But it’s cold outside!!

Lying cosy in bed it’s hard to imagine getting up and out into the fog that is sitting just outside my bedroom window.  Yesterday was bright and beautiful but travelling prevented me from getting out on a training ride and today I have a beautiful route planned but with this fog it’s tempting to sack it off and stay here in the warm.

I am disappointed, I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t but it won’t put me off either, not for long anyway.  I love getting on my bike and heading out for the open road. I can feel how desperate my body is for fresh air and exercise. Ride I will.

  • How do you survive exercising in the winter months? Do you take your activity in doors, head to the gym, get on the turbo trainer or do you simply wrap up warm and just go for it?
  • Or is this the time of year that you drop exercise altogether and allow it to fade into the background until the spring comes around again?
  • With just a few changes you can keep active right through winter – in this piece I discuss the changes we need to make to sustain our exercise through the colder months and feel better than ever moving into spring.

It wasn’t always like this

There was a time when a little rain or a slight chill would put me right off stepping outside my front door. Those days when I found getting out of bed hard and used any excuse under the sun. I honestly didn’t know what I was I missing. I had other ideas about exercise back then. It was a chore, something to be endured and as I sat making up excuses that I never truly believed, I felt safe at home in my cocoon. However during those times I was compounding an issue that I had suffered with for years – procrastination and inertia they set in and if you sack off one day ‘just because’ you give yourself permission to sack off a few more.  Well why not.

Days would pass in a rainy haze and then weeks would go by as the cold stepped up it’s warnings to me – go out at your peril. Pavements were dangerous as were the roads and I was not confident on anything other than those. ‘Why would you?’ was the affirmation I said to myself and anyone else in my group of friends at the time.

Why would you…. my monkey mind whispered, why….what possible benefit could you gain from going out today

There are so many perceived barriers to exercising through winter, Women in Sport research shows that there is a significant decline in women participating in physical activity and sport in the winter months*. There is a dropout rate of 27% across all outdoor sports and pursuits during autumn and winter and as I expected the older you get the higher the dropout rate. It is not clear from the study if there is a switch being made with women taking their sport indoors, but the report suggests there is still a decline here and the drop out rate, although lower than their outdoor counterparts is still greater compared to men’s participation.  It is anticipated that although there will be some movement from outdoor to indoor sport and exercise there is still a considerable drop in women exercising through the winter.

*Women in Sport – Keeping Women Warm To Sport in Winter

So what really stops us?

The research found that women would sight multiple reasons for not exercising which would cover a range of environmental factors, cultural issues, motivation and personal safety barriers.  We are after all complex beings so there was going to be a complex set of answers here.  You have used some of them yourself, I know you have as I have too in the past.

‘It’s too dark and I feel unsafe’ – understandable, logical and hard to argue against

‘I need to stay home and feed the kids and get everything ready for the morning’ – an instant reaction to the darker nights is to switch to the nurturing parent and tuck everyone up safe

‘It’s raining and a bit cold, it may brighten up tomorrow’ – although we live in a country where it rains more than it shines we are still surprised when winter gets here

‘What am I doing this for? It’s not like I am going to get into a bikini anytime soon’ – the summer motivation for feeling fit and healthy has gone so what else is left…..

What changed for me?

Let’s flip back a few years, in my 20’s I loved being outside and getting muddy and didn’t mind the cold and the wet. I played rugby for Cheltenham Ladies – back then we were positioned in the Premier Division 2 and traveled all over the country to play matches every Sunday, training took place on a Wednesday and a Friday come rain, shine or snow! Our coaches would give us no quarter – if we tried to avoid the puddles we would have rucking practice right on top of it, delay the start by 5 minutes by sitting in the changing rooms – 10 minutes would be added to the end of the session. They took hard lines but none of us minded, in-fact we all secretly loved it. I am sure it is not dissimilar to the ‘boot camp, military fitness’ style of training sessions you see in parks all over the country now.

I knew what it was like to train in the cold and I had loved it at one time, could I get that love back?

In training for my second marathon I wanted to be race ready.  Fully prepared to do my absolute best rather than simply take part.

With a spring marathon beckoning, winter training was inevitable and so during the winter of 2012 I began to embrace the weather. I had little choice as the first training session began on boxing day. Having a goal was a great motivator and I also found a group that I loved running with, in-deed I had even started training as a run leader so this was a turning point for me.

Over time I embraced the cold and the damp days and actually loved it again.

Getting your head around it

Looking back on my own experience I see a number of things that I did to embrace winter training and you can do these too.

1) I thought of a time when I enjoyed doing sport in winter.  

Ask yourself these questions and find out how you can use these ideas to support you today.

  • Think of a time when you enjoyed doing sport in winter?
  • What was it you enjoyed about those sessions?
  • How did you motivate yourself to get out every day?

2) I set myself a goal.

A goal that inspired me to get out even in the cold and the dark, setting a spring goal will give you a focus for your training, consider the following when you set your goal.

