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Winter Survival Guide: How to Exercise & Maintain Your Fitness Routine When It's Cold Outside

November 07 2023 6 min read

Winter is almost officially here: the days are shorter, temperatures are plummeting and the allure of a warm bed makes getting up in the morning all that bit harder.

But putting your gym routine on hold during the winter months doesn't have to be the case. 

In this guide, we'll equip you with all the strategies, tips, and motivation you need to not only stay committed to your fitness journey but also thrive during the cold season. Whether you're just starting out or you're a seasoned professional, let's dive into the ways you can stay active, motivated and healthy when the weather outside is less than inviting.

Should you exercise when it’s cold?

Exercising during the cold weather can be a great way to stay active and enjoy the crisp, fresh air that winter brings, but you’ll find the best benefits when you hit the indoor gym. It’s important that you take some precautions when exercising to make sure that you don’t seriously injure yourself.

Cold temperatures can make your muscles tighter, so it’s a good idea to start with a proper warm-up in the gym to get your body moving gradually. If you’re walking to the gym, covering your mouth and nose with a scarf or mask can also help humidify the cold, dry air, making it easier on your airways. 

How cold is too cold to exercise outside?

The ideal temperature for exercising can vary from person to person, depending on your individual tolerance, the type of exercise you’re doing and the duration of your workout. 

In winter, the average temperature ranges from 2 to 7 degrees Celsius, with temperatures often dropping just below 0. These nippy conditions can pose an increased risk when working out, and in very cold conditions, your body has to work harder to maintain its core temperature, even if when you’re working out indoors. 

When determining whether it’s too cold to exercise outside, it’s best to consider:

  • Wind chill — This is the ‘feels-like’ temperature that accounts for the cooling effect of wind on exposed skin. It can significantly lower the perceived temperatures outside, making it feel much colder than the actual air temperature. Always check the wind chill factor before heading out, as it can greatly affect your comfort and safety. If the wind chill is particularly low, it may be best to take your workout inside or use additional protective clothing.
  • Type of activity — The type of exercise you plan to do can influence your tolerance for cold temperatures. High-intensity activities like running and cycling generate more body heat, which can help you stay warm. Low-intensity indoor activities like walking or yoga may require more layers to stay comfortable as your body won’t generate heat as quickly. 
  • Personal tolerance — Individual tolerance for cold weather can vary — some people are naturally more cold-resistant than others, for example. Pay attention to how your body responds to the cold. If you're shivering uncontrollably, experiencing numbness in your extremities, or feeling extremely uncomfortable, it's a sign that the cold may be too much for you. Dressing warmly, layering and taking your workout indoors can help mitigate any discomfort.
  • Duration — The duration of your workout can impact your comfort in cold weather. Short, brisk walks or brief outdoor activities may be tolerable in colder temperatures. However, if you plan to exercise for an extended period, especially in freezing or sub-freezing conditions, it’s best to take this to the gym instead.

What are some conditions you can suffer from when it’s cold?

While exercising when it’s cold can be enjoyable, there are some potential risks and challenges that can creep up on you:

  • Hypothermia — Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, especially in windy or wet conditions, can lead to hypothermia. This occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced, causing your core temperature to drop to dangerously low levels. Some tell-tale signs someone is suffering from hypothermia include shivering, confusion, fatigue, and, in some severe cases, loss of consciousness. 
  • Frostbite — Frostbite occurs when the skin and its underlying tissues freeze due to being exposed to extreme cold. It typically affects extremities like fingers, toes, nose and ears. People suffering from frostbite experience numbness, tingling, and pale or hard skin. To prevent this, it’s best to keep all areas covered and well-insulated and be extremely cautious in cold conditions, even if you’re just walking from the car to the gym door! 
  • Respiratory issues — Breathing in cold, dry air can irritate the airways and potentially trigger repository discomfort, making it harder to breathe. This can be highly unsafe for people who have asthma or other respiratory conditions. To help combat this, wearing a scarf or a mask to cover your mouth and nose can help humidify and warm the air you breathe.  
  • Overexertion — In an attempt to stay warm, some people may push themselves too hard during workouts. This can lead to overexertion and an increased risk of injuries like muscle strains and sprains. It’s always best to listen to your body and adjust the intensity of your workout accordingly. The last thing you want to do is push too hard and injure yourself.

How can you stay motivated to work out indoors when it’s cold?

