Fitness Doesn’t Have to Suck This Winter
It’s about to get cold in a hurry.
For many people that means shuttering their workouts until they dig themselves out in the spring. The weather’s too cold, there’s not enough light, or they just need a break.
All of these things are true. Trust me, being a distance runner I know exactly how cold it gets and how little light is available. And lord knows my body could use a break after many months of pounding the roads and trails.
But I don’t throw in the towel. I don’t clap my hands together and say “well, great job everyone. See you next year.” This isn’t school ending for the semester.
I make do with what I have. I figure it out. Sure, things would be easier if I lived in Florida or Southern California. But I live in Chicago. Winters are brutal here.
And if I can figure it out, so can you. Here’s how.
The weather’s too cold
In the words of the great philosophers of old, “wear a hat.”
Many folks believe we lose most of our body heat through our heads. Wrong. Heat is lost from the body uniformly. The reason we think we lose heat from our heads is because our heads are most often uncovered.
Consider your current situation. You’re probably wearing clothes. You’re probably wearing shoes (or socks). You’re probably not wearing a hat.
Even in the coldest, crappiest winter conditions I see people not wearing hats. Of course you’re going to lose heat through your head when it’s cold as f*** outside and your head is as exposed as a baby’s rear end.
The solution is simple. Wear the appropriate gear. Hats, gloves, an extra undershirt, (a sock over your you-know-what fellas). Whatever you can in order to retain as much heat as possible.
And don’t worry about overdoing it either. You’d rather be too warm than too cold, right?
There’s not enough light
I’ll admit, this is a tricky one.
Many of us work day jobs. You go to work at nine, come home at five or thereabout. Problem is, those are the best hours of light you’ll have all day.
It’s a pain to exercise in the dark, morning or evening. Between the glare from oncoming headlights and slippery sidewalks it’s enough to make even the most experienced athlete unsure of his or her footing. I’d beguile you with a story about how I fell that one time but there are frankly too many to choose from.
Enter the treadmill, a.k.a. the “dreadmill.”
That’s my opinion at least. It’s a cheap knock-off of the existential bliss that is walking or running on a sunlight afternoon. But it’s better than nothing.
Thankfully there are ways to make the dreadmill manageable:
Throw a movie or tv show on your iPad and do your best to zone out.
Vary the intensity of your effort. Fast, slow, fast, slow. You’ll find the time ticks by much faster.
Hop on the machine next to a buddy. Just like running with a friend outside, the buddy system removes a majority of the monotony associated with doing your best hamster impression.
“I just need a break”
I feel you bro. I feel you deep in my bones.
By winter my body is aching for a break. My legs are heavy and tired, my shoulders sag and my spirit is worn. I’ll be honest, kicking my feet up for a couple months while binging on holiday chocolate seems like a nice alternative.
You don’t need a break. You need a change.
I dial back my running in the winter. Not necessarily on purpose, I just physically can’t run as many miles on the treadmill as I can outside. I’d go insane.
Instead I focus more heavily on resistance training. I spend more time in the gym picking heavy things up and putting them down. I take fitness classes, my current obsession is an HIIT class called Shred415. I occasionally do Yoga or Pilates.
A breath of fresh air does wonders for the body and mind.
That’s not to say taking a couple weeks and recharging doesn’t have merit, though. After a particularly mileage-heavy 2020 (there was nothing else to do) I took the entire month of January off, aside from some dynamic warmups to keep myself limber. My 2021 running season thanked me for that.
Winter is only the bane of your exercise existence if you let it. You’ll have to be patient, you’ll have to get creative, but you can absolutely maintain your fitness in preparation for the warmer months around the bend.
Like most things in life you have to accept things as they are and adjust accordingly.
Also happy birthday mom. You are the best today and everyday.
Love your writing. Yesterday about Dave Chappelle was my exact reaction written well. That’s the best thing about books songs and art. You’re an artist. Thank you