Tips for exercising in winter

All the leaves are broon and the sky is grey! Well, it's getting that way around here anyway, that time of year when you just want to hide under the blankets and cry. Which brings us to the lovely Margaret's topic suggestion:

"Perhaps a subject to touch upon… is what to do to fight off the probability of motivation slide as the weather becomes cooler.. and how to move your exercise regime indoors without wanting to chuck it all in."

Exercise becomes even more of a priority during winter. My sunny disposition (haw haw) tends to nosedive without regular exercise and even more so when it gets dark at 3PM. Exercise this summer was nice and leisurely and fun – bike rides, hill walks, canoe stints – but it will take a bit more imagination over winter.

I don't rely on motivation per se, because I rarely wake up thinking OH YEAH HURRAH it's time to exercise! So the trick is to make it as 1) efficient 2) inviting and 3) easy and mindless as possible, so there's a chance I'll actually do it instead of grumbling into a mug of hot chocolate.

As always, I can only ramble on about what works for me and hopefully it will be somewhat useful to passers-by.

Lunchtime walks
It's easy to miss daylight altogether when you arrive and leave work in the dark, so this winter I'm aiming to get away from the computer and go outside at lunchtime. I kept meaning to do this last year but most days I'd end up yapping in the lunch room or remain slumped in front of the computer. When I did get out and stretch the legs, even just five minutes of Vitamin D and fresh air did wonders for my mood and will to live!

I've sung the praises of group fitness classes about eleventeen million times on here but they are even handier during winter because of their Leave Your Brain At Home-ness. In winter, I find the mental effort of exercise feels even more enormous than the physical, so 45 minutes of Spinning or the kick and punch of a Body Combat class is a great way to get it out of the way. Just rock up to a class, let someone boss you about for an hour, and you're done before you know it.

Gym cardio
I really loathe cardio at the gym but it's a sensible option when the pavements are icy or just poorly lit. I always sigh and huff when it's Cardio Day but have come up with a few ways to make it bearable:

  • High Intensity Interval Training – maximum results with minimum time. Just Google HIIT to find some sample workouts. The idea is to be completely shagged by the end of it, as though you couldn't possibly do another minute on the cursed treadmill/bike/whatever. My average session is 25 minutes.

    That can still feel like an age sometime, so I use Cardio Coach. This is a downloadable MP3 workout where a dude called Sean O'Malley with a rather sexy voice tells you exactly what to do; suitable for any piece of cardio equipment. When to go fast, when to go slow, when to stretch; it really does make the time go faster! I have conversations with Sean in my head. I hate you Sean. Oh we're almost there? Fine then. I'll do it. Only for you. Fetch me another bottle of water Sean. You're the best Sean. HIGHLY recommended. iTrain also does MP3 workouts but they're a little cheesy for my liking.

  • Rowing Races – Sometimes when I am feeling REALLY sluggish and/or unmotivated, I'll go to the gym and say, "Okay lazyarse, all you have to do is commit to ONE KILOMETRE on the rowing machine and then we can go home." But then the competitive streak kicks in, and I will be disgruntled with my time, so I will do another kilometre and try and beat that. Soon enough I've got in a rather intense workout.

The Home Gym
My favourite kind of workout is the one you can do in your pyjamas. I'd be lost without my Home Gym, which consists of a scrap of floorspace in our bedroom measuring 1 x 3 metres and a few bits and pieces:

