Tips to spice up your workout routine and overcome the cold, dark days of winter
How to make the most of the shorter winter days
For many, it can be extremely difficult to find the motivation and drive to muster up quality training sessions with the winter’s colder temps and limited sunlight. In fact, sleeping more, feeling blue, and having less motivation to work out than usual are completely normal during the winter months. The additional hours of darkness in the winter cause our hypothalamus—the portion of the brain that controls our circadian rhythm—to signal the release of melatonin, triggering us to feel tired.
However, that does not mean all is lost in the winter months. By knowing the causes and understanding how the winter months affect your energy levels, you can be armed and prepared to overcome them. Some simple tweaks to your routine can allow you to take advantage of the sunlight, reignite your workout ambition, and develop new habits that can be carried into the spring and summer months.
Run during lunch to take advantage of sunlight and rejuvenate for the afternoon
Working out at work used to be unheard of, but that is trending toward being a thing of the past. Research has shown the benefits are abundant. Reduced stress, improved brainpower, better memory, increased energy, and improved creativity have all been shown to result from a midday sweat session. Taking advantage of the sunlight and boosting afternoon productivity by rejuvenating with a lunchtime run seems like a no-brainer. What employer doesn’t want their employees to have more brainpower, less stress, to be energized and creative with an awesome memory!?
The lunch run is not feasible for everyone, specifically those in meetings during the lunch hour or those without proper facilities to change and wash up after. However, if there is a way for you to swing it, it can turn the dreary, winter days upside down. As an added bonus, you can encourage coworkers to join so you have some company and they, too, can reap the rewards of improved afternoon productivity.
Runmute to save time and see the sun
If you have ever made the excuse that you don’t have time to run, then the runmute is perfect for you. Runmuting—running as your form of transportation—gives you the best of both worlds in the winter by eliminating wasted time commuting and giving you a chance to enjoy daylight hours. If you have time to sit in traffic or on public transportation, you have time to runmute as long as you live within a reasonable distance of your workplace. Just think about how much better you will feel starting your day with a gratifying run, as opposed to developing road rage sitting in traffic.
Of course, runmuting isn’t possible if you live a significant distance from the office or lack a navigable running route to get there. It also requires some additional logistics and planning to pack lightly, but still carry everything you need for the day. To make it less of a burden, there are specially made packs designed for running that will make you forget you even have a backpack on. Couple that with the satisfaction of saving time and money spent on transportation, and runmuting will soon be a habit that sticks with you. Plus, it is better for the Earth!
Get some fresh pow
A fresh snowfall is often considered a signal to avoid the outdoors, but running in wintry conditions can have many advantages even if the roads or your favorite trail are not cleared off. The fresh snow provides extra cushioning so you land softer with each foot strike. As long as you have proper shoes with plenty of tread and protection—like the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35 Shield or Yaktrax cleats—you are set to have some fun in the snow. Just make sure you avoid the ice!
You can also gain a mental edge training in harsher conditions. Mental toughness is a key factor in improving your running performance. Instead of shying away from the cold, embrace it. Exposing ourselves to conditions outside of our comfort zone triggers our bodies to adapt both physically and mentally. When you endure a little bit of additional discomfort day in, day out the pain you have to push through during your next race will feel like a breeze. If the footing is subpar, don’t worry about your pace and just enjoy your time outside breathing the crisp air.
Dress for the occasion
The dread of being cold and forcing yourself to take that first step out the door are really the only difficult parts of winter running. As long as you are dressed properly for the weather you are running in, winter running is no different than running during any other season. Within a couple minutes of taking off, you will be grateful for the opportunity to spend time outdoors and you’ll feel satisfied the rest of the day for getting a workout in.
The key difference between winter running and warm-weather running is the need for some additional planning. Later sunrises and earlier sunsets tend to result in some miles being covered in the dark—unless you lunch run or runmute. This means there are safety and visibility considerations. Ensuring you have the proper lighting and reflective equipment is essential for watching your footing and being seen by traffic.
Don't rule out the treadmill
Even if you prefer to call it the ‘dreadmill’, don’t rule out the treadmill as an option during the shorter days of winter. The treadmill is an excellent alternative to running outside for both workout quality and safety reasons. The ability to simulate hills and run at varying speeds can provide a better-quality workout than slipping and sliding around on the snow. Plus, you never have to worry about it being dark or cold.
If the treadmill really isn’t your thing and conditions outside are not safe, then use the time at the gym to build strength and address your weaknesses so you can run more efficiently and injury-free when the weather improves. Other cardio equipment, like elliptical and rowing machines, are also excellent alternatives to simulate the aerobic effects of running while reducing the pounding on your legs. With plenty of workout options available, both inside and out, you can emerge from winter a stronger athlete than you were going in.