How To Motivate Yourself To Exercise In Winter

Bobbi Lockyer/Refinery29 for Getty Images
If you're anything like us, you'll be all too familiar with the following scenario. You lay out your workout gear before bed with virtuous intentions for the next morning. "I'll definitely feel like getting up in the freezing cold for a 7am HIIT class!" you tell yourself.
Then your alarm sounds and it's the last thing you feel like doing. "It's fine, I'll do a run after work," you convince your inner couch potato, only to cave in to a colleague's invitation to after-work drinks instead. Or opt for a cosy night in front of the TV with a bowl of something beige.
Of course, it's fine to do this every so often. Heck, staying in on a cold evening is one of our favourite things about winter – and leaning into hygge is basically the law these days.
But as we know, it's all about balance, and it's worth doing at least some exercise in the colder months, for the sake of both your physical and mental health.
Plus, winter is actually the best time of year to go for a run, according to research. The cold brings our heart rate down and makes us far less likely to get dehydrated, making it easier for the body to run quicker and further.
By not exercising when it's cold, then, you could be missing your chance to set a new personal best. And when was the last time you felt worse after a workout? Exactly. Shame it's so damn hard to get ourselves in the mood.
We spoke to Tameka Small, a personal trainer at Equinox, about how to motivate ourselves to get moving when the mercury plummets.

Why do so many of us lack motivation to exercise in winter?

As the months get colder and the days get shorter, we lose motivation in many aspects of our lives and exercise is definitely one of them.
It seems easier to just snuggle up in front of the TV with a cup of hot chocolate, and if you're someone who likes to exercise in the morning, it’s also harder to drag yourself out from underneath the covers to a morning session. We can’t deny the impact of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which plays a huge role in our exercise habits as well.

What are the most common excuses we make to avoid winter exercise?

Many people spend less time socialising over winter, so they’re not skipping the gym for an exciting party or event like they did in the summer. When it’s cold, the excuses are more likely to be fatigue or low mood. You’re usually running home after a long day to hide under the blankets and watch Netflix, instead of heading out to meet friends. Also there's the typical “it’s just too cold to exercise” excuse.

Do you have any psychological tricks or mantras we could use to psych ourselves up?

The trick is to start planning early. Whatever your goals are, write them down and put them somewhere you can read them every day. This way you'll be less likely to fall off the wagon in winter.

What are your basic tips for staying motivated to exercise in winter?

Promise yourself some kind of reward when you meet your workout goal, e.g. moving your body at least three times a week. Whether this is a new top, workout gear, a manicure or a night out with the girls, a treat to look forward to keeps us motivated and gives us something to work towards.
To really keep motivated, I recommend exercising with others. It keeps you accountable – you may want to cancel on yourself but it'll be harder to cancel on a friend. You’ve made that commitment so you are more likely to follow through. It’s also really fun! Whether it be a run in the park, a group HIIT or Pilates class, or even a weekend walk, you're more likely to want to get up and move if you make it social.

Which forms of exercise would you recommend for anyone feeling demotivated?

Winter is the time to change up your routine and make it fun. You need all the help you can get and if you're not going to look forward to a gruelling session, don’t schedule one, as you’ll only be letting yourself down. Find something you really enjoy. Maybe you don't feel like doing an intense HIIT session. Perhaps a new spin or barre class will make you more likely to stick to your routine. Why not check out a new class or studio that you've wanted to try for ages? You might find a new and fun workout that you wouldn't have otherwise discovered.
Personally, I always look forward to a hot yoga class when the temperature drops. Both your mind and body stiffen up during winter and warming movements in the heat can help loosen you up. It doesn’t have to be a 90-minute Bikram session in 40 degree heat – many studios offer regular yoga classes in rooms heated to a warm temperature.

Is there any particular music you'd recommend we listen to either before or during a workout to motivate ourselves?

I love training to tracks with a big bass and high tempo — they're brilliant for high intensity sessions. For long runs, a melodic deep house mix sends me to a different world — it's pretty much meditative. Something I've been doing in recent months is listening to ebooks while I run. Whether it's a gripping thriller or historical non-fiction, it keeps my mind just busy enough to allow my body to completely relax into the run. Plus, it's a bonus to feel like I'm reading while I run.

What should we be eating to prevent us from feeling sluggish?

In winter, we tend to crave stodgy foods, but you can definitely find some healthier replacements for your favourite comfort foods, that will make you feel a whole lot better. For breakfast, be careful of consuming too much sugar in the colder, darker months. It’s all too easy to reach for a fluffy pastry or sugary flavoured latte. Your mood may be low and you might be craving the boost, but the resulting crash won't be worth it. Overnight oats are a time-efficient way to prep breakfast for on the go, or if you can wake up 10 minutes earlier, eggs are a fantastic way to start the day a few times a week.
A good lunch could be a homemade soup, or a fresh salad with a source of protein such as salmon, chicken or tofu. Load up on leafy green vegetables in as many meals as you can to keep your defences up. Just make sure you are eating enough – if you choose a salad, ensure it’s not boring or basic – and you're more likely to be left feeling fuller for longer and less likely to be craving a sugary snack come 4pm.
For dinner, the key is to replace simple carbohydrates with more complex carbohydrates, for example, sweet potato instead of potato, or cauliflower rice instead of white rice. Why not try making a homemade curry or a hearty casserole? A great opportunity to throw in beans and pulses that leave you feeling full.

How can we prevent injury during winter workouts (particularly during high-impact sports like running or HIIT and when exercising outside)?

Take your time to warm up – it takes a little longer to get the joints moving in winter as we’re stiffer than usual. Warming up applies to our mindset, too. In winter we can be stubborn, not very flexible and unwilling. We hunch over and our shoulders get tight. The last thing we want to do is change into our gym kit. Prepare yourself to warm up your body and your mind and your workout will be better. You’ll also be more aware of your body and therefore less likely to push yourself to the point of injury.
Cooling down is just as important. Remember to stretch and cool down. Treat yourself to a warm bath with some Epsom salts afterwards to soothe tired or aching muscles.

Do you ever struggle with exercise motivation yourself? What works for you?

Yes, definitely! But the way I think about it is I know I’m going to feel a whole lot worse if I don’t train. If I don’t exercise, I don’t get those endorphins, which I really need over winter when my mood is more likely to be low. I'd rather face the cold, have an amazing workout and then feel great. Thinking about the alternative makes exercising a no-brainer.
I try to switch things up at this time of the year and I really enjoy training over winter. There are no distractions. You wake up in the dark and go home in the dark. It’s my time when I can really focus on my training. I try to embrace it. I feel empowered knowing I can continue my training programme over winter.
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Fitness