sweat session, or have someone pick you up on the way to training so that it forces you to get your butt out of bed or off the couch. Re-think back to one of the earlier points on motivation – training with a friend will also help with that!
Don't skip out on pre/post-exercise nutrition and hydration. Depending on your training goals, ensure you have an optimal pre- and/or post-workout meal incorporating a source of protein. Greek yoghurt with berries and oats, a smoothie, omelette and toast are great options. Always have a water bottle handy when working out from home.
Don’t be sorry for what you said when it was winter, or for the workout you didn’t do. Adjust your goals, consider training from home and always have a back-up plan for any outdoor workouts to keep your training on track this winter.