How to adapt your training for winter

Struggling to get moving in the colder weather? Here’s how to tweak your routine so it doesn’t freeze over.

During the colder, shorter days of winter, it’s common to lose motivation to work out.

Dr Jackson Fyfe, lecturer in Strength and Conditioning Sciences at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), says it’s fine to take a gentler approach – but don’t stop.

“It’s ok if you don’t feel like training, but remember that something is always better than nothing,” he said.

He suggests making adjustments that will accommodate the challenges the chilly season throws your way. It might be as simple as switching your morning workout to the evening or changing up the style of training.

Failing that, Dr Fyfe has a few strategies that can help you adapt and make it easier to get started with exercise.

Slow down

 If you planned to go for a run, but don’t feel like it, one option is to slow your pace. It’s tempting to think that running slower than your usual pace won’t be as effective, but it’s better than nothing. In fact, slowing down when you aren’t feeling as motivated can be a good thing, whether that means a lower risk of injury or  mood boost (particularly since most people find exercising at very high intensity levels unpleasant, according to this study).

Walk instead of run

 Can’t bear the idea of a run? It’s also fine to walk when you aren’t feeling up to running. Or break up your run into small chunks with short walks in between. Walking, and particularly brisk walking, can still raise energy expenditure and other body (e.g. cardiovascular) responses. One study found that even short bouts of walking can burn significant energy. When researchers interrupted 30 minutes of sitting with 1, 2 or 5 minutes of walking they found energy was raised to a level that could be beneficial for weight loss/control.

 Lighten the load

 Lifting lighter weights than you usually would in the gym can still improve strength and muscle mass to a similar extent as lifting heavier weights. Don’t expect your performance to be the same as the times you are feeling more motivated – but keep turning up. Maintaining a consistent routine is better than stopping for a few weeks and starting again.

 Stop further from ‘failure’

 Another way to make lifting easier in the gym is to stop your sets further from the point of ‘failure’. This is when no more repetitions are possible when lifting a given weight. Getting close to this point requires a lot of effort, so this is a good workaround to ensure you continue training in times of low motivation.

 Keep it simple

 In the gym, we can choose exercises that vary in complexity. Something like a deadlift, for example, is a highly technical, free weight exercise. This means it requires a high degree of concentration and effort to perform safely and effectively. On the other hand, machine-based exercises (such as a leg press) are less demanding in technique and require less stabilisation to perform. This means they are lower in complexity and a bit easier to perform safely, while being similarly effective as free weights. Choosing exercises that require less mental effort can help when you’re not in the mood.

 Prioritise your exercise

If you don’t feel up to a longer session, as little as one exercise can improve strength for the muscle groups involved.

Dr Jackson Fyfe

Finally, Dr Fyfe recommends planning ahead as another strategy to ensure you don’t skip exercise.

“Your exercise session starts the day before. Decide where and when, book time in your calendar, and get your exercise gear ready,” he advises.

“The key to consistency is getting started. You might set the bar low, but getting started often leads to doing more,” he said.

And he says it’s ok to miss an intended session every now and again – but aim not to miss more than one.