  • Workout DVDs. My favourites are:
    • Cathe Pyramid Upper and Lower Body and Muscle Endurance
    • Gaiam Pilates for Weight Loss and Yoga for Weight Loss. There's nothing particularly weight lossy about those DVDs, they were just decent workouts going cheap on Amazon!
    • Thanks to Mary, OM Yoga Intermediate/Beginners DVD which rules.
    • The best thing about ALL of these DVDs is that they have timesaver options. The normal workouts are about an hour, but they have shortened versions, usually 45 minutes. I find myself taking that option quite often, hehe. So when it's time to get sweaty, I put a DVD into the computer and off we go!
  • Reebok step – a bench for weights, to stand on for calf raises, or to cling on for grim death for tricep dips. These are pretty cheap at Argos and slide neatly under the bed when not in use.
  • Resistance bands – if you Google "resistance bands" there are dozens of exercises you can do with these inexpensive rubber babies. I made a list of band and body weight exercises that equates to a total body resistance workout – totally portable and perfect if you don't have much space and/or feeling too lazy to get out the dumbbells!
  • Assorted dumbbells – These live under the bed. I started with a 1.5, 3, and 5 kilo set from Argos that were quite cheap. I've gradually built up a collection, including some nice heavy ones I found by Googling "cheap dumbbells uk". They were listed as seconds so were really cheap, and absolutely nothing wrong with them but a few wee scratches!
  • Dumbells
  • Barbell and plates – Again from Argos. You can generally do most exercises with dumbbells but the barbell is the way to go when you want to lift heavier. I shove the barbell under the bed when not in use, but inevitably I leave the end poking out and someone trips over it and screams, "F*!@ing BARBELL!" Because of my limited floorspace I have to turn sideways and watch the screen out of the corner of my eye, otherwise the bar clonks into the wardrobe. Awkward, but do-able!
  • Swiss ball for doing ab work or modified planks and pushups or even as a weight bench when too lazy to get out the Reebok step. The ball lives on top of the Wall of Sound in our hallway – Gareth's bass amp and other musical paraphernalia, which is crammed in next to a mountain bike. The ball falls off its perch about 20 times a day, often landing on one's head to a chorus of, "F*!@ing BALL!"

All of this stuff has been gradually gathered over the past three years or so, and has proved very cost effective. When it's miserable outside, it is much easier to convince myself to do some exercise when I just have to drag out some dumbbells from under the bed. Huzzah! So let it snow let it snow let it snow… I'm ready baby!

29 thoughts on “Tips for exercising in winter

  1. Hi Shauna ! I am going to stop lurking here and actually comment … and stop pestering you with e-mails !!

    I totally agree with you about the at-home workouts. I can’t seem to ever make myself work as hard at home as I do in Body Pump or Spinning, because I am inherently lazy, but it is SO nice to have the option ! A home workout is definitely better then no workout at all. Good call on the resistance bands – they are the most under appreciated piece of exercise equipment I think. Another at-home workout plan is called “Turbulance Training” and it’s almost entirely body weight stuff and core moves, combined with HIIT. You might like that, if you get bored of what you already have. Keep up the good work !!

  2. Great list – though funnily enough, all of the home cardio and whatnot applies to me in SUMMER, I feel like I can get outside more in winter, where I’m not getting cooked to a crisp and am sweating before I’ve even put my sneakers on. In Summer, I have to try and do as much of my cardio at night due to the heat, and home gyms and whatnot are awesome for that.

    Great post!

  3. And then there’s my other favourite – make sure you use the stairs. These are exercise equipment kindly supplied by your workplace and apartment building. Think thighs!

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with Marshmallow: all you C25Kers take heed: Go out and get yourself some cold weather running tights and enjoy the best time of year to run outside! I’m so EXCITED that autumn is here cause now I can run outside with my Siberian Husky and neither of us will overheat.

    Also: snowshoeing, x-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledding (all that walking up hill!) and driveway shoveling can keep you fit in winter.

  5. Dark at 3pm? My exercise strategy would be to move to Jamaica.
    How very well organised you are πŸ™‚ (and tidy – is Dr G tidy? You lucky lucky woman)
    but do you put your sports bra on under your pjs? sorry I have a ferocious cold and that’s all that occurred to me.

  6. Ooh – you’re a genius. I’ve never thought of downloading a workout (slaps forehead), but it’s so obvious. I’ve just been spending 10 minutes at the start of each workout fiddling with the machine, trying to find some sort of motivational music to listen to!!

    Thanks shauna!

  7. Hey there, I checked out the cardio coach, it seems cool, but I think I’ll wait on it a little while. I have a computer program called, Yourself fitness, it’s kind of a game, after certain numbers of workouts you can unlock rooms and stuff and you get a personal trainer who kicks your butt, and also you can do yoga and stuff. It’s pretty cool

  8. cheers for all yer ideas everyone!

