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Training through the winter

Kate Braithwaite running outdoors

The temperature has definitely dropped and it’s getting to that time of year again when training outdoors is becoming less and less attractive. Unless you play for a sports team that trains outdoors a couple of times a week, my guess is you’ll now be looking at ways to keep motivated over the winter months.

It’s no secret that people’s motivation drops a little from October to February, with perhaps a little jump back on the band wagon early December for the ladies wanting to get into party dress shape. January is another classic time when those that have hit it hard over Christmas decide that the new year’s resolution is to become a “phys ninja” (Royal Marine speak for an exercise addict) and hence gym membership deals are there to be had.

The mistake people make is thinking that the ONLY option in the winter months is to battle it out for the bench press, squat rack and treadmills in the local gym. Not so. Considering some bright spark made the working day the same for everyone, we all tend to flock to the gym at 7.30am, midday, 6pm and Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, this means that unless you have a fetish for rooms full of sweaty people you probably aren’t going to love the gym as the weather gets worse and the evenings draw in.

The reality though is that a busy, sweaty gym isn’t the only reason we lose motivation in the winter. For a start, we spend far more of our time covered up. This tends to make us think we can get away with adding a little winter weight; after all it’s another thermal layer isn’t it? In all seriousness though, compared to the vest, shorts and flip-flops of the summer which don’t leave much to the imagination, the duffel coat, jeans, boots, scarf and hat means you could be hiding the best or worst figure/physique in the world, but who’s going to see it?!

Lastly, it has been said that the shorter days and dingy light is a depressant. It makes us feel a bit, well, rubbish! That’s hardly the remedy for lack of inspiration to go to the gym. Most of us just want to hide under the duvet and watch Netflix. It’s different in the summer; going for a run in the sun or even going to the gym and coming out at 8pm when it’s still light isn’t depressing. Coming out of the gym in the winter at 8pm to darkness and drizzle simply ruins a decent session for many other than the hardcore bodybuilders and crossfitters.

What’s the answer? Is it just a case of doormousing your way through winter by hibernating on the sofa? Or is there a way to keep fit and train hard despite the motivation draining weather situation. There always is. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink claimed that people are “Outside In”, not “Inside Out”. To explain, he told a story of a couple of scientists who tried to map all the expressions a human makes. They found that at the end of the day making sad expressions they felt sad and depressed and at the end of the day making happy expressions they felt happy and vibrant. Hence, “Outside, In”: the expression we make on the outside affects how we feel on the inside not the other way around.

In every published book I have written I have mentioned the phrase “Know thyself”. I think for anyone in any walk of life, it’s really important to be self-aware; to know your strengths and how to play to them, but also your weaknesses and how to work with them. If we take both of these ideas; “outside, in” and “know thyself” I think we can work through the depressing winter months with very few blips on the training graph. If you know you are likely to finish work at 6pm, see the rain, imagine the queues at the gym and head for the comfort of the sofa, then make sure you go to the gym before work or at lunch. Alternatively, if you can’t do that for lifestyle reasons (logistics/taking the kids to school etc) this is still something you “know”, so you can work around it and perhaps buy a TRX to do something at home when you get back. Another phrase fits perfectly here: “if something is important you’ll find a way, if it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.” This again goes back to knowing yourself. Is it important to you to train? Do you care? Are you bothered if you don’t have a six-pack or can’t run 5miles? If not, then that’s fine, but at least know it. Smile, be happy and feel good on the inside and outside.

If it does bother you and you want to train and be fit and healthy, then you need to find a way to work in some training whenever and wherever you can. This is the crux of this blog. If you can’t make the gym at a time that works for you, then what can you do? There are actually a number of options for training outside of the high street gym these days, it’s just a case of realising them and making them work for you.

1. Classes

Classes can be a great way to stay motivated across the winter, either by starting with a mate so you feel like you are letting them down if you don’t go, or by paying upfront for 10 weeks or the like. By paying upfront you are financially invested and if you don’t go will feel like you are wasting hard-earned cash. It’s amazing want a financial incentive can do!

2. Teams/Clubs

Similar to classes, there’s an investment in other people. Your team or club relies on you. If you join a 5-a-side team and don’t show up you, the other players lose out. There is often a financial outlay as well, which again helps motivation.

3. Hire a space for a group of friends

A friend of mine (a Commando Dentist) has just done this at Exeter Uni; he’s hired the astroturf pitch and asked people to pay for a place for all 10 weeks or drop in and pay as and when. By committing to hiring the space, he and the core group have to go. This is a great way to ensure, no matter the weather, that’ll you’ll train.

4. Swimming

There’s something quite cosy about finishing a swim, having a warm shower then heading home for something hot to eat. I actually prefer indoor swimming in the winter. In the summer it seems a waste to not be swimming outside. My top tip: buy a slow cooker, throw some food in it while preparing breakfast, head to the pool on the way home from work and return to a warm meal in front of the TV. Try it, trust me.

5. Just griz it

Another Marine-ism, but it means just to grit the teeth and get on with it. Sign up to a marathon or 10km run or even (I know it’s a class) a military fitness class and get outdoors and train. It’s only darkness and rain. To quote the Officer who took me through training “Your skin is waterproof”. And it is. It’s good to get outside and test it. We humans are a little mollycoddled these days. Believe me, an hour of TV and a warm shower never feels as good as it does after a run against the elements.

6. Train at home

You don’t need much. In fact, you don’t need anything – see my Perfect Pins programmes as an example. Get yourself a TRX pistol squat session or other suspension trainer and the front room is your oyster: attach it to a doorway and you can exercise every muscle in your body. Use protcols such as time under tension and rest/pause sets and you will probably have a better session at home that you would queueing for the kit at the gym. Plus the shower is better, usually anyway, and you can watch Netflix while you train or at least choose your music without having to use headphones.

7. Buy some outdoor kit

There are some pretty advanced pieces of kit available now for keeping the elements at bay. Don’t forget that people climb Everest and the likes and the technology behind some of the kit they use has now hit the high street. In fact, shops like Decathlon even do their own brands which do the job just as well. A decent set of leggings, thermal running top, rain/wind jacket, running hat and even head torch does the job perfectly. A top tip here is to buy two pairs of the same pair of trainers and wear them alternately meaning one pair can dry while the other is being worn.

8. Move abroad

It sounds stupid and to some of you it will be. Your family and life is where you are. But for others, it could be more of an option that you realise. We live in a world where moving abroad to work for a year or so, or for life, is no longer a big issue. It’s actually the norm. How many of your friends live abroad right now? How many have lived or worked abroad at some point? It’s no longer necessary to think “I’m British, therefore I must live in the UK”. If you don’t like the cold, move. I hear Australia has good weather most the year, and the Cayman Islands too.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is, if you want something enough, you’ll find a way of making it work. If you want to be fit for a marathon, you’ll do the training no matter the weather. If you want to lose body fat for a wedding or a holiday or just because, you’ll train wherever and whenever you can because you want the end goal no matter what stands in front of you. If you look at it from that point of view, then everything I have written above: the 8 ways to train through the winter, is all irrelevant. The only thing you need to get to grips with is a good enough reason, a strong enough draw for you to want to train no matter what life and the winter weather throws at you.

Sean Lerwill - Author

Sean is an former-Royal Marines Commando Officer & Physical Training Instructor. He has been published as a writer five times, has a BSc in Molecular Genetics and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. He is also a MaxiNutrition ambassador.

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