The rain is hammering down, there’s a definite chill in the air and it’s dark by the time you get home from work – we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, in the winter we’re much more likely to be found at home in the warmth rather than out pounding the streets.
But sometimes you’ve gotta suck it up if you want to keep up your fitness and hit that magic 150 minutes a week of NHS-recommended activity. So we asked world champion rower-turned-personal trainer Toby Garbett for his top tips for keeping fit during the winter.
As a personal trainer and coach, I often find people let their fitness levels slip over the winter months, and regular exercisers become more sporadic. Even as an Olympic and World champion rower myself, the thought of winter training when icy water splashes around in and around the boat on wet, windy cold days is not inspiring. This can lead to an increased risk of injury as people forget that they are not in their peak summer fitness and often challenge themselves with similar intensity workouts, without the baseline fitness or warming up correctly. This can lead to poor motivation due to feeling despondent that they are not as fit as they thought they were, or even worse, injury. Such injuries can subsequently have a negative impact in further training and create a vicious cycle of recurrent injury and reduced fitness.”
This can lead to an increased risk of injury as people forget that they are not in their peak summer fitness and often challenge themselves with similar intensity workouts, without the baseline fitness or warming up correctly. This can lead to poor motivation due to feeling despondent that they are not as fit as they thought they were. or even worse, injury. Such injuries can subsequently have a negative impact in further training and create a vicious cycle of recurrent injury and reduced fitness.”
In the worst cases, this can even lead to injury. Such injuries can subsequently have a negative impact on further training and create a vicious cycle of recurrent injury and reduced fitness.
Here are some of the most common barriers to exercising in winter, along with my top tips for addressing them.
We all feel the need to hibernate a little over the winter months. Going for a run in the dark can feel less interesting and even less safe than doing so in the warm evening sun, so I suggest teaming up with a buddy to do any form of outdoor evening fitness. If you have committed to meet up with someone you are less likely to back out and it adds interest – an otherwise boring workout will be much more exciting if you use that time to catch-up with each other too.
“But I don’t feel like it!”
Many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to some degree. This is when the nights draw in and we are exposed to less sunlight, which can adversely affect our mood. This lowering of our mood can lead to lower self-esteem and motivation and makes us naturally less inclined to get out and exercise more.
Interestingly, what we should be doing is the exact opposite – we should be exercising MORE. Exercise releases endorphins, which can have a positive effect on our mood, even after we’ve stopped exercising. I find when I explain to my clients that exercise can have a positive impact on not just their body but also their mind over the winter, they feel more able to engage with any programme we develop.
We are naturally less inclined to get out and exercise when it is chilly outside, and it takes willpower not to curl up with a hot drink instead. One remedy to this would be to find an indoor fitness space, such as a gym, but it is also entirely possible to do a good workout at home without a lot of space, for example by doing a high-intensity programme. If you much prefer the outdoors, you could motivate yourself to get out there by treating yourself to some new winter fitness kit to wear. This isn’t entirely for vanity as when our muscles are cold, we are more likely to suffer injury so if you are going to exercise outside you need to make sure you’re dressed in the proper kit.
You don’t have a goal
Over the summer, there are many sporting events to sign up to and challenge yourself with but these tail off significantly in the winter. I would advise signing up for a challenge in the spring and write yourself a basic training programme which will help keep you motivated over the winter. Of course, this doesn’t have to be of the same high intensity as you would do in the immediate build-up to an event, but it is important to maintain a baseline level of fitness on which to build as you get closer to the event.
You’ve stopped eating well
It’s true – stodgy food seems more appealing in the colder weather, but don’t forget that eating well is key to fuelling your body and sustaining fitness levels. Weirdly, studies indicate that eating beetroot can have a positive effect on sports performance due to its high nitrate levels so make this a regular part of your winter diet to optimise your training. They can be bought ready to eat and flavoured so are a quick and easy way to add to post workout meals.
You’re under the weather
As an Olympic rower, I spent a lot of time out on the cold water, both at home in winter and overseas at altitude camps where the climate is colder. Cold weather inhibits your immune system, leaving us more prone to the illnesses which are naturally more prevalent in winter. The way to attempt to address this problem and boost your immunity is to eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and other micronutrients. No one wants to exercise with a stinking cold, so try and pre-empt the usual winter illnesses by keeping up your vitamin C intake and have the flu jab to give you a fighting chance against the flu.