Winter is undoubtedly upon us. And if the cold, wet weather and dark mornings have you hitting the snooze button and snatching a few more minutes in bed instead of grabbing your trainers, you are not alone.
Many of us struggle to stay motivated at this time of year. Even if you are already established in a regular exercise routine, keeping up the momentum when daylight is short and Netflix is calling your name, can be tough.
The good news is that once you start moving, exercise becomes its own reward – the endorphins released by physical movement are a great way to boost our mood and energy levels so that we are motivated to carry on with our workouts.
But what can you do to get yourself moving in the first place? Let’s look at some suggestions for how you can stay motivated to exercise this winter.
1. Invest in the right gear
As famous walker (and author), Alfred Wainwright, once said; “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”. And it holds true for any form of outdoor exercise, not just hiking. If your preferred workout involves being outside, having the right kit will keep you from being put off by cold weather and the odd rain shower.
Invest in clothing that will keep you warmer and drier at this time of year. For runners, cyclists, and green gym enthusiasts, that means long sleeve t-shirts, thermal leggings, and a lightweight, breathable waterproof. Layers will be your friend, so that you can gradually remove items of clothing as you begin to warm up. Cyclists especially will likely want a good pair of tight-fitting waterproof gloves.
If you are going to be exercising outdoors when it is dark, remember to put safety first and choose bright colours and reflective strips so that you are visible to cars and other traffic.
Knowing that you have the right clothes to keep yourself warm is important even if the bulk of your exercise will be taking place in the gym. When you are making the choice to venture out of your cosy home, it is easier to get yourself moving if you have warm clothes to shield you from the worst of the weather. If you usually work out just in leggings and a vest, you may want a baggy tracksuit to go over the top for your journey to and from the gym. And a waterproof coat, of course.
2. Shift your routine
If you are someone who normally likes to get a workout in bright and early, the dark mornings may be playing havoc with your preferred exercise routine. Rather than giving up altogether, consider shifting your schedule around so that your workout falls during daylight hours.
Depending on your job, you may be able to fit a gym session or a run into your lunch break, for example. If you commute to work in the mornings, perhaps your commute itself could become your workout – you have to leave the house to get to work anyway, so you may as well find a way to run or cycle for part of your journey. Make sure to bring spare clothes so you have something dry and work-appropriate to change into at the other end.
For those who are working from home, or whose daily routine doesn’t have the flexibility to allow for an exercise break in the middle of the day, switching your workout to the evening may help.
Although it can be harder to find the energy towards the end of the day, getting moving after work or study can help boost your mood, making the long evenings a little less draining. The same goes for parents with young children – if you are finding it hard to get up before the kids, try exercising once they are in bed instead.
Alternatively, you might find it more manageable to break your workout into two shorter sessions. This means you don’t have to start quite as early, and it may be easier to find half-an-hour in the middle of the day than a full hour.
3. Bring your workout indoors
Although it is entirely possible to continue to exercise outdoors during the winter, there are some days when even the most dedicated fitness enthusiasts are hesitant to brave the weather. Instead of skipping out on your planned workout, have a backup plan for how you can reach your fitness goals by exercising at the gym or at home.
Making sure you have some decent gym equipment at home ensures that you can switch your plans easily if snow, torrential rain, or dense fog make exercising outdoors a bad idea.
You can read our suggestions for the best home gym equipment here.
The main thing is to be flexible. We all fall into set routines when it comes to exercise, so if bad weather prevents you from doing your preferred workout, knowing in advance what your indoor backup plan is will help you stay motivated to get moving.
4. Exercise with a friend
When you are tempted to cancel your workout plans in favour of snuggling up in front of the TV, getting together with a friend can help to keep your motivation high. It is harder to cancel on commitments you have made to someone else than ones you have made to yourself. Plus, working out with someone else is more fun than going it alone.
If getting together with a friend isn’t possible in real life, finding a supportive online community can also be a great way to keep your motivation up during the winter. A 2019 study into the role of social media in encouraging us to exercise found that Facebook can be a positive influence on our motivation. The key is to find online communities that are encouraging and supportive – those that make us feel guilty or pressurised have the opposite effect on our motivation instead.
5. Make SMART goals
If you are needing a little more motivation than usual to keep you exercising in the wintertime, you need to get intentional with your goal setting. While an intrinsic desire to get moving might be enough in the warmer months, at this time of year, you can give your enthusiasm a boost by using the SMART framework to define your fitness goals.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. When you use these criteria to set your exercise aims, you should end up with a goal that feels manageable – meaning you are more likely to feel motivated to achieve it.
An example might be “I am going to jog at least three times a week until the end of February so that I can run for half an hour without needing to rest”.
This goal is specific – it lays out exactly what you will do.
It is measurable – you can record how often you jog each week and track how your stamina increases.
It is achievable – running every day might not be realistic, but three times a week is a reasonable frequency.
It is relevant – you’ve related the activity to the ultimate aim of being able to run for half an hour without rest.
And it is time-bound – you’ve given yourself the deadline of February.
So instead of waking up every morning thinking “I really must exercise today”, you will wake up and think “exercising today will help me to reach my goal”. This is a much more motivating way of framing your workouts.
Setting SMART goals particularly aimed at getting you through the winter months can also help by giving you the excitement of a new project to work on. We all know how much easier it is to do something when it is new and shiny than when it becomes just a regular part of our routines. Shake things up by giving yourself a new goal to work towards.
6. Make exercise part of your identity
A 2010 study on the role of different motivational forces in exercise found that participants were more likely to exercise for longer if they considered working out as integral to their identity. So, if you are struggling to find the motivation to get moving this winter, it might help to reframe how you think of yourself.
Instead of seeing yourself as someone who works out because you must, start to think of exercise as a vital part of who you are. If your preferred form of activity is running, call yourself a runner. If it is HIIT routines, think of yourself as a HIIT enthusiast. Make it something that is core to who you are as a person and you are more likely to find the motivation to continue, even when it is cold and dark outside.
It can be hard to find the motivation to keep fit during the winter. But with the appropriate clothes, some home gym equipment, and the right mindset, regaining your enthusiasm for working out is within reach.
Divine A, Watson P M, Baker S, Hall C R, Facebook, relatedness and exercise motivation in university students: A mixed methods investigation, Computers in Human Behavior. 2019: 91; 138-150, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.09.037.
Duncan LR, Hall CR, Wilson PM, Jenny O. Exercise motivation: a cross-sectional analysis examining its relationships with frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2010: 26; 7:7. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-7-7