How to Make Winter Exercise Easier

It can be tough to stick with your exercise program when winter hits. The shortage of daylight, the cold weather and strong urge to stay in your nice warm bed can all work against you as you try to stay focused on your workouts. 

Start Warm, Stay Warm

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While winter does offer a variety of outdoor activities like skiing, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing, not all of us have access or enjoy those types of activities. That means being stuck indoors (or shivering outdoors) and, often, doing the same old workouts.

The key to staying motivated during the winter is to, first, make it as easy as possible to do your workouts and, second, to recognize when you're starting to get bored with your workouts and make a change before you really lose interest. There are ways to make winter exercise more comfortable, starting with

Step 1: Put Your Clothes in the Dryer

If you're exercising in the morning and find it hard to force yourself out of that nice, warm bed, put your workout clothes in the dryer the night before. When you get out of bed, turn on the dryer for a few minutes. It's much easier to start exercising when you're already warm and putting on clothes fresh from the dryer gives you a leg up on your warm up.

Next: Step 2 - An Extra Long Warm Up

Give Yourself Extra Time to Warm Up

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Step 2: Do an Extra Long Warm Up

When it's cold, your muscles can get extra tight which makes exercise uncomfortable and leaves you more susceptible to injuries. In the warmer months, you may be able to get away with shorter warm ups but, when it's cold, you may find you need a little extra time to get the blood flowing.

  • Try dynamic warm ups. Don't waste time with static stretches but, instead, focus on doing activities to get your body ready for the coming workout. If you're walking or running, start with a brisk walk and stay at that pace until you start to feel warmer. Gradually increase your pace and give your body extra time to get the blood flowing.
  • Get warm before you head out. If you're exercising outside, try warming up inside before heading out the door. It's much easier to face cold temps when your body is already warm. Try walking or jogging around the house, going up and down the stairs or use a cardio machine if you have one. Just don't get too sweaty before you go or you'll get cold.
  • Take a hot shower. If it's really cold outside or you just need something more to wake up, take a quick, hot shower to get warm before your workout.
  • Start easy. If you're really reluctant to get moving, start your workout with something easy like this Morning and Evening Yoga Workout. Giving yourself a transition from bed to workout can make exercise much more appealing.

Next: Step 3 - Exercise Outside

Exercise Outside

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If you're utterly against exercise in cold temperatures (as I am), you can still get outside occasionally for quick workouts without being too miserable. If you stay inside all winter, you'll eventually get bored and forget that there really is a world out there, even if it's cold. Getting out, even if it's just for a few minutes, can be rejuvenating and refreshing - just what you need to keep going until spring.

I loathe cold weather, but here are some tricks I use to get out a little more:

  • Alternate going in and out. Start your workout inside with a nice long warm up, then head out for a 3-5 minute walk or run. Come back for another 5-10 minutes until you're warm again and then continue alternating for a dynamic workout.
  • Go half and half. Another option is to do half your workout outside and then finish up inside. The great thing about this is that you get inside before you really start sweating - sweating when it's cold is not only uncomfortable, it could lead to hypothermia if you're out for long periods of time.
  • End your workout outside. A great way to burn extra calories and add something new to your winter workouts is to save 5 minutes at the end of your workout for an outdoor sprint. Head out and walk or run as fast as you can for 5 minutes.
  • Shovel some snow. If you're staring out at several inches or feet of snow, exercising may not be safe. Shoveling snow is an excellent whole body workout and a great warm up for more structured (and indoor) exercise.

Next: Step 4 - Layer Up

Layer Up

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If you exercise outside, you hopefully know the proper way to dress to stay warm. But, if you're still experimenting with just how much to wear, you may need some ideas for where to start. How you dress can make the difference between misery and just generally being uncomfortable.

  • Base Layer - Start with a base layer with thin, breathable fabrics, like silk or wool that keep you warm but allow sweat to evaporate. Compare prices.
  • Mid-Layer - Your next layer should be a little thicker than the first and made of sweat-wicking fabrics like fleece or Coolmax to keep you warm and dry. A mid-weight half-zip top works well here (compare prices) and running tights or pants (compare prices).
  • Top Layer - For your top layer, you'll want a jacket that's both wind and water resistant while still breathable. This will protect you from the elements while keeping you from sweltering. Compare prices.

Layering works well with cold temps because it helps you stay warm and provides an easy way to regulate your temperature - if you get too hot, just unzip or remove a layer. And don't forget the hat and gloves

For some great choices, check out my Top Picks for Winter Exercise Clothes.

Next: Step 5 - Mix Things Up

Mix Things Up

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If indoor workouts are your thing during the winter, you may get bored with the same old workouts. Even the variety of machines and activities at the gym can get old when you do them over and over. To keep yourself interested, try mixing up your workouts and trying some new ideas:

  • Mix and Match your Cardio. If you tend to do the same machines all the time, try a cardio medley. Choose 5 different machines and spend 5 or more minutes on each. Or choose 3 machines and hit each for 15 minutes. Mixing things up can make your workouts seem shorter and more interesting. Try this Cardio Medley Workout for ideas.
  • Mix and Match your Strength Training. If you've been doing the same old routine for awhile, try mixing things up by using different types of resistance. Try doing one exercise on a machine (e.g., a chest press) and then an exercise for the same muscle group with the cables or a resistance band (e.g., crossover chest flies). Or, start at the end of your workout and work your way backwards. Just changing the order of the exercise can keep things interesting. Try this Mixed Resistance Workout for a new way to train your upper body.
  • Mix and Match Cardio and Strength. Another way to perk up is to combine cardio and strength in a circuit. Try 5 minutes on the treadmill and then do a minute of squats before a few minutes on the elliptical, etc. This Fat Burning Circuit Workout combines cardio and strength for a challenging and effective workout.

Next: Step 6 - Try New Exercises

Try New Exercises

Young woman performing squat jumps in gym
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If you find yourself staring at the treadmill with something close to dread, that's a good sign you need to try something different. Now is a great time to try a new group fitness class like spinning, yoga or kickboxing. If you usually do group fitness, try heading out to the floor and try different machines. If you're a home exerciser, try different workout videos, an exergame or turn on the radio and make up your own workout - jumping jacks, squats, lunges, pushups, etc.

Don't be afraid to break out of the old routine and try something different, even if it's not the same intensity as your usual workouts. Doing something new can keep you motivated and on track. These workouts offer just a few ideas for how to mix things up.

For more workouts, visit my Workout Center

Next: Step 7 - Reward Yourself

Reward Yourself

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If you're finding it particularly difficult to get up and do your workout, having something to look forward to may just get you moving. It's tough to look forward to a workout when it's cold and dark, but having something nice waiting at the end of your workout can make it all better:

  • Give yourself an extra ten minutes. At the end of your workout, use that extra time to sit in the hot tub, take an extra long shower, pick up some coffee from your favorite establishment, stretch, nap or whatever makes you feel good.
  • Reward yourself every week. At the end of each week, plan something fun you'll do if you've completed all your workouts. A movie, a massage, a shopping trip, an afternoon in front of the fire, etc.
  • Reward yourself every month. Plan bigger rewards for completing all your workouts in one month. A weekend trip, a new pair of running shoes, a day at the spa...choose something that makes you smile when you think about it and get moving.
  • Reward yourself at the end of winter. Another way to stay motivated is to plan something for the end of winter, like a vacation. Knowing you have a vacation to look forward to will motivate you to stay in shape so you're strong and ready for your trip.