  • Set a goal that makes your heart sing, one that you are passionate about and has infinite possibility for you.
  • When you have it, write it in the present tense ‘I am training for the Edinburgh Marathon’ was mine, this helps you to embody the goal immediately and take on the challenge.
  • Tell everyone and anyone who will listen – plaster it over Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.  By sharing this commitment your motivation becomes more fixed.

If you struggle with any of this, then find a good coach to help you, they will hold you safe whilst you explore all the possibilities and options you can for yourself. A coach will offer their support, challenge, accountability and motivation. Coaches come in all shapes and sizes and one size doesn’t fit all. You can work with a specific coach in your chosen area – Running, Cycling, Cricket, Rugby, Hockey etc. and combine their skills in the sport alongside their ability to coach you. You can also work with a professional Life Coach, someone who listens to your head and heart and can support you as you find the will and the way to achieve your goals.

How to stay physically active

This is all great, but you you still need to deal with a few practicalities – the head may now be willing in one respect but you still have to get out there.  Making plans over a cup of coffee in a nice warm armchair is not the same as getting out and doing it.  Your little monkey mind will be chattering at you the whole time, as you dress, as you dream about your spring event (well that’s ages away isn’t it) and even before you get up in the morning.  To keep your monkey ‘boxed’ you need a few things in place to keep you on track. Here are few ideas that could stop procrastination

Be prepared : Get ready early especially if you think you will be distracted by a warm bed to go back too after you have put the kettle on and made breakfast or as soon as you get home from work change into your kit even if your are not leaving for another hour or more!  Being dressed for your session will encourage you to get going.

Dress appropriately : Wear the right clothing for the conditions. This may require a few purchases, but kit can be bought fairly cheap to start with and you can then upgrade as you start to love it. Choose layers over one thick top and double up on your shorts if you need too this s not a fashion parade as long as I am warm and comfortable – it’s dark anyway so who is going to see!

Change your routine : Look at other times of the day to train, so the nights are darker could you get out earlier in the day or before work? It may start with a 20 minute walk before breakfast rather than a run – getting out and getting started is the key.

Grab a friend : Training with a partner prevents inertia, you feed off each other to get yourself moving and in the early days you won’t want to let each other down.

Find a club : There are so many clubs out there you just need to spend a bit of time on the internet to find one. They are run by fabulous coaches and leaders who dedicate their time and knowledge to you.

Book into a session at the gym : Paying for a class or booking in advance is a great way to stick with a commitment.  Loosing your money is not an option, right!

Reward yourself : Give yourself little rewards for your goals. I used a relaxing massage or reflexology as my reward – after the 5th session in the rain treat yourself to a massage. This acts as a double bonus as a reward it is fabulous but it also ensures you are taking good care of your body.

Plan it : Set out a structured plan for your training, especially if you have an event in mind. Work back from the event date and work out how much you need to do between now and then.  Working backwards gives you a good idea of how much time you really have.  When you have a high level plan work in smaller goals, one a week, one a month and so on to keep you on track.

Last but by no means least #JFDI – The front cover of a new Cycling Magazine Casquette pictures Emily Chapell & Nicole Cooke wearing a cap with the hashtag #JFDI it really made me smile as these are the immortal words I say as my monkey mind prevaricates and struggles to come up with excuses – c’mon #JFDI.

How to start exercising this winter

We have talked about sustaining an exercise plan if you are already doing something, but what if you haven’t started yet?  What do the winter months mean for you and how do you feel about getting started this side of Christmas.

My question to you is this:

  1. What would putting off starting until spring do for you?
  2. Will your body thank you for another inactive winter?

If you can start an exercise programme in the winter months and keep that going, just think how easy it is going to be when spring does arrive. You can use all the suggestions above for setting your goals and getting yourself out there – nothing changes that. Simply start slowly and be aware of what your body is telling you.  Here are a few points to consider for starting out from a level ‘0’ activity.

  • Follow the slow road – start with 10 mins for each session and build up over a few weeks
  • Set short term goals where you have absolute certainty of their outcome – as you tick off each weeks goal notice how you feel about it
  • Schedule it – just like an appointment with the dentist or a meeting with a colleague put the time in your diary
  • Listen to your inner champion – there will always be someone who thinks you’re mad – that person can also be your own inner critic
  • Love it – if there is something you find a chore, be that running or the gym then ditch it – try different exercises and classes – go back and read last months piece on how to move exercise from a chore to a choice
  • Rest and recover – this is as important as getting out in the first place, find your balance

Start your winter revolution and forget needing a New Years Resolution!

Tweet about it #JFDI #getoutdoors #winterfitness #adventure #getoutside

Winter fitness doesn’t have to be boring and I will still be in my shorts until the end of October never happier than when I can get outside even in the rain, hail, mud and snow.  My next event is the Pear Tree Joggers, Croome Capability Canter in November – a fabulous 10k ish run at the beautiful Croome Park nr Pershore and most days you will catch me riding my bike to work or to train.


This post was also featured on Female Coaching Network in November 2016 in two Parts > Part 1 & Part 2


Muddy Legs!  Snow angel  Finishing Mud Runner