The winter months can test your dedication, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up. Instead, there are a few ways that you can stay motivated:

  • Establish clear goals — Setting specific fitness goals for winter can help provide you with a sense of purpose and direction. Whether it’s aiming to lose a certain amount of weight, run a specific distance or master a new exercise, having well-defined goals can help you stay motivated in the long run. When you can measure your progress and see the results you’re working toward, it can become a whole lot easier to maintain and commit to a regular workout routine.
  • Create a workout schedule — Planning your workouts ahead of time and scheduling them in your calendar can be a real game changer for consistency. Just like any other commitment or appointment, having a set time for your workouts means that they become a non-negotiable part of your day. This proactive approach helps you avoid the temptation to skip workouts and reinforces the importance of getting your body moving. 
  • Have a training plan — If you’re not already following a structured workout plan, it can be a great idea to create one. Fitness First’s FFX App offers customised workout plans to help you reach and maintain your fitness goals. A well-designed plan ensures you make the most of your time at the gym and see your progress more efficiently. 
  • Find a workout buddy — Exercising with a friend or joining a fitness class helps provide accountability and builds a strong support system. When you know someone is relying on you to show up for a workout, you’re more likely to follow through with it — and what’s better motivation than that? Plus, the social aspect of exercising with others can make your workouts even more enjoyable.
  • Give yourself a reward — Rewarding yourself for achieving fitness milestones can be a fun and motivating way to help you stay on track. Consider treating yourself to new workout gear when you hit a specific goal or even just getting to have your favourite bar of chocolate. These rewards serve as positive reinforcement, making your efforts feel more exciting. 
  • Visualise your success — Visualisation is a powerful tool that can boost your motivation and confidence. Take a few moments each day to envision the positive outcomes of keeping your workouts consistent even during the colder weather. Picture yourself feeling more energetic, enjoying better health or accomplishing hitting that goal that you’re aiming towards. This mental exercise can reinforce your determination and help you overcome obstacles or setbacks along the way. 

How can you adjust your regular routine for the winter season?

Working out during the warmer weather can be extremely different to the colder months, so this might mean you need to make some lifestyle tweaks to support your fitness goals. 

1. Stay hydrated

While it’s true that you may not feel as thirsty in the cold, leading to the misconception that you don’t need to drink as much, your body still loses fluids through sweat and respiration when you’re exercising. 

However, failing to replenish these fluids can lead to dehydration, which reduces your workout performance, affects your body's ability to regulate temperature and even increases the risk of cold-related illnesses like hypothermia. It’s important to make sure you stay hydrated before, during and after a workout in the cold to ensure that your body has enough energy to carry you through. 

Find out more about proper hydration for exercise with our guide.

2. Eat nutritious foods

Nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting a winter workout. A balanced diet rich in nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, can help maintain your energy levels and boost your overall health. 

Make sure to incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables into your meals, such as cranberries, elderberries, butternut squash and parsnips, as they provide essential nutrients and can improve your immune system. 

It’s also important to consider the timing of your meals to make sure you have enough energy for your workouts. A balanced diet helps your body perform optimally, recover faster and stay strong during the cold season. 

Learn more about nutrition with our beginner's guide.

3. Rest and recover

While maintaining your exercise routine in winter is important, so is giving your body the necessary time to rest and recover. 

Adequate sleep is crucial for muscle recovery, immune function and overall well-being. It’s during sleep that your body repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue, helping you progress in your fitness goals. Overtraining and lack of rest can lead to fatigue, increased injury risk and decreased workout performance. 

Make sure you prioritise your sleep and allow your body to recover between workouts; the last thing you want to do is injure yourself. Rest and recovery days are an essential part of a successful fitness plan, particularly during the colder season when your body may need more time to recuperate. 

4. Boost your immune system

The cold weather can sometimes weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses like a cold or the flu. 

To help bolster your immune system, consider taking supplements or vitamins — especially vitamins C and D — that have immune-boosting properties. If you’re unsure about the right supplements you should be taking, it’s best to consult with your doctor to make sure you’re taking the right ones for your needs. 

How can you adapt your routine to suit the cold weather?

The way that you exercise in the summer will be completely different to the way you exercise during the winter. Because of this, you might have to adapt your routine slightly to make sure it’s right for the season.