    LPTEPA – Oh yeah he’s tidy! i do put on a sports bra under my XXXL t-shirt i got from our wedding chapel in vegas πŸ˜›

    Andrea – Sounds like you have a ‘proper’ winter with snow and stuff! we just have dark and rain, hehe πŸ™‚

  9. I thought I had left a profound comment one or two posts back but I am now doubting myself a bit.

    It is admirable that anyone is interested in getting on with it when “all the leaves are braun and the sky is grey”.

  10. Good suggestions all! I’m also in a climate where it’s harder to motivate in the summer; winter is more my outdoor time. I like the idea about lunchtime walks – it’s true that missing daylight starts to become depressing.

  11. Hi Shauna,

    I’m a lurker too. I’m an Aussie doing her first winter ever in Canada. The weather is starting to get cold up north so I love some of your ideas and will be checking out some of your suggested websites.


  12. I agree about running outside in the autumn, it really is lovely out at the moment, just whack on some warmer trousers and have a hat and jacket ready!

  13. I find there are 2 type of conditions one can encounter between October and May-ish (I’m in Ontario, Canada). One is perfect running weather ( you do need some sort of a thermal layer some days and a waterproof, breathable shell but otherwise you’re good to go) or perfect downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snow-shoeing weather.
    So, I’m definitely not complaining about winter in terms of fitness…Yay skiing!

  14. I’m so jealous of your cooler temps! I hate to say that, but I really am. It is currently 89 degrees on the Great Lakes in the Northeastern USA right now, and I am miserable!!!! I love running in the fall, and it appears we aren’t going to ever have one around here. Which reminds me that your indoor workout is actually great when it’s too hot outside too…thanks, Shauna…

  15. Great advice!

    In the northeast kingdom of VT/NH where I was this weekend the leaves are amazing reds, oranges, yellows, golds, just amazing changing colors you have to see to believe.

    I’m so excited for winter. I love all winter sports and can’t wait for the snow to fly (sorry, I know most people love the warm weather).

    I feel sorry for the people who hibernate through the winter months. It is beautiful to get out there. You just need to wear the right gear.

    Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Enjoy. πŸ™‚

  16. Thanks for this post. When it gets colder is when I have the most difficulty, and you provided a lot of good tips.

  17. No wonder its the “Amazing” adventures of DG.. ur no excuses options for winter – particular when its dark from 3pm is really admirable.. as always thanks for the suggestions & inspiration xx

  18. Those dumbells look like toe killers. If mine were stored there I’d probably stub my toe and then chuck the dumbells out the window! πŸ™‚ My question is are you a morning workouter or evening? Do you think it matters what time of day you work out?

  19. Cheers everyone πŸ™‚

    Oh Jae, they’re normally shoved way under the bed, I just put them out like that for artistic purposes πŸ˜‰

    I don’t think it matters what time you workout… the best time to work out is whatever time you can squeeze into your day! For me it’s usually after work or a weekend afternoon. Every now and then I flirt with morning exercise but it doesn’t work for me… no time to exercise, wash & dry hair and get to work on time πŸ˜‰

  20. My advice is to get a dog that REALLY needs a lot of exercise. I HAVE to get up every morning at 5am, no matter what the temperature or weather, to walk the pup. When I return, I’m already dressed and it’s easy to march downstairs to my elliptical or bike.

  21. As always, I get a giggle from something you’ve written… this time it’s the swearing at inanimate exercise equipment. I do that a lot, so I can relate to that. I also tell the treadmill and the stepper how much I hate them when I visit the gym. Silently of course! I think some people are wary of me to begin with (hmmmn could it be the t-shirt that says “Heavily Medicated For Your Protection”)

  22. Delurking to tell you that I am your alter-something or other. I’m Scottish living in Australia and summer is my exercise nightmare (well, truth be told exercise is my exercise nightmare but…. meh). Like others who have commented, I just can’t exercise outside in the sun, so I resort to a) not bothering b) doing the DVD thing (or planning to but well…not bothering). However I love some of your suggestions, so things could be different this year. Thanks!

  23. I’m all about the resistance band workout at the moment – it’s what I do at the end of the day if all other attempts to exercise have failed…

  24. Sigh, somewhere in a box are the dumbbells and my yoga mat etc! mind you clearing some floor space so I could use them would be good as well! (moving house sucks!)

Comments are now closed on all Dietgirl posts. For fresh conversation please visit me at