5 tips for staying motivated in winter

Date Posted: 18 May 2021

It’s that time of year again when we’re waking up in the dark and the cold and forcing ourselves to get out of bed to exercise. Rachel shares some tips and personal experience when it comes to keeping active in the colder months.

It’s that time of year again when we’re waking up in the dark and the cold and forcing ourselves to get out of bed to exercise. After a while, early morning runs, rides, swims or gym sessions turn into a chore and we give up on the oversold idea of a “beach body”, it’s winter for crying out loud!

If you’ve had this happen, trust me, you are not alone and you’re not being judged.

How can you stay motivated to keep active as the temperature dips? For those of us who live in the southern parts of Australia which see less light and heat for a few months of the year, it can be very difficult to maintain motivation. 

I grew up in southern Victoria and lived in Austria and Northern Germany, so I’m familiar with winds that try to carry you away, rain that seems to never end, hail, sleet, ice, snow and well-below freezing temperatures. 

I’ll be sharing some tips and personal experience when it comes to keeping active in the colder months. Of course, if you aren’t as sensitive to the cold, or you are more sensitive, these numbers are just a rough guide. 

Firstly: Make sure you have the right clothing.
I can’t say this enough, if you think one thin long-sleeve cotton shirt you found up the back of your cupboard, or an old hoodie will be sufficient, think again. Cotton works really well in warm conditions, but not when it’s cold. It’s best to avoid hoodies too, they’re often heavy, don’t allow hot air to escape or they don’t keep cold air out and they hold sweat which will in turn keep you cold (because they’re often made with cotton). 

Wear light layers, so that when you start you’ll be warm and you can gradually take them off so that you don’t overheat (yes this is also something to keep in mind). If you’re going for a long run, it can be a good idea to take a small pack or vest with you to stuff your extra clothing into when you’re moving- if you don’t want to tie them around your waist. Then you can put them back on when you stop or slow down. 

Alternate your materials. I always have a firm, sweat-wicking material as my base layer, the goal being to keep sweat off the skin. This could be a singlet, t-shirt or long sleeve, but the point is that it needs to be firm against your skin. 

If you’re not exerting yourself or if it’s particularly cold (hello hiking in the snow), then you may want to consider a second layer. Often a full-length polyblend - wool or fleece if below 10 degrees - allows breathability and warmth at the same time. This is where you are considering insulation and this layer is often looser than the base layer. 

Depending on the type of exercise you’re doing, temperature and weather, I would either go with a vest or rain jacket. This is essential to shield against the wind chill and stop cold air getting in which combined with any sweat will give you a chill and could lead to hypothermia if you’re in a particularly cold area. A vest allows more movement for your arms, but if they’re stationary like when on a bike, or walking at a slower pace then you’ll want a jacket.

If you don’t wear a jacket which zips up to your chin, then a snood/neck tube is a really good investment to keep your throat from getting a horrible chill and trapping warmth. If the temperature requires something more than a light jacket/vest, then take a look at some soft-shell, fleece-lined jackets which will be lighter than a hoodie and again, allow more breathability as you heat up.

Think about the socks you’re using, is now the time to try out double socks? Could toe sock liners with a thicker sock over the top be the right choice for you and your toes? Personally, I say yes, especially when hiking. Having a firm, thin sock as my base and then a heavier, durable sock on the outer works really well and reduces any chance of blisters. 

When going for runs in anything less than 5 degrees, I would always recommend wearing gloves. Even a light pair, just to maintain some movement in your fingers and stop that painful feeling whenever you need to fumble with laces or keys that you ultimately can’t hold properly.

As soon as it gets below 3 degrees, do yourself a favour and wear a beanie, folded neck tube or headband. Going outside in anything less than 0 degrees without one (not even exercising) can leave you with a horrible headache. I learned this in -17 and again in -5 degree weather. 

Secondly: Update your gear.

If you’re a runner, make sure you have a pair of shoes which work for the kind of terrain you’ll be on. If the trail becomes soft, muddy, slippery or icy you may need to assess your outer soles. Take caution if you’re running on frozen ground because from experience I can tell you that if you happen to slip, it hurts a lot more.

If you run on the road but it often rains, think about having a second pair as a back-up to allow time for each pair to dry out and not grow mould, or consider a pair of waterproof or Gore-tex shoes. Just remember, if you step ankle-deep in a puddle, it’s very hard to get the water out again. If you’re a cyclist, having good shoe covers that will protect you from the chill, not just the wet, are a must! When I raced cyclocross in Germany, one of my friends went so far as to have little heat packs on top of her socks inside her shoes. This kept her toes from going numb when she would need to jump off her bike and run some sections before jumping on again and quickly finding her pedals. 

Third: Find a buddy!

Unless of course, you are your own best company. I always train by myself but after it got too cold/dangerous to ride on the roads in Germany when there was ice, I took up running. Thankfully a cycling friend joined me and together we would run around the palace, our cheeks bright pink from the chill, laughing at ourselves and the absurdity of cyclists running. Having someone who will hold you accountable and suffer through the same thing with you makes it a lot more enjoyable and easier to drag yourself out of bed in the dark. You may also want to look into joining a running club, cycling club/group or workout group instead. 

Fourth: Think about how to keep yourself hydrated.

When it’s +27 degrees, of course you will take something with you to keep from getting dehydrated and overheated, but for some reason when it’s cold we forget to do this. I once went for a ride when it was only -5, but the wind chill was around -12. After an hour my water bottle froze. Think about the container you use, can you seal it well, can it hold warm liquids? If so, I highly recommend making a warm drink to take with you. A hydration pack can be a good option for longer exercise, especially if the hose or bladder can be insulated like in many of the Salomon packs. If you have a looser-fitting jacket, it can even go over the bladder to keep it close to your warm body! 

Skratch Labs used to make a great apple-cinnamon hydration powder which was made to be used hot and was a wonderful, tasty recovery drink (Apple Cider is coming to Wildfire soon!). I can also recommend fruit or herbal teas as a good alternative to take with you on short runs. Whatever you decide to take, make sure your drink isn’t so hot that you can still easily take small sips. It’s also a good way to keep your hands warm. 

Fifth: Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t manage to get outside.

Sometimes we just don’t want to deal with the rain/wind/sleet/frost. Fair enough! What’s another way that you can still get some exercise and help your mental health? After the last two years, there are plenty of online videos for at-home-workouts, yoga instruction, or maybe you’re lucky enough to be able to set up a little gym in your garage, on your balcony or in your lounge room. If you don’t want to go out and buy a bunch of weights, canned tomatoes and bags of rice work really well to start off, then you can move up to bricks or fill old milk containers with water. 

If there’s a time that the weather is nice, make sure you make the most of it. Whether that’s a longer session or just taking your time to enjoy the break. 

And lastly, make sure you have a good shower, stay warm and stretch afterwards. The cool weather already makes our muscles stiff from the constant tense-release to stay warm, don’t add to that with sore muscles. 

There's my two cents on how to stay motivated during winter. If you have any other suggestions, words of wisdom or blunders, send us a message! We’d love to hear from you. Now get out that door and enjoy the cold weather!