1. Make sure to warm up

When the temperatures drop, your muscles tend to become stiffer, increasing the risk of injuries. But a thorough warm-up can change this. 

Dedicate more time to dynamic stretching exercises that engage your muscles and increase blood flow. Activities like jumping jacks, leg swings, and arm circles can help limber the body and reduce the risk of injury.

You can also incorporate some light cardio work, like jogging in place, to help raise your heart rate and further prep your body for exercise. 

Top tip: Remember, a good warm-up not only helps prevent injuries but also ensures that you get the most out of your workout!

2. Embrace the indoors

As the weather gets colder, it’s a great time to explore the endless possibilities of indoor workout options. At Fitness First, we offer a wide variety of activities like group fitness classes, indoor swimming and access to a wide range of fitness equipment to help you progress on your journey. 

By embracing indoor activities, you can maintain your exercise routine without braving the cold, ensuring consistency in your fitness journey.

3. Opt for short and intense workouts

Winter often brings a busier schedule with festivities and events piled into the calendar. To make the most of your limited time, consider short and intense workouts like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions. HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief periods of rest or lower levels of intensity.

The Fitness First team is always available to assist you with HIIT workouts, ensuring you get the guidance and support needed to achieve your fitness goals. 

4. Get in the right mindset

From chilly weather to a lack of motivation, the winter season can bring a range of excuses to skip your workouts.

To overcome these mental barriers, it’s crucial to cultivate a strong mindset. Remind yourself that the gym offers a controlled and comfortable environment to fully concentrate on what you want to achieve. The moment you step inside the gym, you’re shielded from the external elements, allowing you to stay focused, motivated and, most importantly, warm! 

How can you utilise the gym equipment in winter?

Working out can be tricky, and it can be especially difficult when the temperatures are hitting minus figures. But, when the weather outside is frightful, you can turn to gym equipment to complete your workout session.

  • Use the treadmills for indoor running — When winter's icy grip tightens its hold, or the temperature drops to uncomfortable levels for outdoor running, don't let it deter you from your cardio routine. Instead, make your way to the gym and take advantage of treadmills. These versatile machines allow you to continue your running regimen without worrying about slippery pavements or the bone-chilling cold. You have complete control over your workout, adjusting the speed, incline, and duration to suit your fitness goals. Whether you're training for a race, maintaining your endurance, or simply enjoying a brisk jog, the treadmill is a reliable ally in your winter fitness arsenal.
  • Opt for the stationary bike for indoor cycling — Cyclists need not despair in the winter months; the gym offers a lifeline in the form of stationary bikes. These machines let you simulate the experience of cycling outdoors by adjusting the resistance levels, mimicking various terrains, and even tracking your performance metrics. Whether you prefer a leisurely ride or an intense interval session, stationary bikes provide a fantastic alternative to braving the elements. 
  • Try an elliptical machine for some low-impact cardio — If you're seeking a low-impact cardio workout that's gentle on your joints, elliptical machines are a superb choice. They provide an effective full-body workout without the impact of running or cycling on hard surfaces. By using ellipticals, you can maintain your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your legs, and keep your heart rate elevated while minimising the risk of injury. 
  • Use rowing machines for a full-body workout — Whether you aim to build strength, improve endurance, or simply enjoy a full-body workout, rowing machines offer a unique and highly effective way to engage your entire body. You’ll feel this workout in your legs, back, arms, and core simultaneously, making rowing machines a great choice for achieving a well-rounded fitness routine during the colder months. 
  • Reach for strength training equipment  — Don't underestimate the incredible advantages of strength training, especially when the winter season sets in. Within the gym, you'll discover an array of tools designed to boost your strength, from varying-weight dumbbells and barbells to specialised resistance machines and beyond. Not only does it help you build and preserve muscle strength, but it also amplifies your performance in the outdoors, ensuring that you remain at the top of your game in all your activities, regardless of the weather!

Get set for winter fitness with Fitness First

Winter doesn't need to be a roadblock on your fitness journey. With the right motivation, workout planning, and lifestyle adjustments, you can stay committed and continue making strides. Remember, consistency is the key, and your fitness goals are well within reach, no matter the weather outside.

At Fitness First, we have a wide range of fitness classes, personal training sessions and more to help you reach your fitness goals. 

Book a club visit to come and experience our facilities for free. Or, for more helpful tips and advice on fitness and nutrition, check out our blog.